By Antonina Zielinska
Every summer, about 80 priests from around the world visit the diocese to cover for local priests, who go on vacation.
“But don’t think you are just here to fill in,” said Msgr. Ron Marino, vicar for migrant and ethnic apostolates, at a welcome day for the visiting priests at the diocesan office in Park Slope. “Use the experience of the Diocese of Brooklyn to grow as a priest… The immigrants here shape you in ways you don’t realize.”
He told the visiting priests that visiting the diocese is akin to being newly ordained, a fresh start to think differently about and to rejuvenate their vocation. And although their own diocese will be the same when they go back, hopefully they will be different.
However, Msgr. Marino said it is not a one-way street. The visiting priests are a gift for the diocese, not just to afford a rest for local priests, but to enrich the diocese with their own experience and priesthood.
“Thank you for the gift of your priesthood,” said Deacon Julio Barreneche, director of the Office for Clergy Personnel, who coordinates the priests’ stays.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio personally welcomed the visiting priests. He asked each man to introduce himself. In this way, he found out that there was a priest who served a summer ministry in Camden, N.J., when the bishop was still ministering there.
“You’re following me, huh?” the bishop joked.
The bishop then invited all the priests to Mass with him in the Chancery building chapel and preached a practical homily on evangelization.
Father Romel Peñafiel, who is making his eighth visit to the diocese to minister to Spanish-speaking Catholics, said he has found the challenges of his home diocese to be much different from Brooklyn. He said the parishes here are much smaller geographically, making things easier in that sense. However, there are different types of challenges.
“It’s a lot of work because evangelization is needed, but from what I’ve seen they are tackling the problem well,” Father Peñafiel said.
Father Augustine Adams from Ghana is ministering at St. Patrick’s, Bay Ridge, for two months. This is his fourth stint of summer ministry in the diocese after studying at Fordham University from 2008 to 2010. He also noticed that the pace of the priesthood here is not necessarily as hectic.
“A priest here is not a jack of all trades,” he said.
At home, Father Adams said he is responsible for things like manual record keeping and catechism classes, while here there are people in the parish who help out with that.
Father Adams said he enjoys coming back here because he has made a lot of friends over the years and has come to know the families of the parishes where he has ministered.
Father Jeromino Cucufate from El Salvador said he is grateful to minister for a month at Blessed Sacrament, Jackson Heights, because it affords him the opportunity to visit his family afterwards in Maryland.
Father Marian Nowak, a philosophy of education professor at the Catholic University in Lublin, Poland, said the summer ministry helps him become a better priest and educator. It affords him an opportunity to do pastoral work ministering especially to Polish and Italian families. He said he cherishes this work to help him gain a contrast from his daily life in the university.
He is also able to grow in his academic pursuit by meeting with professors teaching in New York and the surrounding region, he said.
Father Emmanuel Ikeobi, a seminary professor from Nigeria, said the diocesan summer program enriches his ability to teach his students about missionary work. Unlike Brooklyn and Queens, Father Ikeobi said Nigeria is not diverse culturally. Therefore this experience prepares him to explain to his students how to interact with people from different cultures and how people of different cultures can live side-by-side, Father Ikeobi said.