Monday, April 28, 2014

Two New Saints, I

You probably could not get two more different men who served as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff, than Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.  Yet both in their own unique way lived the holiness of a saint.

Angelo Roncalli (1888-1963) was a peasant from the Lombardy region of Italy, the fourth  of 14 children.  He was ordained a priest in 1904 and served his bishop as secretary for ten years.  Then he entered the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He served as the Vatican's representative in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey during World War II, in France, then was appointed Patriarch of Venice and named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1953.  When Pius died in 1958 after a long illness, there was no clear successor.  The generally thought successor, Giovinni Baptista Montini, the archbishop of Milan, (and future Pope Paul VI) was not a cardinal.  The 48 cardinals in the conclave elected the 78-year old Roncalli as a "place-sitter," until (they thought) a more worthy and deserving man became pope.   He took the name "John" which had not been used in over 400 years.   But Roncalli shocked the church and the world when, only three months into his pontificate, he called for a worldwide council of bishops, the first in almost 100 years.   His sense of humor and humility led the people to acclaim him "Good Pope John."  John was known for his saying, "See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little."  He lived to see the first (of four) sessions of the Second Vatican Council, in the fall of 1962.  Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer on June 3, 1963.

Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005) grew up in Poland amid much sadness.  His mother died in childbirth when he was 8, his father when he was 18.  His two older siblings died before he was 20.  Wojtyla was a brilliant student, and was an actor, a published poet and playwright.  He lived under the specter of the two horrific political systems of the 20th century--Nazi Fascism and Soviet Communism.  He was trained as a priest in the archbishop of Krakow's "underground seminary," and was ordained a priest in 1946.  He was named a bishop at 38, archbishop of Krakow at 44, a cardinal at 47.  He earned two doctoral degrees, and was fluent in at least six languages.  He attended all four sessions of Vatican II, and participated in the 1978 conclave which elected Cardinal Albino Luciani as Pope John Paul I.  But when Luciani died of a heart attack after only 34 days in office as pope, the cardinals elected as pope the first non-Italian in 455 years, the youthful vigorous Wojtyla from Poland.  

Though he probably would have preferred to take the name of the Polish bishop-martyr Stanislaus as his namesake, he showed his continuity with his predecessors by taking the name John Paul II.  From his first talk after his election, John Paul II made history, with world-wide travels, voluminous writings, charisma, outreach to Jews, and effect on world history.  (He is rightly credited with helping to bring down the Iron Curtain and Soviet Communism by his support for the Polish labor union Solidarity.)  From his first encyclical, he was known for his complete trust in God, his saying "Be not afraid," and his great devotion to Mary, Mother of God.   His pilgrimages to over 100 countries allowed him to be seen in person, it is said, by more than a billion human beings.  After quietly suffering from Parkinson's disease for decades, he died in 2005, the second longest serving pope ever.  At his funeral more than two million people passed by his coffin, crying out "sancto subito," (Italian for "make him a saint now").

We the church rejoice at these two new saints, both "servants of the servant of God" in their ministry as popes.  Yet both point us in the same direction, holiness.  Each of us is to follow our own vocation, whatever it may be, as disciples of Jesus Christ, with love and energy and prayer, carrying out the will of God.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Different Kind of Service

On Tuesday evening as he began a series of encore songs near the end of his concert in Pittsburgh, Bruce Springsteen mentioned that this year is the 50th anniversary of his first picking up a guitar.  

Yesterday I attended the first of four annual Membership meetings for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc.  That figure was in my mind as I did the math in my head and realized that this is my 25th year of serving Catholic Charities as a board member of one kind or another.  

I first went on the Board of Directors in my capacity ex officio as chairperson of the Allegheny County Community Advisory Committee to Catholic Charities in 1989.  The next year, through the suggestion of mentor Msgr. Jack McCarren, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl appointed me to a three year term on the Board of Directors, which was subsequently renewed.  In 1995 Bishop Wuerl appointed me to serve him and the diocese as secretary for social concerns. My place on the Board of Directors remained, but for a different reason, now ex officio as the bishop's representative.  

In 2002 when I became pastor of St. John Vianney Parish, I lost my place as a Director.  But later that year Bishop Wuerl appointed me as one of the eight Members (from Allegheny County).  And in 2011 when I moved to Lawrence County, with Bishop David Zubik's permission Father Mark Thomas was glad to give up his role as a Member to me, now representing Lawrence County.  

The Board of Directors is a representative body of the community.  Its role is to directly work alongside the executive director and senior staff in planning and executing services to the needy, according to the current times and conditions.  It also assists in the necessary work of raising funds and friends to support the agency.  In this "two-tier" model of governance, the Members are the "owners" of the corporation, who hold reserve powers to guard the mission, vision, by-laws and overall Catholic identity of the agency.  The Membership is chaired by the Bishop of Pittsburgh, along with his representative to the agency, and six priests, one from each of the six counties of the diocese.

During those years there were 25 annual Bishop's Dinners for Catholic Charities, five executive directors, two and a half bishops (counting diocesan administrator Bishop Paul Bradley as a half--sorry Paul!), and countless meetings.   Meetings for personnel, budget, St. Joseph House of Hospitality, strategic plans, fundraising, friendraising, board nominations, executive committees, annual joint meetings between the Members and Directors.  

32nd Annual Bishop's Dinner
for Catholic Charities
May 2, 2014
Westin Convention Center Hotel, Pittsburgh

Over that time the percentage of agency funding from governmental sources has dropped from about 75% to today's under 40%.  United Way funding has also shrunk.  Fundraising has increased, but not enough to cover all those revenue losses. Each year there are struggles of management, cooperation with the pastors and the political heads of the six different counties which make up the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and over the past year, with the HHS (U.S. Health & Human Services) mandate of the Affordable Care Act. 

There have been so many success stories over these 25 years.  Catholic Charities was a national leader in refugee resettlement, after the Vietnam War and throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  It was one of the first diocesan agencies to initiate "parish social service ministers," that is, parishioners who were trained by Catholic Charities and paid by parishes to assist parishioners and neighbors in identifying the right kind of help for the needy.  In 2007 the Free Care Clinic began, which remains a bright light of service for working individuals and families who do not have medical or dental insurance.   

Anyone who serves on a board of any kind--whether of governance or advisory--knows the real "dirty" work of service goes on every day by the social workers, administrators, aides, secretaries,  and financial officers who meet clients and help people directly.  Yet good management demands a clear vision and embraced mission, and that's the work and leadership of the Directors and Members.  

Four years ago  Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh celebrated its centennial.  Founded in 1910 by three laymen, it remains the premier social service agency of western Pennsylvania Catholics.  It is part of the network of Catholic Charities nation-wide, with over 1,400 different agencies, thousands of employees, and literally millions of clients served each year.  Each of these agencies needs the volunteer leadership of boards of directors, and the visionary leadership of diocesan bishops and holders of the mission.  

If Pope Francis is known for anything, it is his desire that every aspect of our church serve the poor.  This service is done by individuals, families and parishes, by dedicated volunteers and by trained social workers, by small and large professional institutions.  

It is one of my favorite stories, which I first heard from then-Bishop Sean O'Malley.  O'Malley was for a time the director of services to Hispanics in the Archdiocese of Washington.  His office helped to fund and build a shelter for homeless persons in the District of Columbia.  Cardinal James Hickey was the archbishop of Washington at the time, and was leading reporters in a press event around the new facility.  One of the reporters asked him, are all the homeless persons living here Catholics?  The cardinal replied, no.  He wisely remarked, we serve the homeless, and all persons in need, not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic, following Jesus Christ's mandate.  

For more information visit Pittsburgh Catholic Charities"s website, , or Catholic Charities USA at .

May Catholic Charities grow in its effectiveness and reach to serve all persons in need, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Springsteen Again!

For the eighth time I had the privilege of attending the Boss's concert.  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to Pittsburgh for the first time in two years on Tuesday, April 22.  Consol Energy Center was about 90% full to hear the 18-piece orchestra (ha!ha!ha!) and the most energetic, hardest working 64 year old rocker in the universe.  E Street Band had just been announced as new entrants into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, finally joining Bruce, who entered in 1999.  Bruce was quick to crow on their behalf about this well-deserved award.  

This was the fifth venue in Pittsburgh for a Springsteen concert (Three Rivers Stadium; Civic Arena twice; PNC Park; Petersen Events Center) for me.  And maybe I'll catch another one.  Near the end of the show Bruce brought on stage (as he always does in the Burg) Joe Grushecky and his son, Johnny Grushecky, and announce a "Joe and Bruce and the Houserockers" concert May 22 and 23 at Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium.  Anybody want to give me a birthday gift six months in advance?!!!...

(From the November 2, 2011, concert at Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium.)

The show was....superlatives as always fail.  The band is as tight as ever, Bruce bounces all over the stage, and among the crowd, and into the crowd, and surfs the crowd, and dances with fans on stage.  I found the set list eclectic in the extreme.  The musicianship and the quality is just there, song after song after song.  As he did for the first time when on tour in Australia, Springsteen brought with him Tom Morello, from the group Rage Against the Machine, to sub for Little Stevie Van Zandt.  Van Zandt is filming his HBO show "Lilyhammer" in Norway, and was absent.  Morello brings tremendous guitar skills (even playing with his teeth!), and I love the skreeching, scathing version of "Ghost of Tom Joad" he does with the Boss.  But I missed the duets between Stevie and Bruce.  Jake Clemens (Big Man Clarence's nephew) keeps getting better and better on sax.  And wife Patti Scialfa joined Bruce on "Seven Nights to Rock," half embarrassed (as it seemed from our sky-high seats) and half winking at the crowd over the double entendre lyrics.

Personal favorites "Youngstown" and "Land of Hope and Dreams" were just powerful.  Two years ago in Cleveland I saw Bruce do "Back in Your Arms" on the fly as a fan request.  This concert it was on the listed set, haunting and evocative as ever.  (Bruce preceded it with a short setup, asking the crowd "How many of you have messed up a relationship?" getting a smattering of noise, and then adding, "And the rest of you are liars!")  Every time I hear "Wrecking Ball" there are new angles to reflect on.  This time it brought to memory that the wrecking ball had indeed done to the Civic Arena across the street what it did to old Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

What I take from the three hour fifteen minute musical extravaganza by the self-proclaimed "Prisoner of Rock and Roll" is the sheer sheer joy of entertainment.  The other night I caught a half-hour HBO documentary on the making of Springsteen's latest album, "High Hopes."  Near the end, Bruce answers the question a lot of people ask, why does he (and the band) still go out on the road (and fly to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all parts of Europe)?  He's made more money than anyone of us can imagine.  He's got the awards.  I'm sure he feels the aches and pains of his aging body.  His kids are grown and on their own (no grandbabies yet).

Bruce said, "I do this because I must."  He never mails it in.  The E Street Band never mails it in.  The passion is still there.  And us fans keep wanting more.  

(Photographs from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Back to Some Normalcy

A blessed and holy Easter to one and all!

Let me apologize for my few but loyal followers, for my failure to post during Lent and Holy Week.  Almost every day I jot down notes and ideas for blog posts in my notebook.  And then I either fall asleep at night or can't find the time in the day to sit in front of the computer and write/compose.  The glory of Easter and this season, and the prospect of more open space on my calendar gives me renewed energy to try to post more often than once a month.  So with that apology let me begin again.