Saturday, October 24, 2015

On Mission for the Church Alive: the timetable

On Mission for the Church Alive is on the move.  This planning and evangelical outreach initiative was begun by Bishop Zubik more than three years ago, as a followup to the very successful capital campaign, Our Campaign for the Church Alive.  Much of its work has been behind the scenes.  I served on the preparatory commission for the last three years, during which we reviewed the current statistics of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, future projections for priests, lay ecclesial ministers and people, models of parish ministry from around the country, and what outcomes we wanted to make happen.

On of the decisions the commission recommended, and the bishop accepted, was that the current diocesan staff is stretched to the max with ordinary ministry, and that the diocese should engage a planning consultant for this special project.  In January the Catholic Leadership Institute of Philadelphia was hired to accompany the bishop, the leadership commission, and the people and clergy of the diocese for On Mission for the Church Alive.  CLI [ ] is well known to our diocese, as it has organized the "Good Leaders, Good Shepherds" and "Tending the Talents" projects.  I completed the second GLGS cohort three years ago, and my associate, Father Larry Adams, and our neighbor, Deacon John Carran, began the fourth GLGS cohort just two weeks ago.  (GLGS uses sound and excellent business practices to teach priests and deacons how to pastor more effectively.)

For the past year, and continuing into 2016, Bishop Zubik exhorts the faithful to pray for On Mission [ ].  We do that using the prayer at the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful at all Masses, when adorers pray in the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel, and in our personal intentions.  Prayer is an essential part of this planning initiative.  In prayer we collectively and individually open ourselves to the will of the Father and the creativity of the Holy Spirit.

The next step in On Mission is forming and training a parish team.  Each pastor is being asked to suggest six active parishioners who will form a parish team to lead consultations with their parishioners.  Deadline for submission of names of team members is the end of February.  In April 2016 each team member will be required to attend a training session led by CLI and diocesan staff.  Then in the second half of 2016, each parish team will conduct listening sessions within its parish, and within its cluster.  The teams will share the results with the priests, pastoral and finance council members, lay ecclesial ministers, and other teams in their cluster and district.  Also over the winter, CLI will conduct one-on-one listening sessions with active priests, deacons and lay ecclesial minsters.

The goal of all these listening sessions is to have the parish teams in each district make recommendations for the future leadership of parishes.  This will happen early in 2017.  This consultation will proceed "from the ground up" through the parish teams, to district meetings, to the regional vicar and ultimately to the bishop.  If necessary more consultations will be held.  Finally about two years from now the bishop will confirm or adjust recommendations for parish leadership for the future.

This is the timetable as the leadership commission and the bishop now see it.  It may be adjusted in light of new concerns and creative ideas as it is implemented.

What does this mean in my specific situation?  Our district (the eight parishes in Lawrence County) is already a pilot program for On Mission.  We are using two newer models of parish leadership:  the deacon administrator model and the one-pastor-for-multiple-parishes model.  Deacon John Carran since August 1 leads Christ the King Parish, Hillsville-Bessemer, and St. James the Apostle Parish, Pulaski, along with Father Phil Farrell as priest director and us four nearby priests as sacramental ministers.  I am pastor of four parishes, supported by two parochial vicars and parish staff.  Two other priests are pastors of four parishes, and one of three parishes, in our diocese.  

There are other models of ministry available.  Each of the 21 districts in the diocese will have its parish teams look at all available models, in light of four key criteria--being missionaries to the unchurched and fallen away; caring for our active faithful; being financially viable; and sharing the clergy equitably throughout the diocese.

For right now, parishioners need to pray for the bishop, diocesan staff, CLI consultants, and all 200 parishes and 650,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  Pray for the success of On Mission for the Church Alive.  Pray that we be willing to think "outside the box," open ourselves to change, act courageously, and position our parish communities and institutions for growth.  Parishioners need to work to grow their church.  Parishioners also need to keep themselves informed by reading the weekly On Mission column on page 5 of the Pittsburgh Catholic, and their parish bulletin.  Parishioners need to continue to love their Catholic faith and their church by sharing time, talent and treasure with their parish.  

On Mission for the Church Alive: being home missioners

In the U.S., the third Sunday in October is designated World Mission Sunday.  The Catholic Church recognizes the worldwide dimension of missionary activity, through our prayer and our contributions.  This year in the Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Zubik call for all to join prayers for universal mission work with our local initiative, On Mission for the Church Alive.  

The Gospel reading tells us how Jesus corrected his disciples who wish to "lord it over others."  He reminded them that true disciples of his are ones who serve others, who are responsive to the needs of others.  In this regard, the four parishes of the city of New Castle join with our sisters and brothers in every parish in all six counties of the Pittsburgh Diocese, to serve others and proclaim Jesus Christ to others.

The theme of "missionary disciples" is near and dear to the heart of Pope Francis.  He repeats it in almost every homily, and made it a cornerstone of his recent pastoral visit to our country.

For a long time parishes, school and parish organization worked in isolation from each other, as "silos" standing apart.  But gradually parishioners and pastors are breaking down barriers and learning to cooperate, share and collaborate.  Before I came to New Castle in 2011, the city parishes were already offering one RCIA program, and had been sharing Sunday Offertory envelopes dropped in different parishes.  The priests had been working together with joint penance services in Advent and Lent.  The former St. Mary's Parish and St. Vitus Parishes had put their cemeteries together way back in 1969 as the Lawrence County Catholic Cemetery Association.  There may have been other collaborative efforts I don't know about.

We have gone further.  Our four parishes (Mary Mother of Hope, St. Joseph the Worker, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Vitus) share one bulletin, one business manager, one pastoral associate, one religious education program, and three priests. Their pastoral councils and finance councils meet together and work together.

The eight parishes in Lawrence County, which comprise District 1 of Vicariate 4, also work together.  The three parishes in New Castle city (along with Father Michael Peck, pastor of St. Camillus Parish in Neshannock) provide sacramental ministry to St. James the Apostle Parish and Christ the King Parish, where Deacon John Carran is administrator.  Fathers Mark Thomas and Zach Galiyas from Holy Redeemer Parish, Ellwood City, help whenever necessary. Retired priests Fathers Joe Pudichery and Jim Downs provide much needed relief for us priests on Sundays and at "crunch times" of many liturgies, particularly funerals.  

Just this past Wednesday the lay ecclesial minsters from District 1 met with the priests and deacons and regional vicar Father Phil Farrell to go over the specific timetable for the On Mission for the Church Alive process.  (Lay ecclesial ministers are trained and skilled professionals who are employed by the parishes, institutions and dioceses in the areas of religious education, music, social services, administration and pastoral care.)  I am open to many more ways of collaboration and cooperation.  

No longer do we think that evangelization (the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ in and through the Catholic Church) only happens in faraway lands of Asia and Africa.  (Actually, for some time now it is not unusually to see these places--such as Korea, the Philippines, and Nigeria--send missionaries to Europe or the U.S.!)  Evangelization can and must happen right here, in our diocese, our county, and our towns and communities.  Evangelization is the work of every follower of Jesus Christ, in a multitude of ways.  May we grow as a church by loving Christ more and making new friends for him.

On Mission for the Church Alive: the basics

On October 6 St. Vitus Parish, New Castle, hosted the Vicariate 4 fall conference for priests and deacons.  Much of the meeting was Bishop David Zubik giving us an update on the movement and timing of On Mission for the Church Alive diocesan initiative.

Perhaps you have heard about this, perhaps you haven't.  Folks who attend Sunday Mass regularly know that we now conclude the Prayers of the Faithful (Universal Petitions) with a prayer written by the bishop for the success of On Mission.

I put this description of the basics of On Mission in our bulletin last month, to increase the awareness of this planning and evangelical progress, which will be our prime issue in the Diocese of Pittsburgh for the next several years.

The core of On Mission is Bishop Zubik's call for our local church (the Diocese of Pittsburgh, its 200 parishes, all schools and institutions) to make spiritual and structural changes.  The spiritual call is very biblical.  Jesus Christ preach the coming reign of God, and sent out his disciples to do the same (see Luke 9:1-6).  After his resurrection, Jesus told his followers, "Go make disciples of all the nations, baptizing...and teaching."  (Matthew 28:16-20)  The entirety of the Acts of the Apostle is stories of apostles (particularly focusing on Saints Peter and Paul) spreading the Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

Missionaries travelling to foreign lands are an essential part of the Church's history, in all centuries.  St. Thomas the Apostle went as far as India, St. Philip preached to the Ethiopian eunuch, priest spread the Catholic faith to all lands around the Mediterranean Sea.  In the age of European explorers, friars accompanied Christopher Columbus on his journeys to America.  St. Francis Xavier went to the Far East, to Japan and China.  Religious orders of women and men were (and are) missionaries and educators on all continents.

Today the missionary impulse in the Catholic Church, and in many other Christian Churches, is still strong.  But St. Pope John Paul II also called for areas which had been fervent in the faith and has lost many active members to conduct "the new evangelization."  It in this spirit of being missionaries at home, in our own families and neighborhoods, that On Mission for the Church Alive challenges all of us to share the Good News of God's love and Christ's salvation.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh we also need structural change.  It's no secret that for two decades the number of active priests has been declining.  At the same time the number of deacons, lay ecclesial ministers and active volunteers is increasing.  Fewer people attend Sunday Mass regularly, and there continue to be population shifts in various neighborhoods of the diocese.  Structural changes may include new patterns of pastoral leadership (such as Deacon John Carran becoming administrator of our neighboring parishes in Lawrence County, Christ the King, Hillsville-Bessemer, and St. James the Apostle, Pulaski, or team ministries in  Greene and Washington Counties, consolidations of parishes under one pastor (such as our own situation of four parishes with one pastor in New Castle), and in a few cases closing church buildings and merging parishes.  All parish communities have to work harder at collaboration and sharing ministries.

Right now On Mission for the Church Alive is in a stage of prayer and study.  Bishop Zubik asks each parish and all the faithful to pray that we hear more urgently the missionary call of Christ.  Next spring pastors and parish council members will begin studying statistics, situations and different modes of pastoral governance.  But structural changes can only work if they are build on a foundation of trust in God and focus on the call of Jesus for all his followers to be missionaries.  This means more attention to hospitality, service, stewardship and fervent prayer.

In August TIME magazine interviewed Archbishop Charles Chaput about Pope Francis's trip to the U.S. He is the leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, appointed five years ago to address the financial and spiritual problems left by his predecessors.  Archbishop Chaput was blunt in saying, "I moved from a church that was focused on mission [the Archdiocese of Denver] to one that was focused only on maintenance and survival."  He is trying to change the Philadelphia archdiocese, its people and priests, to concentrate on mission.  This spotlight on mission is also what Bishop Zubik has called for in the six counties  of our diocese.  Please pray for On Mission for the Church Alive throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

For various reasons I have not been consistent in blogging about issues and ideas and events near and far.  Most of those reasons have to do with parish ministry in four parishes in New Castle.  But for ten days I'll have a good reason not to blog.  I'll be on a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel from Monday, October 26 through Wednesday, November 4.

In December of 1989 through the intervention of Father John Kozar I went on a "fam-trip" quickie to Israel.  Two days in Jordan, five days in Israel, with 15 others from the Diocese of Brooklyn.  The idea was that we priests and laity would return to the United Sates and organize our own pilgrimages, using the tour operator who sponsored our cut-rate "familiarization" tour.  That is what I did.  I contacted a sister I knew who was an excellent teacher of the Bible, and who had many students in the greater Pittsburgh area who might want to go with us on a pilgrimage.

But in May of 1990, the first intifada between the Palestinians and the Israelis began.  Near open warfare, which killed tourism for quite a while.  I know it stopped any hope of sister and me leading a pilgrimage to the holy sites.

Time passed.  But the notion that I might return to the Holy Land never left me.  Last year I contacted a representative of the company which hosted our own bishop's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Unitours, an outfit headquartered in New York.  Publicity in parish bulletins and the Pittsburgh Catholic brought 30 courageous souls forward to go on this trip.  Helene Paharik, who is associate general secretary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and a veteran pilgrim to the holy sites, agreed to join us as a co-leader.  

So, I'll have lots to talk about when I return.  Here's a bare outline of our trip:

Day One:  air travel from Pittsburgh to Tel Aviv.  
Day Two:  Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, overnight in Pilgerhaus guest house.
Day Three:  Church of the Annunciation, Cana, Mt. Tabor.
Day Four:  boat ride across Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Jordan river.
Day Five: bus ride to Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethany, overnight in Dan Jerusalem Hotel.
Day Six:  Church of Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit Chapel, Garden of Gethsemane, Church of All Nations, Ein Karem, optional tour of Yad Vashem.
Day Seven:  Bethlehem and Church of the Nativity, shopping in Palestinian stores, Qumran, possible dip in the Dead Sea.
Day Eight:  Via Dolorosa through the Old City of Jerusalem, Holy Sepulchre, Church of St. Ann, Kidron Valley, Church of St. Peter Gallicantu.
Day Nine:  Mt. Zion, Church of Dormition, Western (Wailing) Wall, Emmaus, Jaffa.
Day Ten:  overnight flight returning to Pittsburgh airport and home.

I am really looking forward to this pilgrimage, which will double for me as my spiritual retreat for the year.  Pray for us pilgrims.  We promise to pray for you, your health and your families.  

Churches of Eastern Europe - VI

This is the last of my travelogue of major churches our Pittsburgh vacation group saw, as we enjoyed "the blue Danube" on the Viking Prestige in late April and early May.

Three couples in our group departed for the States after our last boat stop in Passau, Germany.  They flew home via Munich.    Two friends and I had added a bonus to our river cruising--a four day/three night tour of Prague, in the Czech Republic.  We boarded a modern bus for the four hour journey through the mountains to Prague.

One moment of that boring trip stays with me.  While my friends snoozed across the aisle, our Viking guide got on the PA system and asked us to note the wide swath of cut trees to our left, as we descended a gentle valley.  Twenty-five years ago, this was a genuine flash point in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West.  The cut trees marked the border between West Germany (free and democratic) and Czechoslovakia (under Communist rule).  Our guide pointed out a window-less two-story concrete structure, a guard post.  The wide flat areas between the forests were, back then, divided by high fencing, razor wire, and sometimes, land mines.  All to discourage or prevent any Czechs seeking freedom to pass from their country into West Germany.

Today the concrete building is abandoned, not even noted by signage for its historical significance.  In the new Europe, we didn't even have to stop to have our passports looked at.  It was just like when I drive over to Boardman, Ohio, to go shopping or enjoy Chipolte, and don't even think when I cross the Pennsylvania-Ohio line.  

One reason we three wanted to see Prague was that we heard and read that it was a vibrant, alive, contemporary city.  It was all that and more.  But my reason was more personal.  I wanted to see the OTHER St. Vitus church in the world.

I may be wrong, but I think I am the pastor of one of the two St. Vitus churches.  Who knew that the Italian church in New Castle, PA, USA, could be linked with the grand Bohemian cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic?

St. Vitus is not the only important worship site in Prague.  There are St. Nicholas Church and the Virgin Mary of Tyn Church in Old Square, Loretto Sanctuary, St. Salvator Church, even a working Jewish synagogue which dates to the 12th century.  But St. Vitus towers over them all.  From its pinnacle over the Vltava River it is visible throughout the city and the region.  

Christianity came to this region in the 900s, through the missionaries and brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius.  A chapel dedicated to Mary was first built on the hill about 920.  Later a St. Vitus rotunda was added to the chapel.

(It is a puzzle to me, never explained by our guides or by the guidebooks I read, how a 3rd century Italian boy who was martyred became the patron of this church in the 9th century, and later the cathedral.)

Prague became a bishopric in 973, and hence designated this church as its cathedral.  As with so many of the great churches in this region, it has a roller-coaster history.  Later, in 1344, Emperor Charles IV commissioned a new cathedral.  One hundred years later it was occupied by Hussites.  The cathedral as designed was only completed in the middle of the 19th century.  After World War II new stained glass windows were commissioned in the rear of the church, which sit glowingly next to more solemn windows centuries old.

I would love to tell you in personal detail about how beautiful, how gorgeous St. Vitus Cathedral is, as well as the surrounding Prague Castle, but truth to tell, we were with a group on a five-hour whirlwind tour of the entire city, and had a mere 20 minutes to look around.  Not even the whole church, just a small section of the rear of the nave.  We three resolved, on the next day, to go back and visit it with the time it deserved.  But, the best laid plans, and so on.  The next day, a free day for us, we took the city trolley up the hill, only to find the cathedral surrounded by TV trucks and large numbers of police.  It was closed.  St. Vitus Cathedral was hosting a civic commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the close of World War II.  We were not allowed even to peak inside.  

So, here are some photographs of the exterior and a couple of interior shots.  Maybe another time I'll see more of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

And just for humor, a couple of its ancient gargoyles.

A post-script.  We were bummed out by not being able to see St. Vitus Cathedral.  So we got back on the trolley for the trip down the hill and back to our hotel.  But my friends were hungry, so we hopped off and found a literal hole-in-the-wall restaurant for lunch.  As I was looking across the street, what did I see, but the Infant of Prague Church.  Yes, that Infant of Prague, a statue ubiquitous in churches and convents and certain homes in our country.  We walked across the street, enjoyed the relative spare (for a 17th century Baroque-style) church, with its modest statue of the Infant on a side altar.  Next to the altar was a large photograph of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the church in 2009.  

And on two other (smaller) side altars, there were images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Africa.  We are a Catholic Church after all.

Synod on the Family

I have to admit I have not been paying much attention to Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome.  There was so much in the media during the pope's recent visit to our country that we could all be forgiven for a little "pope-exhaustion."

As the synod draws to a conclusion this weekend, it does seem that the same tensions we experience in parish life and diocesan life are becoming more public among the bishops and cardinals who are synod delegates.

Not that it's easy to agree, or even to wrap your arms around "the family."  Tom Reese, the perceptive columnist (and fellow Jesuit with Bergoglio) wrote recently five reasons the synod is doomed to fail.  One of them is the sheer number of topics to be covered.  He wrote, "The family touches everything and is touched by everything."  Here are his lists:

Social and economic factors:  unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, inter religious differences, consumerism, social media, education, etc.  "Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption."

Moral issues:  the sexual act itself, fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, etc.

Canonical and theological issues:  marriage as a sacrament, annulments, the Gospel sayings of Jesus, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.


You have to hand it to Pope Francis, though.  He does not seem phased by these discussions/disagreements/verbal sparring.  Again, Father Reese in another column said that Papa Francisco is positively Jesuitical in wanting full discussion, frank conversation, about the issues surrounding the modern family.  Only by honest sharing, in the Ignatian understanding of discernment of spirits, can the Holy Spirit begin to work through all the words and the people speaking to them and listening to them.  

One story does stand out for me, which I read two days ago.  In a press briefing, Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago spoke about how hierarchs and church pastors have to listen to persons who may be, in the delicate language of canon lawyers, "in irregular situations."  [Read the whole article here .]  That is, divorced and remarried persons, gay people in permanent relationships, and others.  Cupich said he knew a retired archbishop who said he wants his tombstone to read:  "I tried to treat you like adults."  Then Cupich went on and said, "I think that what he means by that is we really do have to have an adult Catholic response to living the Christian life.  That I think is where the Holy Father is leading us."

Cupich later said, "We should look at a way in which people are not just accompanied but integrated and reconciled.  We have to believe in the mercy of God and the grace of God to trigger conversion, rather than having it the other way around as though you're only going to get mercy if you have the conversion.  The economy of salvation doesn't work that way.  Christ receives people and it's because of that mercy that the conversion happens."

Then Cupich told this story, which to me is astounding that he supports it, and further, that he told it in a public briefing.  A priest told him of celebrating a funeral for an young man who had committed suicide.  The man's mother, the priest said, was divorced and remarried and also "very angry" at God and the church over what had happened.  When she came forward in the Communion line at the funeral Mass, she folded her arms, a common sign that she would not receive Communion [because she was divorced and remarried] but wanted a blessing from the priest.  The priest said to her:  "No, today you have to receive."

The archbishop continued, "She went back to her pew and wept uncontrollably.  She later came back to visit with the priest and began reconciliation."  Cupich went on, "Her heart was changed.  She did have her first marriage annulled; her second marriage is now in the church.  But it was because that priest looked for mercy and grace to touch her heart.  That is something we have to keep in mind.  And I think the Holy Father has talked about that."

Wow.  I wish once I could be so wise, and so merciful.  Ponder that very gospel-like story of mercy beyond measure.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Long Week

Among the many Pope Francis stories told by commentators during the pope's recent pilgrimage to the United States, I liked this one.  Whenever the pope meets a bishop or priest, he looks at his shoes.  If the shoes are dirty, he knows that the cleric has been visiting parishioners and doing work.  If his shoes are shiny, well (ahem), the cleric has been spending a lot of time shining his shoes.

I have to say that my two associates and I had dirty shoes last week.  From Monday, September 21, through Monday, September 28, we did 13 funerals (with prior visits to  the funeral homes the night before), two weddings, two baptisms, five communion calls, two nursing home Masses, as well as the usual schedule of ten weekday and eight Sunday Masses for our four parishes in New Castle. Plus, that week Father Larry Adams celebrated a Mass at Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport, on the same day Pope Francis was canonizing Padre Junipero Serra in Washington, D.C.  Father Adams is an alumnus of Serra High.  Two local television stations showed clips of the Mass, and quotes from his sermon were in two Pittsburgh newspapers.  Phew!

We did have the help of visiting priests Fathers Jim Downs, Dave Bonnar and Joe McCaffrey, who each did one funeral Mass at the request of families who knew them.  

Most weeks, thank God, do not have such busy-ness or heavy weight of family sadness and loss.  But often the work (ministry) priests do is not seen by many parishioners in public areas.  I'm thinking of the times we priests meet:
+ with engaged couples who are preparing to receive the sacrament of matrimony;
+ with persons seeking annulments;
+ with families who ask us to anoint a loved one at home, in local nursing homes or Jameson Hospital;
+ with the women's guilds, or adult bible study, or the RCIA group;
+ with children in St. Vitus School or in our four CCD programs.

The three of us have participated in two day-long workshops over the summer conducted by the diocese just for us in pilot programs of pastoral governance.  In our case we join deacon administrator Deacon John Carran from the two parishes in Pulaski and Hillsville-Bessemer.  And as diocesan priests we are obligated to attend four vicariate meetings and two clergy conference each year.

We priests are certainly not the only ones in our town who work hard at their jobs.  It's just that sometimes parishioners don't see us in other venues outside of weekend Mass.  As my brother asked me in the first month after I was ordained, "Frank, I know what you do on Sunday.  What do you do the rest of the week?"

It's a question I ponder regularly.