African Priests Ease U.S. Catholic Shortage

An increasing number of African Priests are relocating to the United States after an escalating need for their spiritual guidance.

This heightened demand is spurred by a declining number of American priests.

A report by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate captures this decline and reports that the number of priests in the country dropped by 60 percent from 1970 to 2020. Thus, about 3,500 parishes have been left without a permanent pastor.

One of these priests who now serves two churches in rural Alabama is Reverend Athanasius Abanulo, a native from Nigeria.

Abanulo said he has been impressed with ministering in America but he has had to adapt his style as the lifestyle of worshippers in Nigeria is different from worshippers in America.

“Nigerian people are relaxed when they come to church,” Abanulo, the Reverend from the Holy Family and Immaculate Conception churches said to the Associated Press as quoted by ,Newsweek. “They love to sing, they love to dance. The liturgy can last for two hours. They don’t worry about that.”

“Coming from Africa we have a different lifestyle altogether. Priests coming from outside have to be reminded, they’re coming in to the people, to serve the people who already have their culture, it takes time.”

Reverend Athanasius Abanulo

Sister Maria Sheri Rukwishuro. a nun from the Sisters of the Infant Jesus order in Zimbabwe who traveled to West Virginia told the Associated Press that she was anxious about her new work environment.

“What kind of people am I going to? I’m just a Black nun coming to a white country,” Sister Rukwishuro said as she recalled telling her mother superior.

However, the nun who now teaches religious education to public and Catholic school students says people in the U.S. are welcoming and the country now “feels like home”.

Speaking on the declining number of American priests, Georgetown University’s Reverend Thomas Gaunt explains that there is a smaller number of young Catholic worshippers than in previous years.

Gaunt says, “What we have is a much smaller number beginning in the 1970s entering seminaries or to convents across the country”.

“Those who entered back in the ’50s and ’60s are now elderly and so the numbers are determined much more by mortality.”

Bishop Steve Raica from the Birmingham Diocese outlined the importance of the African priests in plugging the gaping holes caused by the short number of American priests.

“We are experiencing a shortage of priests currently and for particular ministry sometimes we have them and invite them to come and join in the ministry that we have available at this particular time. And so they have been an enormous help to us,” he said.

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