September 1, 2021

Missionary climate: Father Bob Dueweke, OSA

Missionary climate: Father Bob Dueweke, OSA

Forty years ago, Father Bob Dueweke served as a missionary in Peru. Today, he has taken up residence in the Catholic Diocese of Lexington. Based at a private residence in Berea, the Augustinian priest will provide sacramental ministry at Holy Cross in Jackson, Good Shepherd in Campton and Mother of Good Counsel in Hazard. A native of Detroit, Father Dueweke comes to Lexington from his term as the Augustinians’ representative to the United Nations (since 2016). His past positions include director of the Tepeyac Institute in the Diocese of El Paso (2009-15) and Hispanic coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago (1990-96). He studied at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and St. Paul University in Ottawa.

He talked with Cross Roads about this new chapter and his plans to incorporate the Church’s teaching on care for creation into his ministry:

CR: What are your plans here?

BD: My interest is in the environment, and with that I’m interested in promoting, in some way or another, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ Action Platform that just came out.

The world is living in a house, and the roof is on fire. The house is about to collapse, and we are preoccupied with cooking muffins … or something like that. We’re not aware of the fact that the roof is coming down any minute.

I’m here for myself to become more aware of what is happening to the environment, especially in Appalachia, an area that has been affected. And I have to ask myself, how do I have to change?

CR: What of your earlier ministry work do you bring to this place?

BD: When I first went to Peru, I thought I was the great missionary coming down to bring the people something. … But I’ve taken more than what I’ve ever given, and the people have taught me that perspective, that they are my teachers. … As I come to Appalachia, I want to put myself in a position: What is it that they teach me about the Gospel?

What is their spirituality? What is a person’s particular spirituality, and how can that make a difference? And spirituality and prayer today in some way or another have to incorporate the natural environment. I think that’s what the 21st century spirituality is calling us to.

CR: You most recently served as your order’s observer to the United Nations. What did you learn there?

BD: What’s critical right now in a few words is democracy is on the cutting block. If the UN goes down, it could be the end of democracy in the world. … Autocracy or authoritarianism has a good chance of prevailing without the UN. 

The UN is also the major voice on climate change. … All the countries in the world approved the sustainable development goals. Can we say that this is the consciousness of humanity that is speaking out and how we need to move forward, without committing global suicide?

Connected with this that would help us … is also the pope’s call to synodality — communion, participation, dialogue, mission; the Church can do a lot, because of its infrastructure and its capacity of reaching a billion people right off the bat, if it so chooses.

CR: What do you bring as an Augustinian to this new role?

BD: We don’t go in with a preconceived plan, but the only plan we have with the Gospel is how can we help people from killing each other? … What does that mean in terms of living in harmony with the natural resources? How can we live in a way that we don’t destroy the planet in the process? There are new questions, new challenges that are coming up.

The religious orders are at a choice point right now, in the tension between the local and the global. We have to ask ourselves, are we paying enough attention to the global? Or are we too much concerned about our own communities, our own ministries, and fail to see the larger vision?

Because if we look at the larger vision, we’d be asking questions more about, what do we do with our garbage? Is there available water for everyone? … Are there jobs for everyone? What about health?

It can’t be business as usual. I don’t know what the answer is, but the religious orders should be a symbol at any rate of the methodology. And what is the methodology to approach these things? Reflect on the Gospel, together.