ST. PETERSBURG — With Holy Week just a few days away, parishioners at St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church plan to prepare for the most sacred period of the Lenten season with the help of a visiting Franciscan priest whose resume includes more than a decade in China working as a missionary, English teacher and corporate executive.
Father Albert Haase, 59, now preaches around the United States, primarily to members of his Roman Catholic faith, but also to other Christians. In St. Petersburg, he will preach at this weekend's masses at St. Mary's and at evening prayer services on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The New Orleans native comes from a family of five children, two of whom are nuns. Until recently, he and one of his siblings, Sister Bridget Haase, hosted a weekly radio show on the Relevant Radio Network.
This week, Haase, based at St. Maximilian Kolbe Friary in Crowley, Texas, answered a few questions for the Tampa Bay Times.
Would you say there is religious freedom in China?
I would call it a limited religious freedom and that's because the five major religions that are found in China — Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Taoist and Buddhist faiths — have a government agency that basically oversees the religion in China. In other words, as long as a member of the religion is not speaking against the government or against government policy, you are able to practice. In every church, mosque or temple, there would be a government official who basically operates as the ears of the government. It's illegal for a foreign priest to live in mainland China, so in order to live there legally, you must get a regular job. On the side, I was the pastor for 600 people who live in Bejing. I did the masses at the Canadian Embassy and the British Embassy.
Besides leading retreats, you also work as a spiritual director and train future spiritual directors. What does that entail?
A spiritual director is a person who helps someone to get in touch with how God is operating in their lives and what is God calling them to do.
As you travel around the country, preaching and talking to Catholics, what are they expressing?
I have to say that in the past year and a half the one thing is people's great enthusiasm for Pope Francis. And mostly the reason people would say, is that he is calling us back to the basic teachings of Jesus and the two main ones are to care for the poor and marginalized and also God's voracious enthusiasm to offer forgiveness to the sinner.
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