The Diocese of Buffalo is currently home to a number of international priests who have come from around the globe to bring their unique gifts to the area. One of these priests is Father Johnson Machado, administrator of St. John Neumann Parish in Strykersville, who was born in India.
Father Machado was born in Bombay, which has been known as Mumbai since 1995, the capital of the state of Maharashtra in western India. Its total metropolitan area is home to more than 20 million people, making it one of the most populous cities in the world. Father Machado grew up as the oldest child in a family with his father, who passed away in 2008, his mother and two younger brothers.
"My brothers are already married and have children," Father Machado said. "My house was close to a church, so I used to go to the church every day and serve as an altar server early in the morning. That inspired me to become a priest. I went to St. Pius X Seminary in Mumbai."
Father Machado was ordained in 2005 in India, which has a small, but devout number of Catholics. India is a culturally diverse country with many different religious beliefs. Only about 2 percent of the population is Catholic. However, India is the second-most populous nation in the world and the home of more than 1 billion people, which means it still has more Catholics, over 20 million, than most other countries. The majority of the Indian population practices Hinduism, with Islam a distant second.
"I wanted to have different exposure and cultural experience, to work with different people and have a little bit different experience and do some mission work in the United States," he said.
More than 75 percent of the people of India are Hindu. While there have been well-publicized riots, killings and other forms of violence related to religious and cultural differences in many areas of the country, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, Father Machado said he was not exposed to these.
"There was no threatening or persecuting in the Diocese of Bombay, or Mumbai," Father Machado said. "We accepted people there in our diocese."
Father Machado came to the United States in April 2008, when he settled in Texas to serve the Diocese of Corpus Christi for five years. In 2013, he moved to San Antonio, and a year later, he moved to Buffalo in order to have different experiences. In Texas, especially with both Corpus Christi and San Antonio's proximity to the Mexican border, many of the people he served were native Spanish speakers.
"I just wrote to some dioceses in the United States, and many of them invited me," he said. "I chose Corpus Christi because I found through the Internet that there are 32 Indian priests in the Diocese of Corpus Christi. I just replied back to their bishop, and I called him from India. He invited me to the United States and he sent me some papers to have a visa, and then I came to Corpus Christi."
While in Texas, Father Machado met people who requested that he bless items such as coins, cushions, pillows, candles and rosaries. He came to Buffalo because he wanted a different pastoral experience somewhere else in the United States, as well as because of the shortage of priests in the diocese.
"My experiences were the same as it is in Buffalo, but Texas people are a little different," Father Machado said. "They spoke Spanish and they were devoted to Mother Mary and Our Lady of Guadalupe. I don't see that in Buffalo, because here the parishioners are different. People in Texas are more traditional."
While serving at St. John Neumann, which formed from the merging of St. Mary and St. Cecilia parishes in 2008, Father Machado said most of his parishioners are of German, Irish and Polish descent.
"All of my experiences are very good," he said. "What I expected to experience, I am getting with the people here. These people are different from the people of Texas."
The layout of the Church in his home diocese and in Buffalo are similar in terms of hierarchy, Mass structure and overall atmosphere. Father Machado said it took him a while to get used to the food here because it is very different than it is in India.
"I had difficulty with the food for a few years, but I'm used to it now," he said. "Now, I don't like Indian food; I like American food. Here, I like fish, chicken, shrimp, turkey and pork. I don't eat beef."
Since cows are sacred to the Hindu majority, most Indians do not eat beef.
Overall, Father Machado's favorite thing about the Diocese of Buffalo is not the food, but the people. This includes people who have been cooperative and responded to the call to serve as a member of their parish council, as altar servers or Eucharistic ministers, or simply by going to Mass and helping out in whatever ways they are able. This participation has also made his experience in the diocese a positive one.
"People are always ready to serve the Church," he said. "That is my favorite thing in this parish. People are always ready and supportive. They never say 'no' to you. They are happy with me, and I am happy with them. I'm very much happy in the Diocese of Buffalo. If the diocese permits, I would like to stay here permanently."