Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty, left, and Sgt. Luis Alvarez, right, met Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday while providing security at the Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon.
From near and far, priests gather here with Cardinal
By Kathy Daley
CALLICOON April 26, 2013 They arrived in baseball caps, sunglasses and flannel shirts and in the more distinguishing black clerical garb with its characteristic square of white in the dark collar.
They needed just a few amenities not typically re-quested by large groups at the Villa Roma Conference and Resort Center here.
The second floor of the main building, for instance, was transformed into a chapel with makeshift confessionals and a smaller enclosed area for Perpetual Adoration, the Catholic practice of honoring God’s presence in consecrated altar-bread.
“Jesus is here,” declared Monsignor Gerardo Colacicco happily.
An organizer of this week’s three-day convocation of more than 400 Catholic priests from the New York Archdiocese, Colacicco said the focus of the assembly was both spiritual and social.
“The overall purpose is to encourage each other in our ministries and to support each other and to have time together,” said the monsignor, who pastors St. Columba Parish in Hopewell Junction.
“It brings together those with enthusiasm, gumption, drive and excitement, with those who might be struggling,” said Monsignor Ed Straub of St. Peter’s Church in Liberty.
The convocation was originally planned for early November but was derailed by Hurricane Sandy, when many of the priests and the families they serve were hit by power loss and worse.
The priests arrived on Villa Roma Road in Callicoon five months later as the gentle hills were just beginning to turn green.
“It’s so nice to be here in this beautiful place,” said Monsignor Peter Tran Van Phat of St. Joseph’s Church in New Windsor. “The countryside is so peaceful. It’s God’s garden.”
The arrival of the hordes of clergymen didn’t faze Villa Roma officials.
“The same as we do with any conference, we tried to make it seamless and easy for them,” said Paul Carlucci, Villa Roma vice president.
“It is very cool and a great experience” to host the priests, added Director of Sales Adam Jacobson.
Talks at the convention were designed to encourage the priests in their vocations and in their work with the Archdiocese’s 2.5 million Catholics from Staten Island to Sullivan County.
But others, like Father Bill Muhm, work much farther away.
“I’m a chaplain with the U.S. Navy in Japan,” said Muhm, who stood in the Villa lobby chatting with Father John Tran, pastor of St. Peter’s in Monticello. The two are former classmates at the Archdiocesan seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers.
“It was important for me to be here, to see my brother priests,” said Muhm. “We can’t live without the fraternal bonds we have with one another.”
Dressed in “civies” and drinking a cup of coffee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed joy at the sight of priests so obviously delighted to be in each other’s presence.
The archbishop of New York noted that it was a tradition to gather priests together in a post-Easter assembly. The church readings now center on the New Testament stories of spirit-filled gatherings of Jesus’ apostles, Dolan said.
“It’s where you see the apostles getting together all the time to pray and support one another and even to argue,” Dolan said. “The Holy Spirit seems to work more effectively when God’s people work together.”
In his address to the convocation, Dolan said he would speak about the particular qualities of Pope Francis, Catholics’ new world leader, and how those virtues can inform the lives of priests and laypeople.
They are, he said, “simplicity, sincerity, the principal role of service in the priestly life, the need to get out on the streets and out with the people, and a particular solicitousness for people of need. Those qualities can teach us a lot.”
A highlight of the event was a workshop presented by Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, psychologist, theologian and author of the book “Why Priests Are Happy.”
Rossetti’s research has revealed that, in spite of perceptions to the contrary, most Catholic priests are among the happiest, most fulfilled and satisfied men in the U.S.
Cardinal Dolan reiterated that while some would view priests as discouraged and “bruised” by abuse scandals of years ago, studies show that 93 percent of priests still relish their work and would make no other choice if they had it to do over again.
According to Rossetti, the main reasons for job satisfaction are the priests’ active prayer lives and their healthy relationships with God, fellow priests and the laity in their parishes.
Priests in rural areas like Sullivan County often benefit further by the fact that “in the countryside, people have a more innate openness to the divine,” the cardinal said.
Father Ignatius Vu of St. George-St. Francis in Jeffersonville and Youngsville agreed.
“A priest can have a very happy life,” Vu said, noting that his cousin’s son wants to be a priest and he is encouraging that. “Celibacy is not hard. When we are empty, we are happy all the time.”
Msgr. Straub of Liberty said he, too, often finds himself advising individuals about their future.
“I ask them, ‘What is it you want to do with this gift of YOU in this life?’” said Straub. “I believe God talks to people constantly, asking them to do something with their life that will help bring about the kingdom of heaven. That’s what a priest does he witnesses to that presence in every moment, in everybody, even in the worst situations.”