by ROWENA OREJANA
AUCKLAND — As the Catholic Church in New Zealand becomes more diverse, priests from overseas have helped ease the shortage of clergy in various dioceses.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn said priests from overseas have been a great blessing in general, and most of the other dioceses have welcomed foreign seminarians as well.
“I have felt comfortable having immigrant priests, as long as the ethnic mix of the priests reflects the ethnic mix of the parishioners so that the priests will generally have some parishioners from their own homeland,” he said. “Culture
is very real and very strong. You can’t deny it.”
New Zealand Statistics Department figures show one in eight Catholics identify with at least one Asian ethnic group. One in 10 belong to at least one Pacific people’s ethnic group.
Bishop Dunn said he didn’t start out actively inviting priests from overseas to come here. “They had asked to come here usually because they have relations who have invited them to come. That’s exactly what happened,” he recalled with a smile.
Immigrants, he said, who learned of the shortage of priests in Auckland would volunteer their cousin who is a priest and invite them over.
Bishop Dunn said a number of priests from overseas have come to
work for three to five years to gain overseas experience in New Zealand, with permission from their bishops or superiors.
He noted there are a number of cultural differences that they have learned.
For example, he said, priests who come from very, very large parishes in their countries are not used to visiting parishioners
in their homes. “Whereas here in New Zealand, we encourage the
priests to go out, rather than just wait for the parishioners to come and see them,” he said.
Other priests do not know how to drive a car. “They either have a driver or use public transport,” said Bishop Dunn. Sometimes, he said, this could present a problem, especially in Auckland.
But, in general, he said the whole situation has worked out very well.
Although Hamilton diocese decided not to invite seminarians from other countries to train here, Palmerston North is fundraising for its seminarians, some of whom are from Vietnam. “They are a great blessing to us,” said Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan.
Bishop Dunn said Auckland’s seminarians are a diverse ethnic mix of
Kiwis. “They grew up here or they’ve lived here for some years. They were not necessarily born here, but they lived in Auckland for some years before they joined the seminary,” he said.