By MSGR. J. DONALD GORSKI
May the Risen Lord fill all your darkness with light! Easter proclaims the incredibly Good News that there is no darkness so dark that the Lord cannot draw light out of it. There is no crucifixion so horrible that the Lord can’t transform it into resurrection.
I write these words in Lima as I return tomorrow to Zorritos after a visit to the states. While there I read and heard of the church suffering such a great tragedy in Boston, the diocese that gave birth to the St. James Society.
Last night I continued reading a book I found in our Lima Center House called Extraordinary Lives, the inspiring stories of 34 priests who are happy in their priesthood. I’ve never seen the media in the United States state what every study says: the vast majority of priests are happy in their priesthood.
I read last night at midnight the story of Father John Carney. His archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., was hit by probably the worst scandals in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. There were more than 150 lawsuits against the church. Daily scandals filled the media. In this negative atmosphere Father Carney was made vocations director. At the time there were only three seminarians. He was called “ridiculous” when he said, “In five years, we’ll have 35 seminarians.” Three years later, he said, “I was wrong, we won’t have 35 seminarians but close to 50.”Among the new seminarians are doctors, lawyers, and businessmen who were drawn to Santa Fe precisely because they wanted to fix up the mess and be part of the solution. The Lord brings light out of darkness.
Last year after Christmas we did something in Zorritos we had never done before. We tried to thank the very large number of people who serve and minister in our parish: the members of our 27 parish councils, our almost 100 missionaries, the hundreds who take part in Family Catechetics, Juan XXIII, Bodas de Cana, Vida, UNER, Legion of Mary, Talleres de Oracion y Vida, coordinators of the lunch program for children and aged, prison ministry, etc. Some people traveled for hours to be present at this special Mass of thanksgiving, and they filled our church in Zorritos to overflowing even though it is being doubled in size. What a celebration! This will certainly become an annual event. Selected people were given just three minutes to share what serving our Zorritos parish has meant to them. In my three minutes I said, “If God were to appear to me today and say, ‘Look, I’ll give you whatever you want to have, whatever you want to do, wherever you want to do it.'” I told the people I’d tell God, “‘Lord, I want to possess just what I have. I want to do parish work. and I want to do it in Zorrito, Peru.'” The people here never applaud a sermon, but they did when I said that. They surprised me, and they wouldn’t stop applauding. I finally had to say, “Look, you’re taking my three minutes.”
In reading the 34 stories, I looked for the common thread running through all of their lives. Why were they all so happy in the priesthood from the very young to 80-year-old priests? They used different words, but they all said much of the same thing: They were convinced that their lives were making a difference in the world. Through their priesthood they were touching and helping and changing the lives of many people and situations for the better. This gives a satisfaction and joy that is unique and deep and wonderful. Everyone is called by God to touch, help and change the lives of others for the better, but the priesthood offers a unique and wonderful instrument for doing this.
An elderly priest who lived in the Zorritos rectory with me used to say, “The happiest men I’ve seen anywhere in the world are the priests of the St. James Society.” I’d have to agree with that. We know and see that we’re making a difference. Talk about job satisfaction — it’s built into the priesthood. I believe there are people in Zorritos who would be physically and spiritually dead if I’d said, “No,” to the Lord’s call as I left high school 51 years ago.
One example comes to mind. Last year a young girl was horribly burned in one of our mountain villages. Carried to the Tumbes hospital, the doctors said she’d soon be dead and they weren’t equipped to help her. Usually the parish council of their village works with the family of the sick person to have raffles, bingos, or a meal. The parish supplies all the material so it’s clear profit. The parish council helps the people to help themselves. But the child was actually dying and the family and village are poor. There was no time even to get a discount from the airline. The parish immediately bought nine seats on a plane to lay her out with parents, a doctor, and nurses.
Flown quickly to a large hospital in Lima, she survived. The parish council of the village still works with the family to have activities to help in the slow process of recuperation. But the young girl is alive and well, and how do you think that makes me feel? If there is any vocation that gives greater satisfaction and joy, I don’t know what it is.
With almost 43 years in the priesthood, I’m in the homestretch of my priesthood and life. If I were to die today, I’d die believing that I could have done nothing greater or more significant with my one life. I’d die believing that the effects of my priesthood on many people are and will be eternal. I hope that positive message reaches out to call others into this ministry.
I pray that people will see beyond the media’s all-pervasive negativity to see the positive hand of Jesus reaching out and saying, “Come, follow me. Feed my sheep.” I pray that more priests enter this wonderful ministry with the St. James Society. With less than 50 priests spread thin in four countries, and a high average age level, we’re in danger of extinction in a few years. We need a great new influx of priests to sustain a much-needed ministry.
To all who helped save that young girl’s life and many others — to all who support this ministry by prayer and/or donations. Thank you. You should share in some of my satisfaction for you’re helping to make these things happen. Thank you and receive the prayer of a grateful people.
Msgr. Donald Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, who ministers to the people of Zorritos, Peru.