ALLOUEZ — Approximately 8,000 miles separate the Diocese of Green Bay and the Archdiocese of Caceres, located in the Philippines. However, through a partnership that brings Filipino priests to serve in northeast Wisconsin parishes, the two ecclesial communities are bridging that gap.
Last week, the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Caceres visited seven priests from his archdiocese who serve in the Diocese of Green Bay. Archbishop Rolando Tirona, a member of the Discalced Carmelite religious order, also visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill, and joined Bishop David Ricken for Mass at St. Joseph Chapel on the diocesan grounds April 27.
In an interview with The Compass, Archbishop Tirona spoke about the partnership between his archdiocese and the Green Bay Diocese, and how it benefits both communities.
In addition to visiting Green Bay, Archbishop Tirona is spending five days in the Diocese of Richmond, Va., where other priests from his archdiocese serve. He returns home on May 14.
“Basically I’m here to do some pastoral visitations, and also to have contact with the bishops,” he said. “This (visit) is the longest, eight days in Green Bay.” According to the archbishop, he has about 40 priests serving in four U.S. dioceses and the Caribbean. “We recently opened a mission in American Samoa,” he said.
Archbishop Tirona said Caceres is one of four “royal ecclesiastical territories” established by Spain. The others include the archdioceses of Manila, Cebu, and Nueva Segovia. Caceres was created in 1595 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1951. “The original Caceres diocese is in Spain, so we are the daughter, but the daughter became an archdiocese,” he said, smiling.
It is his first visit to Wisconsin and the first time meeting Bishop David Ricken. Last year, Deacon Peter Gard, who serves as coordinator of international priests for the Diocese of Green Bay, traveled to the Philippines to meet with the archbishop.
Sending priests from Caceres to mission territories in need of priests began under his predecessor, Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, a Dominican priest. “He started this mission, Donum Fide, Gift of Faith, in the Caribbean, especially with the Dominican bishops,” said Archbishop Tirona.
After arriving as archbishop in 2012 (he previously served as bishop of Infanta from 2003 to 2012, bishop of Malolos from 1996 to 2003 and auxiliary bishop of Manila from 1994 to 1996), Archbishop Tirona was asked to partner with U.S. dioceses. “There were a couple of bishops who spoke to the (Filipino bishops’) conference, asking for Filipino priests. It was presented to me and I said go ahead.”
He said the archdiocese requires priests who serve abroad to have at least 12 years of ministry. They are allowed to serve for a maximum of five years. “There are instances where a bishop would request for a priest to stay longer, but that is on a case-by-case basis.” Priests serving in the Caribbean can serve up to three years. In exchange, dioceses provide financial contributions to the archdiocese, which helps support retired priests, said the archbishop.
Archbishop Tirona said his priests are sent to dioceses where shortages are critical.
“When I send priests here to the States, it’s not my intention to send them to New York or San Francisco. No, it’s (places) I really feel they need priests, like here,” he said. “I’ve gone around (the diocese) and seen that there are parishes (in need of priests). You can see how people really like to have a priest here.”
Enculturation can be a challenge for Filipino priests who serve abroad, said Archbishop Tirona.
“In the Philippines, the priests are a bit spoiled,” he said. “They have a driver, they have a cook, they have a laundry woman, they have someone who opens the door. Well here, they learn how to cook, they learn how to open the church, especially in the winter time.”
He said he tells the priests to learn time management skills, self-discipline and living in solitude.
“It’s good for priests to have a new perspective,” he said. “At times, we can just get stuck in our own little world and the Philippines is just a dot in the Catholic world, in the same that Green Bay is just a dot in the Catholic world.”
Archbishop Tirona said the missionary experience is a learning process for priests and parishes.
“Both the priest and the community have to make adjustments, especially in terms of the culture,” he said. “We are from Asia. We have a different mindset. It’s both an enrichment and a challenge. I’m glad to know that parishioners are, by and large, open minded. They understand the situation that my priests have to learn, so be patient with them. The same way that I tell my priests, there is a different style here. So you have to learn to give and take.”
Archbishop Tirana said his message to members of the Green Bay Diocese is gratitude.
“I am very grateful, as a pastor, to have been given this opportunity to bring my priests, or lead them to a different experience outside of the local church of my diocese,” he said. “I’m very happy that there have been generous bishops to welcome them.”
He believes the church is called to communio, or communion. “In the corporate world the saying is, if we don’t partner, we perish. I think that’s what is needed now,” he said. “There are so many spiritual treasures and experiences that particular churches can share with one another, so it’s very good to have this partnership.”
Bishop Ricken, who spoke at St. Joseph Chapel following Mass with Archbishop Tirado and Filipino priests, said the diocese has been “richly blessed” by the partnership.
“We thank these priests who have left home at the archbishop’s request to come and serve us for a time here,” he said. “I want to say that we are beneficiaries of their generosity … but archbishop is making it clear that we need to produce our own priests. We need to produce our own sisters in religious life.”