CARA likes Richmond’s welcoming process
The Catholic Diocese of Richmond stands out among many other dioceses in its process of first welcoming and then mentoring international priests who come to provide sacramental ministry.
This is the observation of Dr. Mary Gautier, active with CARA, Center for Applied Research, a national non-profit research center affiliated with Georgetown University.
Dr. Gautier came to the Diocesan Pastoral Center June 21 for a meeting to which several international priests were invited to share their experiences in their parishes. The meeting had been arranged by Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Vicar General and Vicar for Clergy.
“We were so impressed first of all by how happy the international priests are in the Diocese of Richmond,” Dr. Gautier told The Catholic Virginian, “and then by the help they receive from the diocese with mentoring to make the process go so smoothly.”
CARA has been doing some research on how international priests are treated in the U.S. As part of their research, the group invited most of Richmond’s international priests to a meeting in Washington, D.C. in May. Beth Neu, director of the diocese’s Office for Pastoral Planning, helped coordinate the meeting.
Present at the June 21 meeting in Richmond were Fathers Nixon Negparanon, John Kazibwe, Oscar Paraiso, Merlito Abiog, Edgar Cleofe, Henry Diesta, Romeo Jazmin and Rodrigo Mingollo.
Father Jazmin, pastor of Prince of Peace in Chesapeake who is from the Philippines, said that Bishop Jesus y Varela of Sorsogon came to the Diocese of Richmond in 1998 to make a mission appeal to raise money to support the seminary and the priests of the Sorsogon diocese.
During the visit then Bishop Walter F. Sullivan asked Bishop Varela if he would send a priest from Sorsogon to serve here in exchange for financial support. An agreement was signed and upon his return to the Philippines Bishop Varela asked Father Jazmin to go to the U.S.
Father Jazmin admitted that at first he didn’t want to come to Virginia because he didn’t know anyone here. He did have relatives who lived in California.
But Bishop Varela was persuasive and convinced him to accept the invitation. He gave him the name of a cousin who lived in Norfolk that he could call if he ran into difficulty.
When Father Jazmin arrived at the Norfolk airport on Oct. 29, 1999 there was no one to meet him. He telephoned Bishop Varela’s cousin who came immediately to the airport and brought him to his home where he stayed overnight.
The next day they called the Chancery of the Diocese of Richmond. He was told that he should report to Holy Spirit Church in Virginia Beach where he would meet Msgr. Thomas Caroluzza, then pastor.
“He was very accommodating and he helped me adjust to ministry in the diocese,” Father Jazmin said.
The arrangement went so smoothly that after three years Father Jazmin was incardinated into the Diocese of Richmond in 2002. He served also at Holy Angels in Portsmouth and in 2005 he was asked to be pastor of the newly formed Portsmouth Cluster of four parishes. He was assigned as pastor of Prince of Peace in 2007.
“Bishop Sullivan wanted me to be incardinated and Bishop Varela approved and here I am,” he told The Catholic Virginian.
There is a much more formal process today for receiving and processing the arrival of international priests. Msgr. Lane spoke about the agreement the Richmond Bishop enters into with the “sending Bishop.”
There is a great deal of “up front” work that has to take place before the international priests arrive. The first step is a letter from the priest’s superior stating he can come to the Diocese of Richmond. A “Letter of Good Standing” is now required along with four reference letters.
In addition, a background check is made and the diocese works with attorneys for the necessary paperwork which includes visas and Homeland Security requirements. The incoming priests are responsible for setting up the appointment in their country with the consulate.
Brenda Boehnlein, administrative assistant to Msgr. Lane, makes the travel arrangements and works with diocesan attorneys to make sure everything is approved. Several e-mails are exchanged over a course of 6-12 months in preparation for the arrival of the priests to the U.S.
Father Kazibwe, pastor of St. Paschal Baylon, South Boston; St. Catherine of Siena in Clarksville, and Good Shepherd in South Hill, along with Father Jazmin have been asked to assist with welcoming the new international priests to the diocese. They help them get the basic needs set up including bank account, insurance, driver’s license, and Social Security.
Dr. Gautier emphasized that the Diocese of Richmond is far ahead of other dioceses in its approach.
“The Bishop seems to be so welcoming in his attitude toward international priests,” she said.
“He sees that they receive the necessary mentoring, training and support they need and gives them ongoing formation or anything that will enhance their ministry.”
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