Foreign priests on the rise in U.S.

With the number of U.S.-born clergy dwindling, the United States has become mission territory again for an increasing number of foreign-born priests.

The drop in priestly vocations is staggering at more than 50 percent. Where there once were 994 diocesan priests ordained in the U.S. in 1965, there were only 427 in 2000.

According to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, foreign-based priests currently represent about 16 percent of the 27,000 active priests in the U.S., reported the Associated Press.

"We were one of the countries sending surplus, mission priests to places like Africa and Central America and the Philippines," Fr. Michael Renninger of the Richmond diocese told AP. Now, those former mission territories are experiencing their own vocational boom and, in some cases, sending priests to the U.S.

"The United States has become a mission territory," Fr. Thomas J. Caroluzza of the Diocese of Richmond was quoted as saying by AP.

Priests belonging to dioceses overseas have become the largest source of new clergy for Richmond, where there were no priestly ordinations in 2002, and only one ordination in 2003, reported AP. During the same period, the number of priests in the diocese dropped from 116 to 111 because of retirements, death and transfers.

The number of international priests in Richmond continues to rise. The number jumped from 21 in 1998 to 31 in 2002.  This month, another five priests from Poland, Kenya and the Philippines will join more than two dozen clergy from South Korea, Vietnam and other countries in Richmond on long-term assignments.

Many Filipino priests serve in Virginia because of a deal Bishop-emeritus Walter F. Sullivan struck years ago with Bishop-emeritus Jesus Y. Varela of the Diocese of Sosorgon in the Philippines.

Under the agreement, Richmond could borrow priests of the Sosorgon diocese and, in return, provide financial support to needy seminarians in the Philippines.

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