‘Outreach Priests’ You’ve had a family emergency and must leave your parish immediately. Your bishop requires your presence at an urgent meeting. You have been asked to make an important presentation at a Catholic conference hundreds of miles away. Or perhaps you’d just like to get away for that long-overdue vacation — at last!

Finding a substitute to fulfill your parish duties for these and similar situations can be a challenge. One safe and reliable solution for you is to host a Cross Catholic Outreach Priest to handle your responsibilities during your absence.

Outreach Priests are ordained Roman Catholic priests in good standing who are qualified to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and administer all other sacraments. They are Virtus/Child Protection certified, and many are bilingual. They are selected by Cross Catholic Outreach for their skills as homilists, fluent English speakers, and they are always careful to accommodate parish customs and preferences during their visits. They preach on the readings of the given Sunday as well as about the ministry. Perhaps most appealing of all, they do not charge a fee or take a second collection.

Cross Catholic Outreach

Outreach Priests are sponsored by Cross Catholic Outreach, an official Catholic non-profit [501(c)(3)] relief and development organization that in its 11 years of existence has given more than $1 billion to help “the poorest of the poor” in more than two dozen developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and other parts of the world.

Cross Catholic Outreach also collaborates on aid projects with the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in Rome. Cardinal Robert Sarah, president, Pontifical Council Cor Unum, recently visited the Cross Catholic offices in Florida and Cross Catholic President James J. Cavnar visited Cardinal Sarah and met with the Pope at the Vatican to discuss their partnership.

To help the poor, Cross Catholic partners with parishes and Catholic ministries in developing countries where priests, nuns and lay leaders have committed their lives to helping families in need. Their service produces wonderful benefits for impoverished communities, including food, water, medical care, homes, educational opportunities and programs that help people generate their own income and lift themselves out of poverty. In the process, these families experience the sustaining power of Christ’s love.

Since these faithful Catholic servants work with humility in remote locations, their stories are rarely heard. Thus, few American Catholics know about their positive and inspiring outreach. Outreach Priests can share these stories with your parishioners while covering your parish during an absence. Of course, one of their goals is to motivate greater generosity toward the poor and greater support of the priests, nuns and Catholic ministries serving impoverished families overseas.

To that end, they teach from the pulpit about charitable work, and they distribute informational brochures for parishioners to take home. In this way, parishes learn more about the global outreach of the Church and gain opportunities to engage with that mission.

Father Tim O’Toole, an Outreach Priest for over seven years, explains, “Whenever I visit a parish, I enjoy talking about the charitable projects of Cross Catholic Outreach. One of the most satisfying parts is when the people respond generously with prayer and donations. It’s a wonderful grace from the Lord to experience how the Holy Spirit works through the Outreach Priest and calls people to attentive listening, renewal, thanks, giving and generosity.”

Father O’Toole was born and raised in New Jersey and went to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. He first heard about Outreach Priests from a priest in his Diocese of Palm Beach who was impressed when an Outreach Priest visited his parish. Father O’Toole wanted to do something different after several years of ministering as a pastor, and the prospect of being an Outreach Priest appealed to him. Also having been a missionary pastor in Colombia, “may have planted a seed for my wanting to minister to God’s poor.”

There were other influences leading up to Father O’Toole’s decision to become an Outreach Priest. An Outreach Priest told Father O’Toole how he loved to unravel the Scriptures and apply them to people’s everyday lives while also talking about the poor served by the Cross Catholic projects. Another Outreach Priest told Father O’Toole that he was gratified to perform all sacramental ministries, and that it was especially rewarding that “when I visit a parish, the poor eat.”

These and similar encounters inspired Father O’Toole to become a full-time Outreach Priest who now visits different parishes every weekend. “The parishes are very welcoming,” Father O’Toole says. “They have slightly different styles of liturgy which I find most interesting. From these diverse experiences I’m learning how people ‘do church’ in different parts of the country.”

The respect and appreciation is mutual and creates a “win/win” between parish and Outreach Priest. Many who have hosted Outreach Priests speak favorably. Father Lawrence Damian said, “Father O’Toole was a delightful priest — he blended well with the parish. Many favorable comments from parishioners were received.” Father Robert Knippenberg said, “Our parish enjoyed and cherished the experience of Father Ray Abella,” and Father J.J. Schwall wrote, “Many of our parishioners commented on how they liked Father Ryan. We think Cross Catholic Outreach is wonderful. Very good and caring people. Thank you for coming to Our Lady of Lourdes.”

Parishioners have favorable reactions as well. Mrs. Novak of St. Vincent’s parish said, “Father Ron Mrozinski spoke at our parish. . .he can come back anytime. God bless him and keep him safe!”

These favorable recommendations tell a positive story about Outreach Priests. But in these challenging times, one must be extra careful and insist upon comprehensive authentication, which Cross Catholic provides. If you are interested in securing an Outreach Priest, you will receive ample documentation including a biography of the priest, a Letter of Good Standing signed by the priest’s superior and dated within a year, and a copy of the Virtus Certificate showing that the priest has taken the Protecting God’s Children course (the course, you may know, increases public awareness about child sexual abuse, and provides adults with the knowledge and tools they need to help prevent and, if necessary, respond appropriately to child sexual abuse.)

Diocesan Requirements

The Outreach program also fully accepts and concurs with local diocesan requirements that can include a letter sent to the chancellor (along with the above-mentioned documentation notifying the diocese of the assignment), diocesan-specific forms (also signed by the Outreach Priest’s superior), original letters of good standing (with diocesan or order seal) to be sent from the Outreach Priest’s superior directly to the diocese, and fingerprinting and background checks.

If you are interested in becoming an Outreach Priest, this is the kind of thorough documentation that will be provided on your behalf.

In addition, the program is endorsed by more than 80 bishops across the country. For example, Bishop Joseph S. Vasquez, Bishop of Austin, said that he is “happy to endorse the work of Cross Catholic Outreach, for you are truly putting the Gospel into action. Your parish visits build a link between the Church in our country and the Church in developing countries, helping our parishioners develop a true missionary spirit.”

Bishop David E. Fellhauer, Bishop of Victoria, Texas, says, “Many of us, myself included, never visit the Third World or have the chance to look into the faces of the poor, but we can do something about it by helping those who daily minister to the desperately needy by reaching out to them through our prayer and support for Cross Catholic Outreach.”

And the Bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Bishop Paul J. Swain, said, “I shared your materials and information with our Council of Priests, and they enthusiastically endorsed what you are doing. Therefore, I look forward to the opportunity for priests from Cross Catholic to visit our parishes and inform the people of this special and very much needed ministry of mercy.”

To read all Bishop endorsements, visit www.crosscatholic.org, click on “Take Action;” click on “Host an Outreach Priest;” then click on “U.S. Bishop Endorsement.”

As you can see, the Outreach Priest program is fully endorsed, and there are careful steps taken to ensure that you and your parish are safe and secure with an Outreach Priest. If you are interested in becoming an Outreach Priest yourself, Cross Catholic welcomes your application. This story has provided you with a good idea of what is involved, and contact information is below.

Whenever you must be away from your parish, an Outreach Priest will give you a feeling of security that all your parish and sacramental responsibilities will be taken care of safely and properly, and that, in addition, your parishioners will receive a fresh perspective about ministering to the poor.

The Outreach Priest program of Cross Catholic Outreach is open to most parishes with 400 member families or more. To host or become an Outreach Priest yourself, or for more information, call (800) 914-2420, email priests@crosscatholic.org, or visit www.crosscatholic.org, click on “Take Action,” then click on “Host an Outreach Priest,” then click on “Host a Priest.”  

Mr. Panas is national public relations director of the Catholic Daughters of America.