Cultural Orientation Program for International Ministers

Frequently Asked Questions

What is COPIM?
The Cultural Orientation Program for International Ministers is designed to support the ministry of clergy and religious whose native culture is not that of the United States. Held in a retreat-house setting, the program combines content presentations, group discussions, and time for reflection. It can be tailored to meet the particular needs of individual dioceses or religious orders. COPIM envisions itself as one piece of a much larger network of support for international priests.

COPIM approaches specific cultural and pastoral issues that emerge from U.S. mainstream cultural contexts and challenge the perspective of foreign-born ministers. The program invites the participants to understand that cultural dynamics have always affected Scripture and theology, and now affects how they engage in ministry, from teaching and preaching to sacramental celebrations and pastoral care. In a nutshell:

  • COPIM is in-depth follow-up orientation as mandated by the Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States (3rd ed., 2014, Part II) and covers the topics mentioned by the Guidelines1
  • COPIM also covers the following additional topics: the roles of laity, women, and clergy in the U.S.; life in a rectory; expectations of a priest, religious or pastoral minister within a parish; liturgical life; misconduct policies (not specific to any diocese); professional and personal boundaries; and spiritual development
  • COPIM is not the sum total of all that the Guidelines suggest; important areas of orientation take place in the diocese and parish in which an international minister serves

Why not? Our understanding of the Guidelines includes training before arrival in the U.S. for incoming priests. This happens with religious priests because most are in missionary congregations (though often the training is not specific for the U.S.), but most priests come unprepared specifically for the U.S. Secondly, it is expected that the priests would immediately receive help from their dioceses with immigration issues, money, drivers licenses, etc. This could be done in an initial orientation in a diocese, and a common program is now run in California every October. Therefore, the COPIM staff expect that a diocese is involved in the cultural orientation of international ministers.

For whom is COPIM?
This program is intended primarily for diocesan and religious priests and religious sisters and brothers who have come from other countries to work in pastoral ministry in the U.S. Pastors of local parishes that have an international priest, superiors of religious communities that have members from other countries, and ministers born in the U.S. who work in intercultural contexts are also encouraged to attend.

In practice, how are Pastors, Superiors, and other ministers encouraged to attend?
In our periodic meetings with Vicars for Clergy and heads of ongoing formation for clergy, we always mention this opportunity. We have also periodically suggested, and conducted, separate workshops for pastors and staffs. However, the structure of the relationship of the program with dioceses is such that most of the time dioceses see us as a vendor providing a particular service—cultural orientation for international priests. Occasionally, Vicars for Clergy or major superiors come to see what we are doing or to help celebrate graduation on the final day of the third workshop.

We believe part of the reason for this is that international priests and religious are sometimes seen (especially by the American-born clergy) as a “problem” and COPIM would be seen as a program that exists to help “solve” it. The challenge, in that line of thinking, is that the problem does not pertain to clergy and staff members native to the U.S. or who have been in this country for a very long time. We would say, instead, that it would be helpful if all parties recognized that asking a large group of men and women to come and work here from another country will inevitably create culture clash, and that bridging that is everybody’s challenge. It is somewhat analogous to race being seen as an issue for African American, Asian, and Latino/a people but not for whites, even though it really concerns everyone. This is probably not made any easier by the fact that, when complaints come, they are lodged about the international priests.

And dioceses, of course, are busy and very under-funded these days. In most cases, dioceses have to be reminded annually of the program and its dates. They in turn have to contact the international priests to attend. There is seldom funding for religious (unless an order sends them). Under those conditions, it may be too much to expect that a diocese is going to be willing to put in the extra time to contact and then persuade other priests and staffs to attend, especially when often they do not see a need.

That being said, if we could arrange shorter and inexpensive workshops for pastors, superiors, and other pastoral ministers in local dioceses on intercultural training in general, perhaps people would come. Where we have done such workshops, pastors and staff members found it very helpful, often saying "if we had only known these things before he came."

What does COPIM do?
When a priest or religious whose native culture is not that of the United States begins to encounter cultural difference in ministry on a daily basis, the very stress of that situation puts him or her at a learning disadvantage—often he or she is on the defensive. COPIM is designed to assist the international minister to take a step back and understand all ministry as culturally conditioned. The behavior of parishioners can become less baffling to the international minister once cultural dynamics are more fully understood.

How will participants benefit?
Participants will expand and deepen their understanding of the church, society, and cultures in the United States, inviting them to:

  • appreciate and affirm the unique contributions of their own cultural heritage;
  • learn skills for ministering more effectively within and across various cultures;
  • understand cultural issues better and integrate more easily into diocesan and religious ministries;
  • develop broader networks of support among international priests and religious;
  • recognize that each culture has a contribution to make and to receive from the Gospel.

Who provides COPIM?
This program began as a ministry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and was founded by Frs. Allan Deck, S.J. and Ken McGuire, C.S.P. as the Cultural Orientation Program for International Priests (COPIP) at LMU Extension in 1992. As religious sisters and brothers began taking the program, the name was changed to COPIM in 2004. It is administered through the Center for Religion and Spirituality in LMU Extension. Upon successful completion of the program, participants receive a certificate in Cultural Orientation from Loyola Marymount University.

What methodology is employed by COPIM?
COPIM takes a “hands-on,” dynamic approach to cultural learning. Participants engage in an overnight retreat experience where they are introduced to various general theories and specific topics of practical significance for doing ministry in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Facilitators guide participants through a process of reflection on these topics by asking them to draw on their own experience of ministry in their parishes, illustrating relevant principles and demonstrating how cultural differences and dynamics matter in ministry.

This methodology is the most important point of our program. We are always careful to find out where they are and what they think about a subject. Presentations are short and prefaced by admonitions that these are problems the participants are or will be facing, maybe without prior experience. We try to build on what they already know and can express, and we help supply new words or a way of summarizing feelings and experiences.

Most teaching in the US and in their experience has been lectures, so they are often reticent to begin to talk. With time and effort they learn to speak up. But again this part of American culture - it is important for everyone to speak and be heard.

In preparation of the program, participants are asked to reflect on what they have learned in their own parish context. Both theory and discussions become more nuanced during the program as we go from reflecting on the mainstream culture of the United States (egalitarianism, pragmatism, notions of time) to hearing panelists on ethnic tensions and the role of women, and then moving on to discussing key ministerial issues requested by dioceses including liturgy, collaboration, homosexuality, the role of law in U.S. society, and addiction.

What about men born in another country and ordained here?
In our judgment, four years of seminary living is not an adequate introduction to American life. These men need much more exposure to culture, and COPIM is an option for them. But at what point in their training or career should they take COPIM or a version of COPIM? Soon after arrival, or during (or perhaps soon after) the cultural immersion of a ministry placement during theological studies? These are questions that need further exploration with seminary staff, bishops, vicars for clergy, and directors of vocations/seminarians, and we are interested in just such a discussion.

(1) A framework for understanding culture; the exploration of one's own personal roots and cultural identity; the challenges presented by US cultural values and mindsets; the cultural adjustment process; a history of the Catholic Church in the United States and a history of particular dioceses, eparchies, or communities; the image of the priesthood, priestly ministry, diaconate, and religious life in the United States; the different approaches to gender roles, leadership styles, and conflict resolution; intercultural communication skills; foundational attitudes and flexibility in cross-cultural mission; an understanding of faith formation and development in the United States; ecumenism and interreligious relationships in a US context; a frequently used adult education model (large and small group discussions and participants' use of their own experience) as a starting point for understanding and appreciating personal and cultural realities.