Australia is importing priests from all over the world to fill the empty spaces left by our shortage of priests. These 'empty spaces' (one archbishop referred to them as 'black holes'), are Australian parishes without priests and a small number of elderly parishioners. They are striking testimony to the fact that in Australia we are doing it wrong.
Doing it wrong has terrible consequences whether it be in business, politics or religion. Do you really believe the mainstream religious orders in Australia are dying out because they are doing it right? I don't think so. They are sad vocation-free zones precisely because they are doing it wrong.
For all this we are very attached to the way we do things in Australia. A new group of overseas priests was recently told that in Australia priests don't wear roman collars or let themselves be called Father. You see what I mean? We call this process 'enculturation' - I call it 'propoganda' - getting them to do things 'our way'.
We bring these priests to Australia and the bishop of their home diocese speaks of them as 'missionary' priests. He tells his people that just as Africa was evangelised by white missionary priests now the black priests are returning the compliment.
The trouble is, though, that few if any of us in Australia, priests or people, really believe we need evangelising.
That's why, instead of welcoming them as missionaries we treat them like imported 'supply' priests to fill what we naively hope will be temporary holes in our system. And that's why we invest all that time in teaching them, no, obliging them, to do things the way we do them here, entirely forgetting that our way of doing things is the problem!
- 'How we do it here' is why we have no vocations
- 'How we do it here' is why we have declining numbers at Mass
- 'How we do it here' is why we have to close churches
- 'How we do it here' is why we have to import overseas priests.
It would be a pity if these three very generous missionary priests who, I bet you a dollar, arrived in roman collars, were to be returned to their own countries in open-necked shirts, or worse still, in collar and tie, asking to be called Felix, Chris, and Kene rather than Father, and adept in the art of 'compèring' a Mass.
So, Fathers from Africa, India, Poland, I hope you will not take all this 'enculturation' too seriously. Don't get swallowed up by the black hole you are being asked to fill.