Language of love welcomes missionary priests

In an address to the parish this month, Fr. Robert Aliunzi, AJ, told his congregation he knows what it’s like to be poor. (Photo courtesy of Wrangler News)

They finished praying the Rosary and then started in on the singing of hymns. We sat there in the little mission church, waiting for Mass to begin. But would it?

“Where is the priest?” one of the kids asked me with a whisper. “Are we going to get out of here late?” “He’ll be here,” I whispered back.

At 6:03, we heard the door to the church open and watched as Father strode down the aisle toward the sacristy to vest. You could almost feel the sigh of relief from the pews. We would have Mass after all. My heart surged in gratitude.

Whenever I hear people complain about priests, my mind goes back to scenes like this. Priests do not fall from the sky. They are a gift from God.

In the Diocese of Phoenix, some 47 percent of our priests hail from foreign lands. Places like Africa, where vocations to the priesthood are flourishing. Fr. David Sanfilippo, vicar for priests for the diocese, expressed appreciation for those who leave their families and homelands to come to America.

“We’re grateful for their service. God is providing shepherds for communities in Phoenix that otherwise would not have priests,” Fr. Sanfilippo said.

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “Cry of Ninevah.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

For years, Western countries sent missionary priests to Africa because there weren’t local vocations there.

“Now after many years of ministry from other Western countries, they do have vocations,” Fr. Sanfilippo said. “So we see the fruits of previous generations’ evangelization returning to us. Perhaps after many years of missionaries serving here, we too will have an abundance of vocations once again.”

In the meantime, let’s pray for the generous men who serve here among us — particularly if we’re having trouble understanding their accents. When I hear people complain about the difficulty they are having getting past a priest’s English, my heart breaks a little. Can we not find it in our hearts to appreciate these men’s sacrifice? If you want to bridge the gap, seek them out after Mass or at parish events and spend a few minutes getting to know them better. This will give both you and them an opportunity to grow in understanding.

In the meantime, keep in mind that all priests from foreign countries are required to take an accent reduction course so they can be better understood by the people they are serving. “That’s the whole reason they are here — they want to be able to share the Good News in a way the people will understand,” Fr. Sanfilippo said.

When my husband first came to the U.S. from Venezuela, he didn’t speak English. He had an admittedly strong accent when I met him, but love had a way of making the way he spoke even more endearing. He wanted so much to be understood and he worked very hard at it.

Years later, we were visiting my sister’s family in Colorado and attended Mass at their parish. There was a new deacon from South America and his English was heavily accented. “Wow — that deacon really sounds like Uncle Pipo,” one of my nephews commented in the car on the way home.

My kids were shocked. Shocked! “Our dad doesn’t have an accent!” they protested. In their minds, he didn’t. They love him — he’s their father and they’re fiercely protective of him.

In the same way, if we open our hearts and love and welcome these selfless men who have left everything to come and serve us as Fathers, we will begin to see past the differences in the way we speak. Love is truly the answer. It’s a language that is universally understood.

Last June, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ordained four men to the priesthood. There are currently 26 seminarians in formation who one day, with God’s help, will serve in our diocese. Please continue to pray that more men in our diocese will answer God’s call to serve Him as priests. And pray for all those who leave their homelands and bless us with the gift of their vocations. May we each grow in love and understanding.