Program #0299 for Tuesday, May 15, 2012: Fr David Costello and the St James Society

May 15, 2012

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Summary of today’s show: Scot and Father Chris talk about the Society of St James the Apostle with Fr David Costello, the newly elected Director of the Society. Fr David discusses his early formation for the Diocese of Limerick, Ireland, his work starting a brand new parish in the diocese of Lima, Peru, and what he looks forward to accomplishing over his upcoming three year tenure as Director.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Father Chris O’Connor

Today’s guest(s): Father David Costello, Director of the Society of St James the Apostle

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Today’s topics: Fr David Costello and his formation, the work of Fr David and the Society of St James in Peru, the Society itself, the future and mission of the Society.

1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr Chris back to the show, and asked about what he did to celebrate Mother’s Day this past weekend. Fr Chris said he visited with his sister and family and did lots of grilling, and connected not only to his biological mother but Mary, our spiritual mother. Scot commented he liked St Agnes in Arlington’s way of celebrating Mother’s Day – by crowning Mary right after the morning Mass. Scot also mentioned that the Pastoral Center crowned the statue of Mary today in a celebration after the noon-time Mass. Fr Chris said most prayers now are directed towards doing well on exams before heading out to their summer assignments – men will be working 6 to 8 weeks in a parish, shadowing priests and learning how to live a holy life. It also gives the seminarians a chance to put the pastoral skills they are learning into practice. Some of the men go to the Institute for Priestly Formation, Fr Chris said, a program in Omaha that teaches the Igantian Spirituality to men preparing for the priesthood. Lastly, Fr Chris said there are several men traveling to Portugal this summer for an immersion in the language – this will better prepare the men to serve the Portuguese-speaking communities here in the Archdiocese of Boston. Scot also gave a “shout out” to Paul Blanchette, who ministered to the listeners at Norfolk State Prison this past weekend with the Cursillo program. Fr Chris added that he sees the fruit of Cursillo in the lives of all the men there, and thanked them all for listening and for their prayers.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Father David Costello to the show. Fr David said he is from the south of Ireland, a town named Limerick. Scot asked when Fr David got the idea that God might be calling him to serve as a priest – Fr David replied that from a very early age he always knew he wanted to be a priest. Growing up, Fr David said he was very involved in his parish as an altar server, with family events, and more. The priests, people in his parish, and the community influenced him in a positive way, and when he was 16 he made the decision to enter the seminary after high school. He was ordained for the Diocese of Limerick in 1995, and spent his first 8 years as a priest in a parish in County Limerick. Fr David said at that point, he heard a vocation call within a vocation call – to not just be a priest but to be a missionary priest. Fr David said he was lucky that there was a St James priest from Limerick he knew well – he spoke with his fellow priest about the St James Society and visited him in Peru. Scot noted that the whole country of Ireland has been very active in the missions throughout the world, and that activity has been part of the foundation of the Irish population here. Fr David agreed and said that it was difficult to get a place in the diocese in Ireland when he was younger, so Irish priests were sent abroad. Every diocese would also have its own mission outreach in those days as well, Fr David added.

Fr Chris said that we’re very proud of the Society here in Boston because it was at the idea of Richard Cardinal Cushing that the Society started. Fr David explained that the membership being made of diocesan priests is the most unique part of the Society – being able to live out a mission call while still being incardinated to their home diocese. Priests generally remain members for about 5 years, Fr David said, and are then sent back to their home dioceses after service. Fr David said most of the pioneers were from Boston – the ones who went to the furthest parts of Bolivia and Peru and did the hardest work to start the mission of the Society. Fr Chris said he thinks the other great benefit to the diocese is that the priests come back home with a new language skill and cultural knowledge to minister to South American Catholics who have migrated. Fr David agreed, and said it’s interesting to him to meet people from parishes as he does appeals and parish missions who remember past priests in their lives who have served with the Society. Scot noted that priests who come back have a deeper cultural connection to their people, not just a new language. He asked Fr David how that worked in his case – Fr David said he didn’t even speak Spanish when he first went to Peru! Fr David said that it was an exciting time for him to go to Peru – it was like being ordained again, and learning everything again for the first time, even without the support structures or physical structures that we may be used to in Boston or Limerick. Saying Mass on the street wouldn’t be unheard of – it’s a very different way of becoming a priest, Fr David said. There was a young population where he worked, Fr David continued, which kept both him and his Masses very active and lively.

Fr Chris asked what the most difficult transition was for Fr David – Fr David replied that the biggest fear of his was the language gap, but he realized that the biggest gap is cultural. He said a Peruvian culture of “manana” (tomorrow) is a bit different – time doesn’t mean much to the people there, and it can be difficult to adjust to that. Fr David gave the example that a Bishop came to confirm some Catholics and he told the people the Mass was at 8:30am so that 90% of them would be there by the actual start time of 11am!

Scot asked Fr David how the Mass is the same or different down in Peru. Fr David said first that the Mass has a different sense of liveliness – there is always music, whether there are musicians or good singers or not. One thing Fr David said he noticed was that Mass would start when the priest showed up – he would start the Mass with only a few people, but by the time you get to the Gospel, many people will be attending. Fr Chris asked Fr David to describe the processions that are in Peruvian culture. Part of the culture is to express their faith publicly, Fr David said – blessing with water and proclaiming their faith in the street aren’t at all unusual – to say, “We are the Catholics here, and we’re proud to be Catholic!” Scot asked why countries like Peru, who we may hear are very Catholic places, are not producing as many vocations. Fr David said that historically he would imagine that it is due to a lower level of education – not many people would have the knowledge that being a priest requires. Now, Fr David, many of the dioceses are starting to produce native and local priests from seminaries based in the diocese. There are many signs of hope of fruitful vocations Fr David said, unlike 40 to 50 years ago – much of that may be due to Cardinal Cushing’s decision to send priests to Peru long ago.

Fr David said that the mission is to “get in, get on, and get out” – to set the parish up, put the infrastructure in place, and then hand the founded parish to a native priest – essentially, to “put themselves out of work!” Fr David said he was very proud when he attended an ordination and both of the new priests spoke highly of how the St James priests had encouraged and fostered their vocations throughout the years. Currently, Fr David said, the Society is in Peru and Ecuador, with about 21 priests total serving abroad and two in the United States. Several of the parishes in Peru are very new – the parish that Fr David just left is only 6 years old. Scot asked how the parish structure is in the missions – one pastor typically takes care of one church here in Boston, but Fr David said his parish covered about 12 chapel areas he managed by himself for about 2 years – now there are two priests. The mountain parishes, though, can sometimes cover an area as big as Ireland with only one priest, covering various outstations sometimes only once per month.

Fr Chris asked Fr David to talk about what the average day in his old diocese was. Fr David said the daily Mass was always in the evening – nothing really happened before 3pm. Not for laziness – but because the people are up at dawn working. Fr David said he was involved with many of the social outreach programs, feeding school children meals Monday through Friday or working with a social worker. After 3pm, people would come in for catechetical programs or evangelization programs, followed by Mass at a different chapel each evening. Sometimes meetings would even go to 10pm – much different than a morning weekday Mass and early dinner. Apart from the social worker, Fr David said, all the parish workers are volunteers – almost 80 catechists come for preparations each week and then in turn prepare their individual groups for sacraments. In one case, Fr David described, one boy about 15 years old was a catechist for a group of his peers – it was encouraging for Fr David to see a young boy express his faith so publicly. Schooling in Peru is provided by the state, but sacramental preparation happens on the parish level. The social worker Fr David employed helped him figure out who was needy or who wasn’t, and would also visit them in their home to get a sense of what the home was like. The role of the priest was not to hand out money, though – Fr David said he helped with food or navigating red tape. The social worker was invaluable here, Fr David said, helping him get discounts for parishioners or even free medical care.

Fr Chris noted that Lima isn’t what people might think of with the missions – not a jungle with dense vegetation but rather a desert. Fr David said there isn’t much rain where his parish was on the coast because of geography, and no trees because watering trees costs a lot of money. Going into the mountains, however, Fr David said it becomes much more of a tropical climate instead. Fr David said he enjoyed experiencing the different rhythms of life in the parishes all over Peru. Scot asked what the level of poverty is – Fr David answered that 80% of the citizens of Peru live in dire or extreme poverty. A typical home in his parish was a one room straw shack – the lucky ones would have a bed. The social progarams the Society runs cover nutrition programs, inexpensive but healthy food, meals for school children, even just teaching the value of eating a salad is something the people need to be taught.

3rd segment: Scot asked Fr David to talk about “Rescusitado”, “The Resurrected One” – Fr David’s parish in Peru. Fr David said that 6 years ago he was asked to move to Lima to form a new parish. When he went there, there was no rectory, parish center, or central place at all – the first month was spent looking for somewhere to live. The first few months, Fr David said he spent time just introducing himself – spending his time wasting time, in a way, saying hello to everyone he could find. The parish next door might have been accessible by a bus, but it’s very hilly and not easy for them to make it down to the local village. This is the reason for the twelve different chapel sites – each area is at a different level of development but the key is to get people involved and signed up for sacramental preparation and adult education. Fr Chris asked Fr David what an invasion was – Fr David said that people usually come from the mountains into the coast by Lima, the capital, and just invade the land – claim their spot of land on the side of a hill and build a house. Over time, they eventually get a title or deed and paperwork to prove they own the land. Sometimes whole villages do this, Fr David said – even forming their own elected governments to coordinate. Scot asked how a church gets built – Fr David said if you’re there at the beginning of an invasion, the priest just lays claim to a piece of land for the Church, a right the government has recognized. Fr David said this is important because the people get the sense that this is their parish and take a sense of ownership in the church.

Fr Chris asked what Fr David’s role as the “head honcho” of the Society of St James entails – even though he was left the missions, he is still doing mission work. Fr David laughed and said he finds out more about what the work is every day! Fr David continued and said that all the financing comes through the Boston office, so he is responsible for that fiscal work. He’s also responsible for the personnel, taking him out of Boston to Peru and Ecuador to visit the parishes and ensure the priests in his care are doing well. Fr David said another primary mission is to recruit new members – many priests are nearing the end of their 5 year commitment, so he hopes to bolster their numbers. Fr Chris asked what Fr David talks about when he does a mission appeal – Fr David said he speaks a bit of the St James Society, but always shares a story from the missions, and asks for prayerful and fiscal generosity. Obviously Fr David said he has to ask for financial help, but it’s also about sharing the information about what the Society does in Latin America. Scot asked Fr David to describe the ways that local Catholics could come and hear more about the Society – Fr David said their main means of fundraising is the Missionary Cooperative program through the Pontifical Mission Societies here in Boston, which allows them to speak in parishes all over the Archdiocese. Fr David said that they have two dinners and a golf tournament for fundraising, and distribute a monthly newsletter called “Friends” that is available on their website. Fr David said people can also visit Fr Derek Leonard’s blog, who he worked with in Peru. The blog has great pictures of the parish and life as a Catholic in Peru. Scot asked Fr Chris what he and the seminarians have taken away during their visits to Peru – Fr Chris answered that the importance of giving with your resources is always made clear when they visit – that they see the dedication of the priests in Peru to spread the Word of Jesus. The people in Peru are filled with joy and love for the Lord, Fr Chris said, and is a great way to experience the world-wide nature of the Church – as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Fr David said even $30 is salary for 3 days for a hard laborer who works all day – feeding a family with small donations or supporting a parish is very easy. Fr David concluded by asking for prayers for new priests to send down to Peru and Ecuador, and for all the priest members and their parishioners.

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