Father Vijaya is animating Holy Trinity Parish one family at a time.
The Catholic community in Martin County, North Carolina, is growing and reviving. First, parishioners left the pews during the pandemic, then the pastor fell ill and was substituted for a year, then replaced. The flock is revitalizing.
“The Mass is getting more crowded,” says Edi Martínez. He is a parishioner at the Glenmary mission of Holy Trinity in Williamston, which serves Martin County. “Sometimes there is no room for all the people, sometimes there are people standing outside,” adds Leticia Olguín.
One of the main drivers of this growth is Father Vijaya Katta. He became the pastor here last June, a year after coming from India to Williamston. He is the first foreign priest whom Glenmary has brought to the United States in the 84 years of the organization. All the other international Glenmarians have come to the country as students.
Father Vijaya is visiting and blessing parishioners’ homes. He brings the Eucharist to a camp of migrant workers at a tobacco, cotton, and sweet potato farm. He has also organized a youth group for the first time in years and has begun weekly Eucharistic adoration.
“It’s a challenging mission here because there is no catechist, no director for religious education, no teachers,” says Father Vijaya. “I’m slowly now building up the people.”
He explains, for example, that he has recruited three youth ministers, two for English and one for Spanish. During the summer, the groups met every week, and then they cut back to a more feasible every two weeks.
Visit to farm workers
Once a month, Father Vijaya drives for half an hour to the countryside, where he visits a camp of migrant workers. They toil at a tobacco, cotton, and sweet potato farm near Colerain, North Carolina.
They live in humble, temporary homes away from their families.
Alex is one of about a dozen workers who attend Mass when Father Vijaya comes to visit. The Eucharist is celebrated outdoors, on a grassy lot next to a cotton plantation, the woods, and the temporary houses.
“I like to listen to the word of God,” says Alex. “The Mass helps us cheer up because we are far from family.” Sometimes, Father Vijaya is joined by another priest from a neighboring town, a little farther from Williamston. Exceptionally, two priests join him.
Close to the people
Back in Williamston, Father Vijaya visits and blesses homes when somebody signs up. He says that he does it because he wants to know the parishioners’ families, including relatives who don’t attend Mass. “I just want to know who are the family, the total family.”
The other reason he says is because “our Catholics need the blessing where they are living, where they are working, or wherever they are.” People comment that they like the way Father Vijaya celebrates the liturgy and the attention he gives them, says Marco Tavares, Glenmary lay co-missioner, who lives in the adjacent county.
Leticia, the parishioner, agrees: “There have been positive changes.”
The man who helped recruit him and once was pastor in the area is Father Aaron Wessman, Glenmary’s First Vice President. “Father Vijaya is somebody who has the ability to relate to people in a kind and caring way,” he says. “They feel in his presence that they are cared for. He’s kind to them, he listens to them, and he really desires to serve them as a priest.”
The growth of this Catholic community has led Father Vijaya to explore options to accommodate all the people. He says that the current property is not big enough to expand the church, especially because classrooms are also needed for religious education.
“My plan is to create a group and that group will be the building committee,” he says. Based on their recommendations and resources’ availability, they will see if it’s possible to buy land and build a new church. “I can not make a decision by myself. I also have to consult with Glenmary and the diocese. But I would like to build a new church.”
Conditions seem ripe for this Catholic flock to continue growing in numbers and in faith. Glenmary will try to make that happen.
– Omar Cabrera
This story first appeared in the Winter 2023 publication of the Glenmary Challenge.