Mission Lands Losing Native Priests to the West

Vatican Instruction Aims to Regulate Movement

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Priests born in mission territories often end up working in the West, draining their homelands of sorely needed pastoral care, the Vatican warns in a new document.



Priests from Asia, Africa and Latin America are now being sent to European or North American countries, posing problems that were unthinkable just a few years ago.

Given the situation, the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples today published an "Instruction on the Sending Abroad and Sojourn of Diocesan Priests from Mission Territories." The instruction has John Paul II´s approval.

The instruction has a basic principle: The mobility of priests from mission lands "must not harm but help the growth of the Churches in mission territories," said Cardinal Jozef Tomko, who wrote the introduction to the document. Cardinal Tomko until recently was prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

He explained that many priests of mission territories travel to Europe or North America to study. However, at times they are faced with a double temptation.

On one hand, he said, they are tempted to stay in those countries for reasons that are not specifically missionary -- better living conditions, for instance.

On the other, the Churches of the West, which are suffering from a shortage of vocations, take recourse to African, Asian or Latin American priests to cover empty posts in parishes, without thinking of the possible harm this could do to new, fragile communities.

In some areas, the situation is alarming. In India, for example, where it is hard for missionaries to get visas, the lack of priests compromises the evangelization of the country and care of its 16 million Catholics. Yet, numerous Indian priests work in Europe. A few years ago, one European diocese alone had 39 priests from India, Cardinal Tomko revealed.

"There are dioceses of Africa and Asia that have one third or even half the diocesan clergy abroad for economic reasons," Cardinal Tomko said. Yet, he added, "in Italy, it is estimated that there are 1,800 foreign priests, of whom 800 were fully integrated in direct pastoral" care.

"Many new dioceses could be created in mission territories with such a number of diocesan priests!" Cardinal Tomko lamented.

"The phenomenon has reached such proportions," that the bishops have requested a ruling in this respect, which is now made public, he said.

The document is addressed to young and old Churches to "regulate these situations especially through agreements between bishops and diocesan priests of mission territories who are sent abroad and the bishops who receive them."

The instruction may be read on the Web page of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples accessible through http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/index.htm. Click on Congregations and then Evangelization of Peoples.