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Posted May 3, 2011

Recently The National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood www.jknirp.com received a grant from the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America to study programs that assist the acculturation of international priests. As the study progresses, jknirp.com will be posting much of the related literature it is employing in its study. Below is related literature that hopefully will be of value to parishes that have international priests.

The USCCB Guidelines and COPIM

The Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States, published by the USCCB (Revised Edition, 2003) offer suggestions for four main tasks:

A. Standardizing the process of requesting or sending a priest, religious, or pastoral minister from a diocesan bishop or major superior to another diocesan bishop or major superior

B. Assisting in defining the general qualifications of the candidates to be nominated for ministry in the United States

C. Facilitating the mechanism of orientation for both the candidate and the host diocese (or community)

D. Ensuring proper accounting of clergy, religious, and other pastoral ministers in the United States

The Cultural Orientation Program for International Ministers (COPIM), based at Loyola Marymount University, concerns itself almost exclusively with orientation (C), and historically has worked mainly with the orientation of the missionary1 pastoral minister who has left his or her homeland to take up pastoral ministry in the United States.

It also needs to be said that our faculty have in the past run sections of COPIM for women religious and have also developed workshops for pastoral ministers of the host diocese. In the latter case, our faculty have also made themselves available in particular dioceses for clergy days and workshops on related cultural orientation topics. In all cases we have experienced only limited demand for these services. With women religious, the issue is usually the difficulty of paying for a program like COPIM. We are unsure of how to account for the lack of demand for cultural orientation on behalf of the host diocese.

The Guidelines call for the following kinds of orientation:

Pre-departure orientation to American society and culture (p. 5)

Time to adjust to American society and culture (at least two to three months) before beginning any ministry in the United States (p. 5)

Orientation of the missionary to the local church and society, which includes an understanding of cultural contexts on the part of both the missionary and the community he or she serves. This understanding is referred to as “vital for effective ministry.” (p. 5)

Attendance at an orientation program for missionaries seeking pastoral ministry in the U.S. is strongly encouraged: pre-departure orientation in the home country and pre-placement orientation in the U.S. (p. 11)

Ongoing (formal) orientation and spiritual direction should continue for the first three years after beginning pastoral ministry in the U.S. It is desirable for the pastoral minister to be provided with a mentor who understands his or her culture at this time.” (p. 11)

Orientation Components

A. Before arrival in the U.S., “several days” of basic info on the geography, political system, education, religion, demographics and multicultural nature of U.S. society (p. 23)

B. Upon arrival (first two or three months are an adjustment period prior to beginning ministry): development of a personal support network, attendance at a diocesan orientation program, English classes (if necessary), pastoral vocabulary enhancement, provision of a mentor/spiritual director (relationship should continue for at least three years).

C. 12–18 months after arrival, a program of pastoral ministry should take place that consists of missiology, ecclesiology, religious pluralism, collaboration, accountability, ministry in a multicultural Church, the role of lay ministers, women in the Church, cultural diversity, and theological reflection. (p. 24)

Component (C) corresponds fairly accurately to the curriculum of COPIM.

Diocesan Orientation should welcome the new missionary, assist the missionary with becoming critically conscious of the North American culture, and facilitate the missionary’s integration into a multicultural church and a religiously diverse American society.

The pre-orientation social: a series of evening or breakfast meetings (so that people have a choice of dates, times, locations), two-and-a-half hours long, with food, no business conducted (except invitations to the next session), bishop present.2

Orientation sessions should allow time for participants to tell their stories (A COMPONENT OF COPIM), and the following topics are suggested:

Survival skills

Social norms such as tipping, table manners, privacy, punctuality

American cultures

Geography of the U.S.

Gender issues and the roles of laity, women, clergy in the U.S. (COPIM TOPIC)

Crime and the judicial system in the U.S.

American holidays

Life in a rectory (COPIM TOPIC)

Expectations of a priest, religious or pastoral minister within a parish (SOME EXPECTATIONS COVERED IN COPIM)

Responsibilities and obligations of teachers

Liturgical life (COPIM TOPIC)

Diocesan structures and resources

Diocesan sacramental guidelines

Any other diocesan guidelines

Diocesan misconduct policy (GENERAL NORMS TALKED ABOUT IN COPIM)

Professional and personal boundaries (COPIM TOPIC)

Spiritual Development (COPIM TOPIC)

Under parish orientation is duration of homilies, and homilies in general (as effective communication) are part of COPIM.

Under orientation of the host community (p. 30), the emphasis is on everyone taking steps to understand each other across cultural differences. Missing from this urging to cooperation is the intensity with which complaints about missionaries in the U.S. are often expressed and the inevitability of cultural clashes.

All of the in-depth follow-up orientation topics listed in the Guidelines (p. 30) are taken up in COPIM, but it should be kept in mind that COPIM is not a study program but a participative workshop; the purpose is not the transmission of information but rather the cultivation of intercultural skills for accessing cultural information and getting comfortable with cultural dynamics.

Ecclesiology of the Church in the U.S.

Missiology: biblical and theological foundations for mission

History of the Church in the U.S.

Ministry in a multicultural Church

Religious pluralism

Surveys of U.S. history, politics, political structure, and economy

National ecclesial structures

Lay ministry in the Church in the U.S.

Systematic understanding of culture, race relations, cross-cultural communication

Biblical and theological foundations of ministry with immigrants, refugees, and people on the move

Communication skills

Additional topics not mentioned in the Guidelines but included in COPIM are:

What is culture? Getting acquainted with a vocabulary for thinking about cultural issues and about what is going on as they experience the intercultural encounter

Culture and the Bible

The mainstream culture of the United States and other cultures here.

Homosexuality – what the Church teaches

Ethnic tensions and diversity

Liturgy in parishes with many ministries and many ministers


Theology and context (African Theology, Asian Theology, women and theology, etc.)

How do you do theology? How do the people in the pews do theology? The process of theological reflection for various people in different roles--lay people hearing the Word, the priest preparing a sermon

Learning to listen as a way of doing theology

Change and grief – always part of life, always a challenge, always fearful

How have they changed, and what are the changes ahead?

Robert A. Hurteau
Los Angeles, January, 2010

1The term “missionary” is used by the Guidelines to refer to those who have left their homelands to take up pastoral ministry in the United States (p. 5), and when referring to the pre-departure time from the country of origin, uses the adjective “missionary” when it asks him or her to elaborate on expected contributions to the Church in the United States (p. 10); Margaret Guider has argued for the appropriateness of this term (“From the Ends of the Earth: ‘International Minister’ or Missionary? Vocational Identity and the Changing Face of Mission in the USA – A Roman Catholic Perspective” in Jeyaraj, David, Robert W. Pazmińo, and Rodney L. Petersen, ed., Antioch Agenda, 329-346 (New Delhi: Indian Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge for Andover Newton Theological School and the Boston Theological Institute, 2007).

2It seems unclear in the Guidelines whether the socials are mainly for the new missionaries with a few selected folks from the diocese, or instead supposed to feature as many people as possible from the diocese to welcome the new missionaries.