African priests are now the future of the Catholic Church in the United States

In more than a decade as a Catholic priest in the United States, Martins Emeh has served as a pastor, a cannon law instructor, a diocesan archivist and a judge on the church’s Ecclesiastical Court of Appeals.

Emeh, who came to the United States for graduate school in 1998 from Nigeria and was ordained thereafter, currently serves as a priest at the Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Community, a bustling church in suburban Houston.

In more than a decade as a Catholic priest in the United States, Martins Emeh has served as a pastor, a cannon law instructor, a diocesan archivist and a judge on the church’s Ecclesiastical Court of Appeals.

Emeh, who came to the United States for graduate school in 1998 from Nigeria and was ordained thereafter, currently serves as a priest at the Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Community, a bustling church in suburban Houston.

In more than a decade as a Catholic priest in the United States, Martins Emeh has served as a pastor, a cannon law instructor, a diocesan archivist and a judge on the church’s Ecclesiastical Court of Appeals.

Emeh, who came to the United States for graduate school in 1998 from Nigeria and was ordained thereafter, currently serves as a priest at the Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Community, a bustling church in suburban Houston.

Adejo, who holds two master’s degrees from universities in Los Angeles and Dayton, Ohio, worked as a chaplain in Nigeria before returning to the U.S. in 2002. He worked as a chaplain at a hospital in Waco, Texas and then helped run a struggling African-American parish at the request of the bishop before joining the Veterans Affairs hospital in 2008.

He says African priests fill a critically important need for the Catholic church in America.

“If we were not here there would be no Sunday mass in many of these parishes and no sacraments,” says Adejo who regularly fills in at parishes in nearby Jefferson City. He believes African priests have received “tremendous acceptance” from lay people.

“They see the impact, the style and the approach to ministry,” he says.

Emeh says African priests have a reputation for being more dedicated, personable, easy going and for regularly making themselves available – even on their days off.

“We don’t look at it simply as a job,” he says.

Bob Bonnott, executive director of the Association of US Catholic priests and a priest for 52 years, says: “The Africans often are younger, kind of dynamic and are joyful and that comes through in spite of language problem or cultural challenges.”

But this trend does not come without challenges.

“Some of them have to deal with the handicap of language in terms of the accent,” says Emeh. “People might complain of not being able to follow especially when they’re speaking rapidly. That becomes a little bit of a handicap in terms of impact.”

Adejo adds that some American priests have the impression that African priests are here for monetary gain.

Then there’s the challenge of racism or at least the perception of it.

“My experience is that people in the community are more accepting than brother priests,” says Emeh. As a seminarian, he had a professor, a nun, who told him she couldn’t understand why an African like him was planning to take up an appointment as a priest in the overwhelmingly white Rockford, Illinois diocese.

“She didn’t believe I was qualified to minister to Caucasians,” he says. “I have worked with many Caucasian priests who have accepted me as a brother. Then I had to deal with some with some who felt threatened when I was sent to study Cannon law. They wondered why I was rising so fast. We’ve had Africans who were priests for many years before they were assigned their own parishes.”

But the bottom line, says Bonnott, is that the presence of African priests is a good thing for the church.

“I think it is expanding Catholic people’s sense that they are a universal church and that we are part of one human race,” he says. “The Catholic faith in Africa is exploding and the seminaries are filled. I think it is a blessing for US Catholics to experience that and relate to this foreign born priests in a mutually enriching way.”

Written by: Lekan Oguntoyinbo

First published 11.07.19: https://qz.com/africa/1664208/catholic-church-in-america-needs-african-priests-for-its-future/

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