Skip to comments.US mission territories face unique challenges
Posted on 05/12/2013 1:58:44 PM PDT by NYer
Every Sunday, Father Theodore Nnabugo is likely to spend as much time behind the wheel of his car as at the altar of a church.
Father Nnabugo, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in La Pine, Ore., also serves three mission parishes spread across a 10,000-square-mile region in the Diocese of Baker, Ore. On Sunday mornings he first heads to Holy Trinity in Sunriver for 8 a.m. Mass, then returns to Holy Redeemer for Mass at 10 a.m. Next up are Masses in two other mission churches, Our Lady of the Snows in Gilchrist at 12:30 p.m. and Holy Family in Christmas Valley at 3:30 p.m., before he returns home having logged a total of 500 miles round trip.
It is a lot of driving, said Sally Sutton, the parish operations manager, who, along with the rest of the small parish staff, travels to each of the mission sites the farthest of which is 56 miles away to tend to the needs of parishioners. As far as just administering the sacraments, it is very challenging at times.
A whole other church
|Missionary Needs at Home|
Today more than 2 million U.S. residents live in counties without a single Catholic church. According to the 2010 Religious Congregations and Membership Study, 183 counties in the U.S. have no Catholic parish and an additional 927 counties have only one parish. Of those with only one parish, 171 of them have fewer than 50 individual members. In the southern United States, there are 196 counties that have a Catholic parish but have no resident priest.
The smallest Catholic populations tend to exist in rural areas of the South, in states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas. Tennessee has the smallest percentage of Catholics of any state, with only 3.5 percent of the population identifying as Catholic.
Catholic parishes can also be few and far between in Western states that cover large geographic areas. Though 11 percent of Wyomings residents are Catholic, the state has only 70 parishes on its nearly 100,000 square miles of land. Utah, which is home to more than 270,000 Catholics, has just 63 parishes.
This type of arrangement is much more common in the United States than many Catholics may think, said Mary Mencarini Campbell, director of Catholic Home Missions for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
That is replicated all across the Northwest and the Southwest, where there are these great distances and where parishes dont have their own resident pastor, she told Our Sunday Visitor. It really is a whole other church out there, and yet it is right in our own backyard.
Though the needs of mission territories vary, they are often characterized by small Catholic populations, large geographic regions, lack of clergy and Catholic institutions, high poverty rates and limited financial resources. These factors can make it difficult to provide access to Mass, the sacraments and basic church ministries.
The USCCBs annual home mission collection, taken each year on the last Sunday of April, helps to fund 84 dioceses and eparchies with missionary needs, or roughly 44 percent of all U.S. dioceses. The grants, which this year will total $8.4 million, can help with a range of needs from funding seminary and faith formation programs to paying the pastors salary or keeping gas in his car.
No Priest Land
Father William Howard Bishop first recognized in the 1930s the large number of areas in the United States where the needs of Catholics were not being served. Mapping more than 1,000 counties with no resident priest which he termed No Priest Land, USA Father Bishop founded in 1939 the Glenmary Home Missioners, a society of priests and brothers. A society of sisters was founded in 1941.
Focusing primarily on the southern United States, the Glenmary Missioners today work in rural communities where Catholics often comprise less than 1 percent of the population, said Glenmary president Father Chet Artysiewicz.
When you are less than 1 percent of the population theres a certain unfamiliarity with you and perhaps there are misperceptions about you, Father Artysiewicz told OSV. Thats a difficulty of being such a minority in these areas.
When Glenmary arrives in a new area, they often begin by celebrating Masses in someones home or a local community center. In many of these regions, Father Artysiewicz said, a large part of the population is unchurched.
We need parishes to nurture those Catholics who are already there, but we also need missionaries to be out there and to say to those who dont have a faith family and community: consider us, he said.
For the past six years, Franciscan Sister Colette Gerry has worked with the Glenmary Missioners to build the Catholic presence in the small Appalachian town of Grayson, Ky., where she serves as pastoral coordinator of Sts. John and Elizabeth Mission. The parish shares its sacramental minister, Father Dave Glockner, with another Glenmary parish more than 30 miles away.
Though the parish only has about 50 families, theyve welcomed new members through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
Every year weve had someone come into the Church through RCIA, Sister Colette said. So we see growth, little by little.
Despite the challenges they face, the small communities in mission parishes have their benefits as well.
At Oregons Holy Redeemer, which has only 250 families between its four locations, Sutton said that parishioners take a strong sense of ownership of their parish.
We have an extremely engaged little parish, she said. We really rely a lot on volunteers to do a lot of the daily functions.
Sutton said it is different than her experience in towns with larger Catholic populations and multiple parishes to choose from.
It was very enlightening to me to move out here and experience this, she said. But we sure wouldnt trade it for the world. It is just so close knit.