Catholic church adjusts to priest shortage

Staff Reporter

Catholicism in Cortland County will be undergoing some changes over the next several years due to actions at the local and national levels.
“Over the next few years, you might see a completely new face of the church community in the county,” said the Rev. Mark Kaminski, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on Pomeroy Street in Cortland. “The bishop of Syracuse requested all Pastoral Care Areas in the whole diocese, which is seven counties, to submit proposals and plans for a new model of the church because … there is a shortage of priests.”
Kaminski said the Pastoral Care Area of which Cortland County is a part currently has only three priests serving eight parishes, as well as the Neumann Center at SUNY Cortland.
Kaminski said that preparations had been ongoing for about 10 years.
Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the diocese, said some parishes had been working on reorganization for quite some time before the latest directive.
“In January of this year, the bishop met with the parish priests individually,” Cummings said. “In those meetings, he suggested … that he would like one to three options presented that would address how to meet the spiritual needs in their community with fewer priests, fewer resources and a changing demographic. The maps of where people are and where people are worshipping are changing in the Northeast.”
Kaminski also said other goals include reducing the administrative duties of priests — Cummings said this goal will be served by increasing the role of the laity in church administration.
Bishop James M. Moynihan had directed that proposals should be submitted by Thanksgiving, and he hopes to begin implementation in 2007, Cummings said.
“Once the plans are submitted, they will be reviewed by various representatives in the diocese such as regional vicars and administrative leadership,” Cummings said.
There will also be revisions to the language of much of the Catholic Mass.
On June 15 in Los Angeles, the National Council of Catholic Bishops approved many changes that had been passed down from the Vatican in accordance with a directive issued by Pope John Paul II that took effect in 2001.
The purpose of the revisions is to bring the English translations closer to the Latin originals, Kaminski said.
Performing the Mass in the vernacular, rather than in Latin, was a product of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as Vatican II, between 1962 and 1965.
“For 40 years, no one was happy with the translation,” Kaminski said. “We have to make sure the translation has elements of sacredness, as well as poetry. It’s not just like the usual language we use on the street.”
Kaminski said the new translation does contain many elements that could be difficult to get used to — for example, the common phrase “The Lord is with you,” spoken by the priest, would now elicit the response “And with your spirit,” from the congregation. The response has been, “And also with you.”
“These are more subtle corrections and changes to preserve the identity of a 2,000-year-old tradition,” Kaminski said. “I’m trusting that it will enhance and enrich the liturgy. It’s going to be more meaningful on a spiritual level, which is the bottom line.”
Because it is the responsibility of the parish priests to bring the congregations up to speed on the changes, Kaminski said that workshops, meetings and Sunday school would all be useful in educating the laity.
“Some of the people have started asking questions already,” Kaminski said. “I really didn’t perceive those questions to be of utmost concern.”
Kaminski said the process would begin after final approval by the Vatican. He said it will be gradual and “natural,” and that it may even take a couple of generations before the new language is committed to memory as heartily as the current Mass is.



Forging a path back home to Liberia

Staff Reporter

When Joseph Bimba and his wife, Elisabeth, returned to their native Liberia in January for the first time in 16 years, they found a nation still reeling from a long, painful period of civil war.
“The country was devastated, the economy was shattered — emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually the country was so sick,” said Joseph Bimba, 45, an evangelist from the World Revival Temple in Tulsa, Okla., who has strong ties to the Cortland area. “Sometimes the only thing they have is the gospel and what they need most is God’s goodness.”
During their recent visit to Liberia, the Bimbas met personally with newly elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa, and became friends with Vice President Joseph Boakai, who invited them to his home and presented them with an elegant tapestry that celebrated Liberia’s tenuous, newfound peace.
“He told us that the country is in the process of rebuilding itself,” Joseph said of conversations with Boakai. “He said, ‘We need you guys back here.’”
Boakai made a vow to the Bimbas that he would do everything in his power to make sure any aid the couple could muster from their contacts in America would be welcomed into Liberia, and the Bimbas have in turn vowed to do their part.
The Bimbas have quit their jobs in Tulsa — Elisabeth was working as a nurse, Joseph at a state run shelter — in order to devote themselves to raising awareness and securing assistance for their native country.
The couple plan on making Cortland — where the Bimbas first settled after being forced out of Liberia at the outset of civil war in 1989 — the home base for their recently created foundation, Global Gospel Ministries.
They have been making contacts with local church and humanitarian groups for the past month and hope to open an office here.
The Bimba’s have an expansive plan to eventually create a missionary headquarters in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, that will cost about $150,000.
They are anxious to return to their native country, and will do so as soon as they can raise about $50,000 in start-up funds for their ministry along with a few thousand dollars a month to cover monthly bills and to allow their four children, who range in age from 11 to 19, to continue their lives in Tulsa.
“Once we get that, we’ll start packing tomorrow,” said Elisabeth Bimba, who is 46. “God is calling us to meet the spiritual needs of our country.”