THE FUTURE IS FOREIGN-BORN; Catholic Church Sees an Influx of Priests from Other Nations to Meet Shortages

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

The Rev. Andy Blaszkowski's English is clear, but his Polish accent unmistakable as he reads from the Gospel and preaches during Masses at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.

During a recent service for some 300 parish school children, he told them the Eucharist is a "geeft" from God and that they should rely on their faith for direction in how to "leaf" their "lifes."

But that was OK with 24-year-old parishioner Jason Craig, who traded Presbyterianism for Catholicism three years ago.

"I'm a convert, so it's new and unique for me" to hear accents from the pulpit, Craig said. "In other denominations, there are no foreign priests, so it really shows the universality of the Catholic Church."

It also shows the future for the American church and the Jacksonville-based Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine. Studies and church officials are reporting that seminaries and parish priest openings are increasingly being filled by men from other nations. And given the shortage of priests in the United States, few Catholics complain about the trend.

STUDY: MORE FOREIGN-BORN PRIESTS

According to The Associated Press, a new report reveals that the latest and next generations of priests, brothers, sisters and nuns who belong to Roman Catholic religious orders in the U.S. are more ethnically diverse and tradition-bound than their predecessors.

The report confirmed what many have speculated: The few orders that are attracting and retaining younger members are more traditional. That generally means fidelity to the church and other members of the order, living in a community, taking part in daily devotions and wearing a habit.

The familiar white and black habits of nuns teaching elementary school or the robes worn by some fathers and brothers were shed by many orders as remnants of clericalism in the last 40 or 50 years, but a younger generation sees them as tangible displays of their faith and symbols of fidelity to church and community.

"This younger generation is seeking an identity, a religious identity as well as a Catholic identity," Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the Chicago-based National Religious Vocation Conference, a professional organization of Catholic religious vocation directors, told The Associated Press. "Symbolism, images and ritual is all very important to this generation, and they want to give witness to their faith."

NORTHEAST FLORIDA FOLLOWS TREND

But religious leaders in Northeast Florida are seeing similar trends here, among both order priests and those assigned to the diocese.

"The trend is definitely toward a greater use of priests who are not U.S. natives," diocesan Chancellor Michael Morgan said. …