For nearly 3 years now Bishop Zubik has been leading us on a journey of prayer, reflection and strategic planning for the future of the Church of Pittsburgh – On Mission for the Church Alive! It is not unlike those early days of the Church that we are reading about in the Acts of Apostles throughout this Easter season. There were great challenges and obstacles that confronted those disciples of Jesus, but they were led by God’s grace – the power, wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit – as those first disciples of Jesus shared the Good News of the Resurrection. As we hear in our first reading, “The Church was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit in grew in numbers and life.”
We sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees. Our faith calls us to believe in the big picture. We profess our faith in a God who loves us unconditionally, who blesses us each day, who sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, that through his obedient sacrifice on the Cross we all might be forgiven of our sins and have life in his name. It was Tertullian, one of the early Church fathers, who said that John 3:16 summarized the whole of the Gospel: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in Him might have life in his name. This has been the message of Easter for all us.
What a tremendous gift and blessing it is for us to be members of the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is not a building, but a living, grace-filled communion with Jesus Christ and all the baptized – our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” It is our duty and obligation in faith, in every age, to be witnesses to that faith in Jesus Christ, to grow in intimacy to the Lord through the sacraments and prayer, and to use our gifts and talents in building the Church. It is our mission through baptism to live our faith well, to carry on the mission of Christ so that the Church will truly be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic – a reflection of Christ our Head.
This weekend Bishop Zubik is announcing significant changes to the make-up of the Church of Pittsburgh. We are moving from 188 parishes to 57. It will take time for all of us to make those adjustments. It won’t be easy but change never is. But even Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel of the need for spiritual pruning to the vine so that it will bear fruit abundantly. We are on this journey for one reason – to revitalize our Church, to serve better the needs of the faithful, so that we can lead them to the heart of Jesus and the Truth of his Gospel and for all of us to gain life in heaven. This is the only reason that we exist in the first place!
Our grouping includes Saint Paul Cathedral, Saint Regis (South Oakland), Saint Rosalia (Greenfield), and Saint Stephen (Hazelwood). This grouping remains unchanged from the proposed models that we have discussed over the past two years. I want to share with you the news that Bishop Zubik has asked me to remain at St. Paul Cathedral as both rectory and administrator as well as appointing me as administrator of each of the four parishes in our grouping. I am truly delighted to be staying here at the Cathedral and am deeply grateful for the loving support of the entire Cathedral parish family. And I count on that support and prayers as we move forward. In addition, three parochial vicars have been assigned to this grouping: Father Joe Reshick (currently pastor at St. Rosalia); Father Dan Walsh (currently a chaplain at Duquesne University) and Father Adam Potter (currently parochial vicar at St. Benedict the Abbot in Peter’s Township). Deacon Tom Barnes from St. Stephen Hazelwood has been appointed as deacon for this grouping. These assignments will become effective on October 15. At this time no church buildings will close but our goal will be to work with all the faithful in these four parishes together so that we can become one parish in the not too distant future – it is the expectation that we will form one new parish no later than the end of 2021 and decide which church buildings will best serve the new parish. A new Mass schedule for the grouping will be announced in August and take effect on October 15 and it will involve some changes to the number of Masses being celebrated and the Mass times for all four of our parishes as we will be able to have no more than 12 Sunday Masses, including any Saturday vigil Masses.
Sadly, for us, Father Adam Verona will not be remaining here as part of our grouping. But he is excited to have been appointed as administrator of six parishes in Northern Butler County and he will be much closer to his mother and family. He has been trained well at the Cathedral for his greater service to the Church, but we will surely miss him here as well as Deacon Chuck Rhoads who has been assigned to another grouping in the Glenshaw/Etna area. Fr. Brian Welding, Episcopal Vicar for Clergy, who has been in residence at the Cathedral this past year will be leaving as well to take up a new residence in the West End.
So, what do we do now? I need to ask each one of you to stay connected and to help in this important work. Don’t lose sight of the greater good by focusing on the changes you may not like. We need everyone’s help and support and I would ask for four things in particular:
a. Pray: Pray for your priests and deacons; pray for God’s grace to help us in this transition so that we will always seek to accomplish his will; pray for all of us that we will seek always to do what is best for the good of the Church and work to accomplish God’s will not our own.
b. Be Open to Change: Listen with an open mind and heart. Learn about what is going on and be open to what is taking place. Read the bulletin and the Pittsburgh Catholic so you know the facts about what is taking place. Set aside your expectations and preconceptions so that the Holy Spirit can truly lead us to where we need to go.
c. Get Involved. Don’t leave the Church or stand on the sidelines. The Church needs each one of you. Use your time, talent and treasure well and become part of what needs to take place for the good of the Church and her people.
d. Be welcoming and hospitable to everyone. We will be working over these coming months to get to know each other from the other parishes in our grouping. We must be welcoming, kind, and open to everyone as we seek to build a family of faith, make new relationships and help to create a welcoming community as we work to create one new parish with all the faithful.
In his letter to the faithful that you will each receive in the mail and which is being published in next week’s bulletin Bishop Zubik says: “I rely on your prayers for all of us who are On Mission for the Church Alive. I believe with all my heart that embracing the will and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can together do what Jesus asks of us: We can be The Church Alive.”