Monday, June 22, 2015

Change Comes to Lawrence County

Three years ago the parishes of New Castle, here in Lawrence County, were at the vanguard of pastoral changes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  It was on July 30, 2012, that I was appointed pastor of four parishes at once -- Mary Mother of Hope, St. Joseph the Worker, St. Vincent de Paul  and St. Vitus, all in the city of New Castle.  This was the first time in anyone's memory that one priest had been named pastor of four parishes in our local church.  Since then two more priests have had this "honor," with possibly more to come.  At the same time, we were given two priests as parochial vicars to all four parishes.  

Over the weekend Bishop Zubik announced another change in our neck of the woods.  Father Jim Downs has been preparing to retire from active ministry.  "JD" as he is known, has carried out priestly ministry for 45 years, 40 of them here in Lawrence County.  He first came in 1975 as assistant pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Parish. He has also served as chaplain at the Youth Development Center, a hospital chaplain, and for the last 15 years as pastor of Christ the King Parish, Bessemer-Hillsville, and St. James the Apostle Parish, Pulaski.  

We are sorry to see JD retire, though he richly deserves retirement.  He promises to come back and help us out.  I have full confidence that he'll make good on his promise.

The change comes from the fact that we will have one fewer priest in Lawrence County.  Three months ago we were told that the bishop did not have any other priest to replace Father Downs after his retirement.  Instead, Deacon John Carran will be appointed Deacon Administrator of the two parishes.  Deacon Carran will be responsible for the day-to-day operations and administration of both parish communities.  Following canon law, Father Phil Farrell, who is the bishop's delegate and regional vicar for Vicariate 4, will be additionally assigned as Priest Director of the two parishes.  

The Diocese of Pittsburgh does have one individual acting according to Canon 517#2.  She is Sister Dorothy Pawlus, CSFN, parish life collaborator at St. Bartholomew Parish in Penn Hills.  She has been doing an excellent job there for seven years.  Deacon Carran is the first of three deacons appointed as administrators of parishes.  Later this summer one will be named for a parish in the city of Pittsburgh, and one in Greene County.  

As you all know, deacons can baptize, preach homilies, lead the faithful in prayer and conduct wake services.  Deacons can witness marriages and conduct funeral services outside of Mass.  However, deacons cannot celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions or celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing and Healing.

Therefore, the four remaining priests (Father Mike Peck, pastor of St. Camillus Parish, Neshannock, my two associates, Father Larry Adams and Bill Siple, and myself) will be responsible for providing the sacramental care of Christ the King and St. James the Apostle Parishes.  One practical result of these added responsibilities is that we have to change the Sunday and weekday Mass schedules for all seven parishes.  Right now, the five priests (Downs, Peck, Adams, Siple and myself) say 20 Masses on a typical weekend, excluding wedding and funeral Masses on Saturdays.  We are planning to go down to 13 Masses for Sunday (including Saturday evening vigils).    

In his letter to parishioners, Bishop Zubik wrote, "The reality is that our priests are being stretched to their limits.  There are fewer priests, and at the same time, much more is being expected of the priests we have."  How true.  I appreciate the bishop understanding our sometimes stressful situation.  

As part of the communication and consultation with the people, Bishop Zubik's letter was read in all seven parishes this weekend.  A mailing is going out to all registered parishioners in the seven parishes tomorrow, with Bishop Zubik's letter, a question and answer sheet, listing of two different proposed Sunday Mass schedules, and a survey form folks can use to give their comments on the proposed Mass schedules.  We are hosting a meeting for consultation with the pastoral council and finance council members of all seven parishes on Monday, July 6.  The priests will get together on Wednesday, July 8, to review all comments and come up with a schedule, with the approval of our vicar, Father Farrell.  The new Mass schedule will go into effect on Saturday, August 1, and Sunday, August 2.  

This pastoral change is part of the bishop's vision for our future, On Mission for the Church Alive.  In another post I'll have some comments about how this pastoral change fits into the larger picture.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pittsburgh Pointed Hats in the News

This week has brought three former Pittsburghers who are bishops into the news of the church and the world.

Archbishop Bernie Hebda, coadjutor of Newark, was scheduled to give a talk at St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh on Monday, June 15, on leadership and evangelization.  He came back to Pittsburgh--but with a new added title, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  

Earlier that morning the Vatican announced that Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche both resigned their positions in the St. Paul Archdiocese.  Both have been implicated in the  investigations of the archdiocese by the local district attorney in the failure to enforce policies to protect children.  The archdiocese was charged with several misdemeanor counts of failing to protect children.  The investigation by Minnesota prosecutors remains ongoing.  More dirty laundry and poor oversight by church leaders is sure to come out.

Archbishop Hebda is an excellent choice to smooth feathers.   His personality is open and friendly and kind.   He is a civil and canon lawyer.  He is well respected in Rome, having been a staff member of the Pontifical Council on Legislative Texts for 13 years.  He also has lots of time on his hands, as his archbishop has no intention of handing over the reins of the local church until he reaches 75, two years hence.  

Bernie grew up in the Brookline neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh, went to Resurrection grade school and South Hills Catholic (now Seton-LaSalle) High School.  He did his undergraduate work at Columbia, and his law studies at Harvard.  He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1989.  

As Bernie noted in an interview, his job as administrator is just to listen to the people and to keep the pastoral ministries going.  Of course, the Apostolic Nuncio and Rome will be very very interested in his perceptions and understandings of what the archdiocese needs, and what qualities the next archbishop there will have to bring, for healing and reconciliation.  After they meet him, the people and priests of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be wishing that Bernie was their archbishop.  

Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently visited a building in Washington where Catholic bishops have been scarce to visit--the headquarters of the AFL-CIO.  As reported in a blogpost by Michael Sean Winters on the website of the National Catholic Reporter here , Cardinal Wuerl gave the keynote address at a conference co-sponsored by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies of the Catholic University of America and the AFL-CIO.  His talk was entitled, "The Catholic Ideal of Solidarity and the New Evangelization."  Winters gives the talk the highest marks, saying Wuerl "hit a home run."  

Winters also remarked that both Wuerl and AFl-CIO president Richard Trumka hail from western Pennsylvania.  Winter said the two of them, "joked about the fact that their parents would be a bit surprised to find their children having reached the offices they hold.  Both men are now in positions of authority and responsibility, but the ease with which they spoke of one another betrayed something deeper than a geographic link.  They both have spent time with working people and with their concerns.  They have the smell of the sheep.  They spoke not only with authority but with authenticity."  

I know what Winters means.  Last Labor Day, Bishop Zubik invited me to give the homily at the diocesan Labor Day Mass in St. Benedict the Moor Church in the Hill District.  Bishop William Winter presided.  Attending that day was Richard Trumka.  After Mass I found myself next to Trumka.  I shared with him that both my parents had been union members:  Dad at Local 1843 of the Steelworkers and Mom in Local 5 of the SEIU.  We talked for a while about how the churches and the unions need to get closer together, as they were when we were both just kids.   It was a pleasure talking with Trumka.  

I agree with Winters, Wuerl's talk is excellent.  You can read the full text on a link in Winters blogpost, or go to Salt & Light TV website.   

Wuerl's familiarity with Catholic social teaching brought back a fond memory.  When then-Bishop Wuerl appointed me interim secretary for social concerns for the Diocese of Pittsburgh,  I was replacing then-Father Paul Bradley.  Paul was so happy to return to St. Sebastian Parish as pastor.  Paul said to me, regarding my new boss:   "One thing you'll never have to do is fight with Wuerl to be involved in social concerns.  He understands the social teachings, and agrees with them completely."  Over seven years in that office I found that to be true again and again.  It sounds like Wuerl's interest in Catholic social teaching has only grown since leaving Pittsburgh.  

The third Pittsburgher who made the news may not be as well received.  Bishop Thomas Tobin is the bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.  He has won awards for his diocesan newspaper column, "Without a Doubt."  He's also a bit of a "loose cannon."  (I'm sure Tom  would laugh at me saying that.  He'd come back, "Frank, you are the loose cannon!")

In last week's column, Tobin excoriates the attire of parishioners who attend Mass in the summer.  Here's an excerpt:

"The sloppy and even offensive way people dress while attending Mass is something I've witnessed personally and regularly receive complaints about.  You know what I'm talking about; you've seen it too.  Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight."

And he goes on to decry the water bottles and coffee cups so many bring into church. "Do they really need to be hydrated or caffeinated during that hour they're in church?  Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal?"  

I have to admit, I've seen all the things the good bishop has seen too.  Would I put his column in my bulletin?  Wellllllllll I don't know.  I probably don't want to court the publicity.  But I can certainly agree with his principle, "dress for church proudly enough not to offend."  I sometimes wonder, do people get up on Sunday morning and deliberately decide I'll wear THAT to church?  

Read the whole column for yourself, have a laugh, and then look around in church next Sunday and see if Tom is right.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Churches of Eastern Europe - II

The second city on our "Blue Danube" tour with Viking River Cruises in late April was Bratislava, Slovakia.  This small city is the capital of its nation.  Bratislava has 500,000 residents, one tenth of the population of the entire country.  Since Slovakia's peaceful separation from the Czech Republic in 1993, Slovakia has grown in commerce, particularly the auto industry and high-tech companies.

Most of my friends went on a bus tour of a castle high above the old city of Bratislava.  My friend Jeff and I took the walking tour with Petr, a local grad student.  Petr was an excellent guide, with fine English skills, and a subtle sense of humor.  We did not have the time to see the Franciscan Church, nor the Blue Church (St. Elizabeth) in the city.  But we did spend considerable time in St. Martin's Cathedral.

Unlike all the other extravagantly designed and decorated churches we saw on this river cruise, St. Martin was downright plain.  However, this may have had to do with its age.  The core of the church was begun in 1221.  Yes, that's right, 794 years ago -- give or take a century!  Modifications and enlargements happened in 1311-1314, 1452, 1467-87, and most recently 1863-1878.   The plainness may have been a result of the intermittent rain that fell on us throughout our walking tour, and the heavy grey overcast sky.  As a result, we did not appreciate the cathedral's stained glass windows.   

It is in the Gothic style, with several chapels.  The claim to fame of St. Martin's is that it hosted 19 coronations of kings and queens between 1563 and 1830.  This somewhat fractured English translation is from the booklet that I bought in the cathedral:  "Eleven kings and eight queens consort bowed their Majesties to receive Hungarian crown, so-called Crown of St. Stephen from Archbishop and Palatine.  Along with resounding names as Maximilian, his sons Rudolf and Matthias, the most important is the name of Maria Theresa.  She was the only woman crowned as a king, that is by receiving the Crown on her head as a symbol of full responsibility for burden of reign, in contrast to queens consort.  In that case, the Crown was only held above their right shoulder as a sign that they are recourse to their kings regnant while ruling."  (Queen Maria Theresa ruled Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Austria Netherlands, Lorraine, Parma, and Tuscany as the Holy Roman Empress from 1740 to 1780.  She was known for her reforms.  She and her husband Francis I had 16 children.)

Of interest to me was a large statue, done by Georg Raphael Donner in 1735, of St. Martin of Tours, the patron of the cathedral.  He was a Roman officer of the 4th century, sitting atop a dramatically upraised horse.  But in this statue he's dressed with the outfit of an 18th century Hungarian officer (hussar).  With his sword in his right hand, he looks as if he's about to kill a near-naked man on the ground.  But closer examination shows that St. Martin is cutting his own cloak in half with his sword, to give to this beggar.  This iconic scene is meant to convey the generosity of St. Martin.  It's really quite a powerful image.  (Martin eventually put down his sword and military career, became a hermit, and later was elected a bishop by the people's acclamation.)  

Very close to the statue, on the right side of the cathedral, is a two meter by three meter Plexiglas cover over an archaeological excavation.  It's about three meters deep, and clearly visible to us startled tourists are four human skulls.  My helpful booklet says that this small dig "presents relics of cemetery from 11th century."  

In the rear of the church is a two room museum, labeled a sacristy.  Displayed are elaborate vestments (we call the priest's chasubles "fiddlebacks" today) for the local archbishops and rectors of the cathedral.  It's astonishing to see the intricate detail of hand-sewn vestments and gold chalices.  You can see more images of the interior, exterior and vestments of St. Martin's Cathedral at its website.  (The website is in Slovak, but the photos are beautiful and understandable in any language.) 

I very much enjoyed St. Martin's Cathedral atop the hillside of Bratislava.  Filled with history, it represents the church's multi-faceted intertwining with the history of the Danube River valleys.

Article about Priest Decline

Someone at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review must attend Sunday Mass in a Catholic Church, or at least read the Pittsburgh Catholic.  In today's edition there's a news story, "Catholic priests spread thin as numbers dwindle."  I found it mostly factual.  You can read it here.  Quoted in the article are Father Mike Ackerman, who served with us here in New Castle for eight months, and soon-to-be Father Chris Mannerino, who did three summers of apostolic internship with us, and who will be ordained a priest on June 27.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Mission for the Church Alive - Statistics

These statistics of the number of active diocesan priests in Pittsburgh were published in a box on the front page of the Pittsburgh Catholic, in its May 22, 2015, edition.  They accompanied a story, "Deacon administrators to oversee some parishes in Diocese of Pittsburgh:  Fewer priests, changing demographics open door to new model."

Over 90 years old: 1
80-89 years old: 9
75-79: 10
70-74: 22
65-69: 47
60-64: 41
50-59: 56
40-49: 31
30-39: 16
29: 1

Total diocesan priests in active ministry:   234

Eligible to retire now: 42
Eligible to retire in next five years: 47
Eligible to retire in 6-10 years: 41

On Mission for the Church Alive in New Castle - II

It's funny how my memory works, or doesn't.  There are days I can't remember what I had for supper the previous night. Other times I remember remarks from decades ago.

One saying I remember is from then-Bishop Donald Wuerl, when he was announcing the reorganization plan of the diocese in the early 1990s.  During that process the number of parishes was reduced from 333 to 215 over a period of five years.  Many of you remember the challenges of mergers here in Lawrence County.  But it wasn't just consolidation.  He opened several new parishes in areas where there was population growth.  Bishop Wuerl said, "When you gain weight, you let out the seam in your suit coat.  When you lose weight, you take it in a little.  This is what we are doing in the diocese, adjusting the number of parishes to our communities."

Bishop Zubik has announced On Mission for the Church Alive, a pastoral, evangelical and planning process for every parish and community in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The first objective of On Mission is to strengthen our parish efforts to evangelize, in other words, to invite more people to know Jesus Christ, love him, and follow him in and through the Catholic church.  This is a great and worthy challenge, and very consistent with the missionary vision of Pope Francis and his predecessors.  But On Mission is also realistic.  Most of our parishes have declined in active members.  The number of available priests is going down.  It is important that we have the right number of parishes (and church buildings) to allow us to carry out our evangelical and apostolic mission.

Here are a few statistics to ponder.  The six counties of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington) in southwest Pennsylvania reached their peak of Catholic population about 1960, one million souls.  Twenty years ago, there were about 800,000 Catholics.  The most recent edition of the Pittsburgh Catholic directory states there are today 633,117 Catholics.  This is a decline of 37% over two generations.  Back in 1960 there were three times as many baptisms as funerals.  Last year (2014) there were many more funerals (7,279) than baptisms (4,662) across all the parishes of the diocese.  As I mentioned, the number of parishes has also declined, from 333 to 200 today.

Similarly the number of active priests has declined.  When Bishop Vincent Leonard ordained our class in 1978, there were 525 diocesan priests.  Twenty years ago there were 380.  Today there are 233 priests in active ministry.  But the large ordination classes of the early 1970s are now approaching the retirement age of 70.  Among the 233 active priests, 40 are over 70 years old and eligible for retirement, but continue to minister.  Another 40 are in the age group of 65-69.  And another 40 of us (including yours truly) are in the age group 60-64.  In other words, within ten years, our current 200 parishes might only have around 100 priest who are available to minister to them.

There is good news.  Men continue to hear the call to serve as priests, respond by entering the seminary, and be ordained.  Bishop Zubik will ordain six men to the priesthood on the last Saturday in June, and probably three in 2016.  There are about 35 seminarians studying for the priesthood for our diocese (over eight years).  We have 100 permanent deacons assisting the priests and parishes, with a new class of 20 just announced (for ordination in 2020).  We have tens of thousands of energetic lay ecclesial ministers and volunteers, which we did not have back in 1960.
The temptation when I recite these numbers is to focus on the negatives.  But that is a temptation I resist.  God's presence and love endures, in our hears, in our church, and in our world.  Whatever our numbers, we are blessed with the faith that Jesus Christ never abandons us, and that the Spirit is there to give us energy and courage.  Whatever our memories of the past, Christ challenges us to move forward in hope and confidence.

On Mission for the Church Alive in New Castle - I

As most of you know I write a weekly column in our parish bulletin.  It's called "Faithful Chronicles."  Once in a while I put things here which I wrote for there.  These are two columns I did for the May 24 and May 31 bulletins.  This follows up a blog post I did on December 11, 2014.

One of those special verses of the bible which I have come to appreciate as a pastor is from the Book of Proverbs:  "Where there is no vision, the people perish."  (29:18)  Or, in other words, if you don't know where you are going, you will never get there.

Where are we going?  Almost three years ago Bishop Zubik asked me to become pastor of the four parishes in the city of New Castle.  This was the first time one priest received responsibility for four parishes in the history of the diocese of Pittsburgh.  He also gave me, and us, the help of two parochial vicars.  This was not just an administrative move.  This was part of a vision, first expressed almost ten years ago by the local Envisioning Ministry for the Future committee, for one parish in New Castle.  Yes, one unified parish.  The bishop felt that unified pastoral leadership would bring together four distinct parishes, with four different histories, buildings and communities.

In ways big and small, this is what I have been trying to do, with the help of lots of people.  The four parish pastoral councils meet as one body.  The four parish finance councils meet as one body.  Eighteen month ago we merged four bulletins into one, with 12 full-color pages.  Our children's religious education program directors have worked together, with one combined celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation annually.  Our RCIA program for welcoming new adults into the church had already been unified.  Parishioners have been supporting with their volunteer time and energy each parish's fundraisers and social activities.  I hired a part-time business manager to assist in fiscal matters for all four parishes.  The three priests (along with resident retired priest Father Joe Pudichery) move easily among our four parishes, celebrating Sunday and weekday Masses, weddings, funerals confessions and baptisms.  As a visible sign of unity among the clergy, we three priest live under one roof, in St. Mary Rectory next to Mary Mother of Hope Church.

Mary Mother of Hope, St. Joseph the Worker, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Vitus parishes continue to work together.  Following the very successful Our Campaign for the Church Alive, Bishop Zubik has announced On Mission for the Church Alive.  This pastoral, evangelical and planning process is intended for every parish in the diocese to pray and ponder, evaluate and assess, where it is going.  Over the next year there will be sustained prayer for help from the creative Holy Spirit, then self-study and planning for a future of sharing more widely the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Parishes will work more closely together with their neighbors in their cluster, district and vicariate to focus our ministries in sharing more widely the Good News of Christ.  Our four parishes are already a "cluster," and have been working with the other parishes in our Lawrence County district.  As our parishioners and parishes engage each other in the On Mission process, it seems very likely to me that our four parishes in New Castle will become one in the near future.

Change is never easy, and often brings out fears.  it's important to name our fears and to address them.  In this process I trust in the every abiding presence of our Savior, Jesus the Lord, the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, and the love and devotion of our parishioners.  All of us in the Diocese of Pittsburgh are called to move into the future with hope.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Churches of Eastern Europe - I

As I mentioned in a previous post, when I started up again this blog, eight friends of mine and I went on a seven day Viking River Cruise on the Danube River April 25-May 3.  Three of us added an excursion to Prague on the conclusion of the cruise.  It was a fabulous trip, with some wonerful friends, great food and beautiful sights.

Rather than bore anyone with "...and on Wednesday our guide took us to..." stories, I thought I'd highlight a few -- six? -- of the very special churches we visited.  Lots of pictures, a few words of history.  Today I'll begin where our westbound cruise began, in Budapest, Hungary.


The official title of this magnificent building is "The Church of Our Lady of Buda Castle".  It sits atop the Castle Hill of Buda, on the southern shore of the Danube River as it bisects modern Budapest.  

As with so many of the huge churches we saw in this part of Europe, it has a tortourous and winding history.  The first church on the site was founded by King (and Saint) Stephen, in the first decade of the 11th century.  Another church was built there about 1250, imploring God to spare the residents from a plague.  A major reconstruction of this building was done around 1370 in high Gothic style.  In 1526 Sultan Suleyman conquered the Kingdom of Hungary, and turned Matthias Church into a mosque.  For over 150 years the muezzin called to the Muslim faithful from the tower.  After its recapture in 1686, the Jesuit Order took it over and surrounded the church with a school.  Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria and his wife Elizabeth were crowned King and Queen of Hungary in 1873, and began a major reconstruction.  By 1896 it assumed the form it has today.

You come upon the church from a small alley, and the church unfolds before you.  There is a high statue of the Holy Trinity from 1713 in the square.  As you walk towards the front of the church, the sweep of the Danube river, and the Pest portion of Budapest, are displayed in front of you from the Fishermen's Bastion.

Note the roof  was proudly redone after World War II damage with 150,000 colorful Zsolnay tiles.  

On August 19, 1991, Pope John Paul II prayed in Matthias Church with Hungarian seminarians.

I have to confess that these interior photographs (which I got from the internet) put the church in much better light than I remember.  Maybe because like all European churches, they never turn on all the lights, to show of the brilliance of the painting and windows, until five minutes before a major liturgy.  It saves money, and saves wear on the painted surfaces. 

A special chapel for me was one known as St. Emeric's chapel, after an early (12th century) king of Hungary.  There is a lovely triptych of Francis preaching to the birds, his first Nativity scene in Greccio, and Francis with the stigmata.  

Praying in Matthias Church was a wonderful way to start our cruise.  Next is St. Martin's Cathedral in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Catholic Social Thought in the Pope Francis Era

The theology faculty of Seton Hill University in Greensburg were kind enough to ask me to give the keynote address to their two-year program of integration of Catholic social teaching and thought into the curricula of all departments.  I spoke to 50 professors on Thursday, May 17.  Afterwards a panel of faculty from several disciplines told how they already integrated some CST themes into their classes.  Included in the day-long workshop were teachers of social work, criminal justice, English, math, hard sciences and nursing.  

I was very impressed with the teachers's familiarity with CST themes, and their creativity in integrating them into their classroom presentations.  

Here is the outline of my talk.

  1. Opening story -- a bishop disses me for studying social ethics
  2. What is Catholic Social Teaching (CST)?    (OT / NT / Jesus Christ / documents / saints and institutions)
  3. Brief review of key CST documents   (life & dignity of human person; community & family; rights & responsibilities; option for the poor; right to work & workers' rights; solidarity; peacemaking; care of God's creation)
  4. The universality of themes  (human rights / opposition to violence in all religions / religious freedom)
  5. Pope Francis, CST gamechanger (from the southern hemisphere / "a church of the poor, for the poor" / teaching with ordinary sermons / power of symbols)
  6. Challenges and opportunities to promote CST today (more ecumenical and interfaith cooperation / collaboration between spirituality and social justice advocates / volunteer activities for young people / hermenutical circle and justice triangle)
  7. "Don't just do something, think!"
  8. "Don't just sit there, do something!"

Early Summer Reading

Since I returned home from visiting the Danube River valley on Viking River Cruises, I've been doing lots of reading.  Here are a few of my favorite articles:

Pope Francis issued a papal bull on April 11, announcing an "Extraordinary Year of Mercy" from December 8, 2015 (Feast of Immaculate Conception) through November 26, 2016 (Feast of Christ the King).  "Misericordiae Vultus".  It well worth reading, from its first sentence, "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy," through its cryptic announcement of "missionaries of mercy" to be sent by the pope around the world, to the call for Doors of Mercy in significant churches in every diocese and local community throughout the world. (Pope Francis/messages/papal bull) .

Peter Steinfels opened (again) a painful issue in the Catholic Church with his examination of why no high ranking hierarch has addressed the issue of contraception in the run-up to the Synod of Bishops this fall. "Contraception and Honesty:  An Elephant in the Synod". 

Tom Reese, S.J. writes a weekly column on issues of church, justice and human rights online at, the website of National Catholic Reporter.  Two excellent recent posts were an interview with a scholarly biographer of soon-to-be saint Junipero Serra, OFM, and five myths about the yet-to-be-released papal encyclical on the environment.  Father Reese is the former editor of America magazine and author of Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican, a trilogy of books for anyone interested in the Catholic Church.  

Pittsburgh's own "biker priest" Father Lou Vallone got even more attention with a recent profile in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here .  Father Lou is a man for all seasons:  pastor of two parishes, retreat master, revivalist, preacher, storyteller, canon lawyer, and friend of high and low (including yours truly).  

Three websites I've recently been viewing are

  • .  Has a smorgasbord of stories on religion from all over the spectrum.  Updated daily.  Worth seeing is the list of "ugliest churches" and "ugliest vestments in the world" (see link in upper left hand corner).  What a hoot!
  • .  Founded by former New York Times columnist Nate Silver, who first got fame predicting recent presidential election results to the tenth of a percentage.  Area topics include politics (naturally), economics, science, life and sports.  Updated daily.
  • .  The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate is the clunky title of one of the neatest think tanks in Washington, D.C.  It was founded by religious orders in 1964 to do scientific research on issues of the Catholic Church.  It's now associated with Georgetown University, and turns out excellent surveys and information.  Updated monthly. 

Let me know what you are reading.