The road of life can take some unexpected turns at times. When a man accepts a call to the priesthood, he accepts whatever assignment is put before him. When there are too many priests in a diocese, the bishop may allow a number of clergy to travel to different parts of the world to spread the Gospel and further the universal church.
Bishop James Moynihan has made trips overseas to build relationships with other dioceses in the hopes they may send priests to the U.S. Some of the trips to Poland and meetings with officials from Africa have led directly to priests traveling to the Syracuse Diocese. Some of the more recent additions to diocesan parishes have had a good experience in America.
Father Simon K. Mugo, native of Kenya, is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Cicero. He has been in this country since 1998. Father Simon has served at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Endicott and St. Agatha’s Church in Canastota. In July 2000, Father Simon started a mission office for the work he and other priests from his home diocese of Nakuru, Kenya will perform in the years to come.
The Catholic Diocese of Nakuru Mission Office, Inc. is an independent corporate entity that will guide Father Simon and two other Kenyan priests in their mission in the U.S. Father Simon is the director and administrator of the Mission Office.
“The main idea behind the establishment of the Mission Office is to facilitate, promote and to strengthen our relationship with the Syracuse Diocese in the missionary work of evangelization, and also provide the opportunity for people in the U.S. to help to meet the needs of the people in Kenya,” Father Simon said.
Father Simon said he is enjoying his time in the Syracuse Diocese.
“I like the program. If it continues, it will continue to help us to learn more and understand more,” Father Simon said. “The priests of the diocese have been so helpful. I’ve had a very good time with the people here.”
The Diocese of Nakuru Mission Office is currently producing an educational video. The video will introduce the office, educate the youth and adults about life of the people of Kenya, as well as discuss the objectives of the mission in the future.
One of the differences people will find between the church in Nakuru and Syracuse is the worship itself.
“Dance and song are part of the celebration and Mass. Reverence and honor that is being given to God through song is clearly visible,” Father Simon said. “When we have offerings, instead of bringing the bread and wine, people bring things that they produce, like corn or some other crop and animals. They offer what they have to God.”
Mass celebrations last between two and a half and three hours on average, Father Simon explained. “Sunday is the day we offer to God. The other six days allow us to do work and do things for ourselves. Sundays revolve around the church,” Father Simon said. “Mass is a real celebration, not an obligation. These celebrations are full of music, joy and acceptance of what God literally is for the people.”
Besides his work as director of the Mission Office, Father Simon celebrates Mass at Sacred Heart along with attending classes at Le Moyne College. He is working on a master’s degree in business administration.
“Priests in our diocese must learn to speak a variety of languages in order adapt themselves into the different cultures of people within the diocese,” Father Simon said. “You just have to adapt to your situation. When I was in Endicott, I used to say Mass in Italian at St. Anthony’s.” Father Simon hopes the people of the Syracuse Diocese will be educated by the video and recognize the needs of the Kenyan people. He said they need help becoming self-reliant. Though poverty is a reality of life, the Kenyan people need more than just money, namely medicine, food and supporting strategic programs that will give them hope for a brighter future.
As part of this cooperative agreement between Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Peter Kairo from the Diocese of Nakuru, Father Simon said Syracuse diocesan priests are encouraged to visit his home diocese in Kenya and see first-hand the situation.
“For priests here, they have a chance to visit our country and have a different experience,” Father Simon said. “Whether on a sabbatical or on vacation for a month, they can see what the church in Africa is all about.”
Father Peter Ben Opara has been parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for only two weeks. Father Peter, a native of Nigeria, had been diocesan chancellor and secretary for Bishop V.A. Chikwe, D.C.L., D.D., in the Ahiara Diocese for the last seven years. Bishop Chikwe asked Father Peter if he would be interested in going to the Syracuse Diocese, and he agreed.
Father Peter talked about his own diocese and how important faith is to the people.
“Technically speaking, the ministry in this country and my diocese are the same, but the mode of operation differs. In my diocese, 95 percent of the population is Catholic. This is why we have huge crowds during celebrations. This makes the celebrations last longer,” Father Peter said. “The people are deeply religious. It has been in our nature, the Ibos of Nigeria, that religion is in our culture, flowing this way all through history.”
Unlike the Kenyan style of worship, the Ibos of Nigeria have much less dance in their services.
“We don’t have as much dance as the East [countries of Africa] because we are quiet, like the Irish and British whom we learned from,” Father Peter said. The three ethnic groups of Nigeria, the Ibos, Yerubas and Housas, vary in the length of their worship celebrations.
“The Yerubas are very celebrative. They dance the most. They are compared to the Kenyans’ celebration. Their celebrations are three hours. The Housas play the flute and dance some; they are semi-celebrative and their celebrations are two and a half hours,” Father Peter explained. “The Ibos can’t compare. Our celebration is shorter, only one and a half hours — two hours at the most.”
Despite only 14 days of experience in America, Father Peter shared his impressions of Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral.
“ I learned something from the rector [Father Champlin.] I learn something about age. At his age, he is still very active, writing new books and working around the clock to make sure everything is in order,” Father Peter said. “That has touched me. If I go back today, I have gained something from this man.”
The perception of mission work has changed over the years, Father Peter said.
“The U.S. is not seen as a mission in the old understanding of missions where you send a priest into a country needing conversion. The new mission is that you go wherever you are called to serve,” Father Peter said. “Service means a mission for you. The church is one and we must serve all people.”
The common mission to serve has brought Father Grzegorz (Gregory) Golyzniak and Father Bogdan Siewiera from Poland to the U.S. For the last month, Father Gregory has been serving as parochial vicar of St. Stephen’s Church in Oswego and Father Bogdan has been parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist Church in New Hartford. Friends for a number of years, Father Gregory and Father Bogdan both are learning English privately and working on celebrating Mass in English.
Father Gregory said there are many similarities between the churches in Poland and the U.S., but he talked about the differences that make the Polish church unique. Father Gregory said holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving are not celebrated, but feast days such as All Saints Day are held in very high importance, he said. Funeral and wedding services are also different. Father Gregory explained that there are no wakes before the funeral or wedding rehearsals before the wedding.
Two other differences are the importance of the Eucharist and reconciliation, he said. The people of Poland pray often and confess their sins more so than he has seen in the U.S. “They are a people of prayer. Through prayer, they come together as a family. They expand the family in the parish. Through that, you do more things to bring people to God,” Father Gregory said. “What surprised me in the U.S. is that people are not coming to confession. I think it’s very important because every person does sin. God forgives our sins. His light goes to our soul. I see in church, every person come to communion, but I don’t see these people coming to confession. I’m very surprised. They should be receiving communion in a state of grace.” Father Gregory said receiving the sacrament of reconciliation twice each year is far too little. He hopes more people will understand the importance of reverence for the Eucharist in the future. Each day Father Gregory studies English in his room for up to six hours. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he spends three hours in class with teachers from the State University of New York at Oswego. He also had group study with other international students, and a parishioner close to St. Stephen’s Church helps him with correct pronunciation of English words and terms in the liturgy of the Mass.
Father Gregory feels he is making slow improvements in his studies.
“I’ve been in the country for only one month and I didn’t know English, but now I see progress,” he said. “I didn’t speak like this. I didn’t know what any of your questions mean. I like studying English. It’s very important. It’s the most important thing to learn now — to speak better and to know how to say more and more things about God.”
Father Bogdan said he had learned a small amount of British English in private before coming to the U.S. He said pronunciation of some words in American English is different from British English. Homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, also cause problems for Father Bogdan. Slowly, he said he is understanding the language.
The large number of priests in the Tarnow Diocese in Poland has allowed Father Bogdan and Father Gregory to come to the U.S.
“In my diocese, there are more than 1,000 priests. I wanted to go to a place where there are not enough priests to help,” Father Bogdan said. “I didn’t think of going to the U.S. I thought maybe Britain or Germany. But our bishop said, ‘I need priests to go to the U.S.’ and my friend Gregory and I, we said yes. We would go together, not just one of us alone.” The people of St. John’s Parish have been very warm and welcoming to him, Father Bogdan said.
“I feel this church is very good. I see very faithful people. On weekdays, there are more people in church than in Poland. That is very good,” Father Bogdan explained. “Father Joseph Zareski, the pastor, is a very good pastor. He is the best. He is a very joyful guy and has helped me more with English.”
Father Bogdan said Father Zareski recorded the English Mass on computer so he could learn it more easily. After saying his first Mass recently, Father Bogdan hopes he will soon be able to say more prayers in English and preach a homily.
The future for the African and Polish priests in the diocese is different. Father Simon said he will continue to serve in Syracuse until his bishop asks for him to return. Father Peter said he is in the country for three years and then there will be an assessment. Father Gregory and Father Bogdan will be in the U.S. for the next five years and could potentially be incardinated into the diocese if there is a mutual agreement between Bishop Wiktor Skworc of the Tarnow Diocese, Bishop Moynihan and the priests themselves.
All four priests have enjoyed their time in the country, no matter how long or short.
“At this moment, I am very happy to be here,” Father Bogdan said.