Father Schaffer put in charge of diocese in Venezuela

| January 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

Father Greg Schaffer

Father Greg Schaffer’s plate just got fuller. The priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who serves as the pastor of Jesucristo Resucitado in San Felix, Venezuela, was named administrator of the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana Jan. 17.

Father Schaffer, who was ordained a priest in 1994 and has served at the Venezuelan parish since 1997, was put in charge of the diocese, which covers 20,701 square miles and serves about 850,000 Catholics, the same number that reside in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He will serve in the role until a new bishop is named to replace Bishop Mariano Parra, who was named Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Coro, Venezuela, in October 2016. He speculates it likely will take six to eight months for Pope Francis to name a new bishop.

Father Schaffer will draw from his decades of experience leading Jesucristo Resucitado, a mission parish of the archdiocese since 1996, as well as his administrative experience in the Diocese of Ciudad Guayana. He was appointed the diocese’s vicar general in July 2016.

One of the major struggles Father Schaffer faces is the shortage of priests. The diocese has only 44 priests, compared to nearly 400 in the archdiocese.

“There’s a lot of really good priests here that offer their help and their support,” Father Schaffer said. “But, we’ve got a very, very young clergy. There is a lot of responsibility accompanying them. Here, I’ve got transitional deacons that are running parishes already, administering parishes by themselves.”

In addition to helping the priests, he also manages the finances, plus will oversee two major rebuilding projects — a new cathedral and a retreat center.

The first goal is to raise $300,000 for the building of a chapel in the basement of the cathedral. Once the chapel is built, Masses will be celebrated, which, he said, is “going to be a big boost, to have the people on site celebrating Mass.”

But, what makes fundraising difficult is the poor economy, which turned sour in 2014 due to a severe drop in the price of oil, the country’s main export and the bedrock of its economy. That led to a food shortage, causing hunger nationwide that still continues today.

“It’s really hard to be trying to raise money for a cathedral when the people are going hungry,” Father Schaffer said. “The food situation is still really difficult; it hasn’t gotten any better.”

With Father Schaffer spending more time outside of his parish, more responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Father James Peterson, who serves with him at the parish. But, due to issues with his work visa, Father Peterson has to leave the country every three months and reapply for his visa. He goes to neighboring Brazil for a day or two, then comes back.

For those in the archdiocese willing to help, Father Schaffer asks for financial donations — and prayer.

“Pray for peace,” he said. “There is a lot of suffering going on right now, a lot of political turmoil. That’s difficult.”


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Category: Local News