Every year, Rev. Anthony Ligato, vicar for vocations for the Albany Diocese, gets hundreds of letters from Africans asking to become priests. It's part of his job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

"On average, I get a letter a day," he told The Evangelist, "and 85 percent of them are from Africa. It's very challenging to know whom to accept, but we have a vetting system. The vast majority are not accepted."

Some factors that keep the would-be priests out include lack of education and facility with the English language.

The first step in choosing international applicants, Father Ligato said, is the responsibility of their home diocese: "They have to be sponsored by their bishop. They have to be worthy and qualified."

After a man is recommended by his bishop, the Albany Diocese steps into the process. "They go through the same requirements as any man" applying from the U.S., Father Ligato explained. "There are background checks and recommendations from their home diocese. We verify everything."

Over the last year, the Albany Diocese has accepted eight men from other countries into the seminary. "The first thing that occurs," the vicar said, "is enrolling them in an English-as-a-second-language class," since parishioners must be able to understand their priest when he preaches, celebrates Mass and ministers in homes or hospitals.

Learning English occurs at St. John's University in New York City. Father Ligato said that "part of their formation [for the priesthood] is public speaking and accent reduction. The seminarians have to be able to speak conversationally."

Priests-to-be study American culture and society, including relationships in working with and helping women in parishes.

"For the most part, Catholics are very accepting of the priests, wherever they come from," he added. "Whether they are from Poland or Africa, the priest's accent is the biggest issue."

The Albany Diocese has been accepting priests from other countries for more than 150 years. Father Ligato pointed out that, in the 19th century and early part of the 1900s, "Italian, Irish and German priests came over with immigrants."

Clergy from overseas provide an opportunity for Catholics "to really understand the universality of the Church and experience what the priests are bringing from their cultures," he said. Those elements "can be woven into a parish through music and vestments. It's an opportunity to understand the fullness of the Church throughout the world."

The transaction also works the other way: "American priests have been going overseas for decades as missionaries to dioceses around the world."