Advice for non-UK citizens wishing to be priests in the UK

I often receive messages on Facebook from young men who live outside the UK but would like advice on becoming priests in the UK. To avoid repeating myself, I am publishing some advice here.

First of all, thank you for being open to the call of God who may be asking you to offer yourself for the priesthood. Any call to the priesthood involves obedience, either to a religious superior, or to a local Bishop. In order to become a priest you must respect the procedures which the church leaders lay down.

In the UK, there are 22 dioceses across England and Wales, and 7 in Scotland. There are five Irish dioceses partly or wholly within Northern Ireland. Becoming a diocesan priest means pledging to a bishop that you will spend your whole life working in his territory (diocese). And in order to be accepted, you must already be familiar with the local culture. To be an effective priest you must know something about the lives of the people you will minister to. This might be because you grew up in that area; it might be that you have lived there for some time; it might be that you came there as a university student and stayed on.

Can someone from outside the UK become a priest for a British diocese? Yes, but it happens gradually. You can read the story of Chinedo Udo who came from Nigeria to study in London. Generally, you need to spend a period of at least 1-2 years living in the UK, at your own expense, meeting with the local vocations director. You will also need to have the right immigration status to allow you to continue to study and then to work in the UK. One English diocese notes on its website “in common with the other dioceses of England and Wales, we have a policy of not accepting applications from abroad. All our applicants must be legitimately resident in the United Kingdom”.

Another way of being a priest is to join a religious order. Some of these work internationally – but the normal way is to join is to approach the branch in your home country. Once again, there is a slow process of years rather than months where you might visit the order for a short time and then a longer time before actually becoming a member. Once you are fully trained and ordained, they will decide if you have the right gifts and talents to be sent to another country. Some orders have a particular focus on external missionary work – for instance, Nigerian residents can join the Missionaries of St Paul in the expectation of travelling elsewhere.

No diocese or religious order in the UK is going to fund or interview a person not currently living in the UK. If you truly believe that God is asking you to work in the UK rather than your own country, you must also trust that God will provide the means for you to get a secular job and a work permit in the UK, so you can learn the local culture and begin the long interview process. If there is a part of your heart that believes the UK has a high living standard and being a priest in the UK would enable to you to raise your income or send money home to your family, then be warned – Jesus said that we must be ready to leave everything, including property and family, to follow him. If income is what is truly on your heart, then your heart is not ready to be the heart of a priest.

Many Folds, One Flock

Homily at Nazareth House on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: The one flock exists in many folds.Nine variant images of a sheepfold

Are we united or are we scattered? In today’s Gospel, Jesus says two things which pull in different directions. One points to unity: “There will be only one flock and one shepherd.” But the other speaks of diversity: “I must lead other sheep which are not of this fold.”

For the first disciples of Jesus, they might have understood this as meaning Jesus came not only for Jews, but also for Gentiles.

Today we might hear a message about how Jesus relates to the different kinds of Christian churches.

But I think there is also a difference between the FLOCK and the FOLD. Jesus wants to gather all the sheep into one flock, but perhaps not all to live in the same fold.

What makes them one united flock? It is the name of Jesus. To be part of this flock, each member must accept that the Lord is indeed their shepherd.

What makes them different folds? Often it is geography – each parish gathers the sheep in a different location. But the City of Cardiff now has a rich mix of Catholic folds – an Eastern Rite congregation in St Cuthbert’s, Polish priests at St Patrick’s, services in the Indian language, Malayalam, at St Joseph’s – and ourselves worshipping in Welsh here at Nazareth House.

Because our fold is part of a greater flock, we have a responsibility to help provide shepherds for that flock. This weekend, Archbishop George asks all our churches to contribute to the cost of training our future priests and remembering them in our prayers. Jonathan, our own priest-in-training, will have more to say about this at the end of Mass. So I will stop here to allow more time for him – but please keep him and our other diocesan seminarians in your prayers.

For more reflections from Pastor Gareth and Jonathan on Good Shepherd Sunday, tune in to BBC Radio Wales Celebration