Sunday, August 3, 2008

Serving Those Who Serve (Part III)

Last week I had the opportunity to meet one of the local priests here in Kyrgyzstan. I was on a trip sponsored by the Manas Air Base Outreach Society (MABOS). The particular place that we were visiting was run by some Catholic sisters. From what I could tell through the translation and such, they were Sisters of St. Francis. While visiting their program I asked if it might be possible to visit for a bit with the local priest. I had heard that the parish offered a Catholic Mass in English at 9:00 am each Sunday. They told me that the English speaking priest was on vacation, but called the substitute who came for a short visit.

In the course of my discussion with the priest, through our driver/translator, and later looking up Kyrgyzstan on Catholic-Hierarchy.org, I found out a little about the local Catholic community. Kyrgyzstan is actually considered a Apostolic Administration, which means it is not really a diocese, but has a bishop who administers the territory. The bishop has 5 priests to help him cover the 76,477 square mile country. Sometimes, we in Montana think we have a lot of area to cover. If the priests were evenly divided around the country, the average parish would still be about twice the size of my parish in area.

On the other hand, there are only about 500 Catholics listed for the country. That means the priest to parishioner ratio is much better than Montana. This is due primarily to the efforts of missionary priests coming into the country to serve the small Catholic population.

The priest and I spoke a little about the ministry of the sisters. We spoke about the English Mass for the coming weekend which would be said by the bishop who may not even know much English. The most important thing on my list was to find out where they purchase altar wine and communion hosts locally. I found out that the hosts have to be ordered from Poland. Our interpreters at the base are always encouraging us to buy locally, but we can't do that in this case. We sent the order back to the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri. We could find some suitable altar wine on that is produced locally.

Later in the day, thinking about the number of priests in Kyrgyzstan, I could not help but think of the priest shortage in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. Rural areas, or places with small Catholic populations, experience the priest shortage in a different way than larger, more urban dioceses. Our priests are not normally serving thousands of people each, but are covering thousands of square miles to accomplish their ministry. In many ways, this affects the interaction between the priest and his parishioners. Whether it be large congregations, or large areas to cover, priests have a lot of expectations put upon them.

Oftentimes, we wonder what we can do to help out the priests. I would like to offer a few of my suggestions:

First, pray for them every day. Pray not only for the priests of your own parish by name, but for all priests of your diocese and of the world.

Second and third, pray for vocations and encourage young men who may be called to priesthood to respond to the call. These two ideas go together. If there are more young men ordained, it takes the burden off the priests who are currently serving.

Fourth, support your parish priest. Let your priest know that you appreciate what he is doing for you and your community. Invite him to dinner or lunch once in a while. Find out if there is something special that he enjoys and help him participate in that activity (skiing, card playing, hunting, a nice bottle of scotch or wine, watching a ball game with another person).

Fifth, pray for your priests and for an increase in vocations. I know, you've heard that one already, but it is important to keep those prayers going. (While you are praying throw in a couple of prayers for those called to religious life, and those who are married. Married couples are the source of priests, and religious sisters and brothers can be an inspiration for one discerning a vocation.)

Vocations need to be nourished, not just while they are being formed, but as they are being lived out.

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