Priests as bridge-builders

There's no group of men in history quite like that of the Catholic priesthood. What is it that makes it so unique? Its celibacy, most obviously. But there's also dedication to service for which the priests have been a byword, especially in India. And then, there's its creativity and scholarship. So the priesthood for me has been all three, in different measures, during the last 35 years (almost) I've been a Jesuit priest.

Firstly, my ministry as a priest has been a time of great joy and achievement. Jesuit priests are known for their scholarship and their teaching abilities, their outreach to the young and the poor.

Even more, people wonder at their "worldliness," that is, their interest in and their contribution to "secular matters" - as distinct from "churchy" matters - like professional education, agriculture, people's movements, and technology. But we take our knowledge lightly. Few stand on ceremony.

Jesuit priests are refreshingly offbeat. All this I've found both in myself and in my Jesuit companions. And that's why I've enjoyed being a bridge between the visible world around and the invisible world of the Spirit. For this is what we priests ultimately are, builders of bridges.

In all this the Eucharist has been central to my life. Not a mechanical performance every morning, but a true celebration - of breaking God's word and sharing it, of differences accepted, of communion and the sacrifices necessary to make new communities possible.

And together with this, a deep gratitude for what has been to given me as a priest and as a man, a sense of thanksgiving which grows day by day.

Have I missed anything? Would I have chosen anything differently?

Well ... I have missed the company of intelligent, perceptive and supportive women as sharers in the priestly ministry. At first sight, this may seem astonishing. Isn't there enough of female fluttering around priests, whether in the convent, the parish office or the college quad?

Yes, there is, but it's not this which I've missed.

Sadly, the Catholic priesthood remains one of the last bastions of patriarchy in the modern world, and in spite of many changes, most priests still grow up with a sense of entitlement, a caste apart.

And gender segregation brings its own problems in later life. Women are there to serve the priest, demurely, obediently. Women who challenge are not appreciated. It's still a representative Church, not a participative one, in spite of the theory.

Women, who have so much to give to the forming of the Church, and of its priests, are still seen as the threat. In some ways, the Church establishment lives in a time warp of its own making.

But the world is changing. Globalization, mass migration, racism, communalism, technology and climate change are part of our daily experience.

How is the risen Jesus made present in the Eucharist today? How are Catholic communities to have both a sense of themselves and also an outreach to those of different faiths? How to build bridges, not walls? As an older priest today, I still struggle to find out.


Father Myron J. Pereira SJ was until recently Director of the Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai, and is presently on sabbatical.