On Mission for The Church Alive!

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Bishop David A. Zubik

Bishop of Pittsburgh

“Missionaries of Mercy”

May 20, 2016

Back in the 1950’s, when I was a tyke growing up in the Beaver County town of Ambridge, there were seven steel mills and seven Catholic churches. We were a town that knew the value of hard work. We were a town that knew the meaning of deep faith.

One of the things that my parents insisted on is that every Sunday we would walk across the threshold of our parish church to drop to our knees to both thank God for the blessings He gave us in the previous week. We also dropped to our knees to beg God’s help for the challenges we would face in the coming week.

Every so often, our pastor would invite a priest from a religious community to have Sunday Mass. These men would walk down the aisle of the church before Mass would begin dressed in their brown robes. My dad would often comment: “Oh, the missionaries are here.” And for a good part of the early years of my life, I looked at all of these visiting priests to our parish in Ambridge as “missionaries.”

Pope Francis today is calling all Catholics to be missionaries.

Missionaries are sent forth by Jesus through the Church to bring the love, message and mercy of Jesus to those who don’t know Him. They leave their homes, learn new languages and go into unfamiliar cultures, bringing practical help and advocacy for social justice. Missionaries look at those around them and ask, “WWJD: What would Jesus do for this community?”

Pope Francis wants us to reach out to those in need of love, of care and protection, of mercy and grace.

That is why I’ve called for our entire diocese to be On Mission for the Church Alive!

Catholics have been missionaries since the Church was born on the first Pentecost. The small band of apostles and friends of Jesus were gathered with His Mother for prayer when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Empowered with love and courage, they went into the streets with the message of Jesus. Who could have imagined that the little prayer group in Jerusalem would transform empires? But that is what the Holy Spirit accomplished as they went forth in faith.

The Catholics of Southwestern Pennsylvania have a missionary heritage.

In the 18th century, a Russian prince named Demetrius Gallitzin converted to Catholicism, renouncing great wealth to become a priest and missionary. The first priest in Western Pennsylvania, Father Gallitzin lived in a log cabin, preached the gospel, cared for orphans and built sawmills that employed persecuted Catholics.

In 1843, seven Sisters of Mercy sailed from Ireland to bring the gospel and to care for the exploited immigrants in Pittsburgh. The sisters also made it a point to visit the incarcerated. So many prisoners converted to Catholicism during their visits that the Protestant warden banned the sisters from the penitentiary. A year later, they founded the city’s first hospital just before a typhoid epidemic. The majority of their patients survived, but four of the five nursing sisters died. Shattered, but undeterred, the sisters continued their work and, over the next 150 years, inspired thousands of young women to join them in bringing God’s mercy to Pittsburgh. So central was mercy to their mission, that the hospital they established took on the name of the virtue they advanced—MERCY.

By the early 20th century, the Diocese of Pittsburgh had far more Catholics than its parishes could serve. Starting in 1913, lay Catholics, known as the Missionary Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, gathered early each Sunday right here, at Saint Mary of Mercy Church. From here, they traveled by streetcar and train throughout the diocese, from inner city tenements to remote coal patches and farms. They taught religious education and organized faith communities. Travelling priests celebrated Mass in homes and union halls. The volunteer women and men called themselves “fishers” after Jesus’ command to be “fishers of men.” It’s their example that challenges me. It’s their example that moves me to challenge all the people of the Church of Pittsburgh to be missionaries—and especially missionaries of MERCY.

That is the spirit that moved me to launch On Mission for the Church Alive!

On Mission for the Church Alive! is a diocesan-wide planning initiative in which I invite all Catholics to envision how our parishes, schools and ministries can respond to changes in their communities, ensuring that every community that bears the name of Catholic wears the mantle of Jesus Himself and everything for which Jesus stands. All of which invites, expects, builds relationship with Jesus.

I am asking every Catholic to look at his or her community as a mission field. This will require collaboration, courage and compassion as we work together and dream big about how we can best be Church in a world that is very different from our grandparents’ day. This invites, especially those who have drifted away from the faith or who have never experienced Jesus, to build a relationship with Jesus.

We have parishes that already do this well. At Saint Maria Goretti in the Bloomfield-Friendship-Garfield neighborhoods, urban missionaries with a ministry called “Dirty Vagabonds” are leading at-risk youths to Christ.

At Saint Gabriel in Whitehall, some parishioners started a Vacation Bible School that drew 120 children last summer and brought several families back to the faith.

Our Secretariat for Leadership Development and Evangelization is training more volunteer evangelizers who can invite others to “learn Jesus, love Jesus, live Jesus.” We are also providing formation in lay ministry for the women and men I commission to help their pastor discern the vision for their parish and aid him in carrying out its mission.

But we face enormous challenges.

Communities built by immigrant Catholic steelworkers from Europe are now home to African-American, Asian or Latino populations. The great Catholic missionaries such as Prince Gallitzin, the Mercy Sisters and the traveling lay teachers of yesteryear would not want our churches to be empty monuments to the past. They must be filled with our neighbors of the present. How do we mobilize our resources, many of which are based on patterns from the 1950’s, for our communities of today?

We will have to carry out this effort with half the priests we have now. Today, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has 222 priests in active ministry. Projections point to 112 in 2025.

Yet we think of Father Gallitzin, the only priest serving hundreds of square miles, who knew that with the power of God “Nothing is Impossible.” We recall those missionaries who went forth from this building 100 years ago and know that energized lay Catholics are our best evangelizers.

Thousands of inactive Catholics must be invited and welcomed back. We have a Catholic population of nearly 650,000. Since 2000, weekend Mass attendance has dropped from 247,000 then to just over 149,000 now.

Many of the missing simply drifted away because they were “too busy.” How do we restructure parish schedules and our ministries for families with working parents? That’s what On Mission for the Church Alive! is about!

The Mass is the center of our life, where we receive Jesus. How do we revitalize our worship so that people experience the full power and joy of worship, becoming eager to share Jesus with others?

Some of our 199 parishes are in high growth areas and overflow with new members. But many are in former steel mill or rural communities with dwindling populations. Nearly half of our parishes ran operating deficits last year, up from one-third in 2012.

Consequently, our services to parishioners and communities are uneven. Those who are most in need often receive the least. This is why every parish and every school must be involved in On Mission for the Church Alive! How can parishes with an abundance of resources share with those who minister in and from poverty?

Our schools and our institutional ministries are full partners in On Mission.

Most of our schools were founded in response to the call of the U.S. bishops in 1884 for every parish to have a school. But families had more children then. Educational technology meant a chalkboard. Religious sisters taught for virtually no pay. That parish-school model is difficult to sustain when we strive to pay a living wage, when technology brings new costs and when the population of school age children has dropped dramatically.

Schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh have fared better than most. The 50 percent drop in our tuition-paying student population between 1994 and 2014 paralleled the 40 percent decline in the non-tuition-paying student population in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Despite closures and tuition increases, our schools continue to educate nearly 7 percent of all children in the area, about twice the national average. We have great success stories. At Saint Wendelin School in Carbon Center, Butler County, enrollment has nearly doubled over four years.

But we must do more to support Catholic schools if they are to thrive. On Mission for the Church Alive! calls us to a regional vision in which all neighboring parishes share more of the major costs for a school, helping to stabilize tuition. How can we best do that?

I have presented this vision mostly in the form of questions, because I don’t know the answers yet. But I know the answers are out there! We’ll discover those answers through a grassroots consultation starting in the fall.

Briefly, On Mission for The Church Alive began in April 2015 with a year of prayer, seeking the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

Now, in every parish, we are training lay leaders who will participate in the consultation, gather feedback from other parishioners and assist their priests with the On Mission process.

Our diocese is divided into 21 districts, each with groups of neighboring parishes that we call “clusters.” Consultation will begin on the district level, giving a long-term, strategic vision for pastoral care and missionary outreach.

This month, our priests received a statistical “snapshot” of their parishes, with data on local population trends, membership, attendance, sacraments and finances. In late summer, our priests will receive working drafts of several possible models for the structure and staffing of future ministry in their district. These models will show options for reaching out in service to our people with varying numbers of parishes, church buildings, schools and different configurations of clergy and lay staff members.

The models are like the choice of floor plans from a home builder. What you see on the paper isn’t the finished version. The prospective buyer first picks the model that seems to best meet his needs. The prospective buyer works with the builder to tweak the plans according to her affordable dreams.

Starting in September and continuing through June 2017, there will be consultations about the models in all of our districts, clusters and 199 parishes.

At the end of June 2017, all feedback will be forwarded to the On Mission Commission, an oversight group with lay representatives from each district. The commission will refine the models, then submit recommendations to me.

In early 2018, I will announce the final plans for all parishes.

Will some churches or schools close as a result of On Mission for the Church Alive!?

That is a real possibility. But all that and the specifics about it remain to be seen.

If you have heard recently of a church closing, or of merger talks, some parishes with critical needs couldn’t wait for this planning process.

But for the vast majority of our parishes, here is the kind of choice at stake in On Mission:

If a parish is paying hundreds of dollars a month for utilities and upkeep on underutilized buildings, would we serve Jesus better by putting that money toward the salary of a youth minister or a pastoral outreach coordinator? This is about being a missionary.

If it is necessary to close a building to free resources for pastoral care and outreach; if reducing the number of Masses will give our priests more time to evangelize, to visit the sick, to hear Confessions and to offer spiritual direction; those are the kinds of issues that On Mission for the Church Alive! must consider.

On Mission for the Church Alive! continues the missionary work that built this diocese. Those priests, sisters and lay persons at the beginning of the Catholic Church in Southwestern Pennsylvania made enormous sacrifices to bring the message and mercy of Jesus to the people our region. They did so as missionaries. If we seek to follow Jesus as they did, we can do no less.

When I was installed as Bishop of Pittsburgh, the question that I asked everyone was “Are you excited about our faith?”

Let me remind you what prompted me to ask the question.

The day after the public announcement was made that Pope Benedict XVI appointed me to be Bishop of Pittsburgh, I boarded a plane to travel back to the Diocese of Green Bay in Wisconsin where I was serving as Bishop. As I sat down on the plane, I prayed the rosary. When I finished, the man who sat next to me asked a rather poignant question: “Are you afraid to fly?” Realizing that he was somehow connecting my prayer to his perceived sense of my fear of death, I responded with a serious note of humor. “I’m not afraid of dying; I just like to stay connected with the Big Guy.”

At that point, I presumed that the man was Catholic, since he knew what the rosary was all about. He confessed that he once was Catholic but was now a Buddhist. More than a little surprised by his answer, I asked how that all occurred. He answered that while he truly believed in Jesus, he had never met anybody in his life who exemplified what it meant to be His follower.

Following that flight, and as I prepared to come to Pittsburgh, I don’t doubt for a single moment that God placed that man next to me for a specific purpose: to fire up my leadership in Pittsburgh in the hope that I could fire up the people who belong to our Church known as the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

In the nine years since, I have seen overwhelming evidence of that excitement. Our people give generously. They pray faithfully. They roll up their sleeves and serve the poor. They say “yes” to God every day of their lives.

On Mission for the Church Alive! will support them in living out their faith, giving them new resources for pastoral care, sharing the faith and reaching out to those in need.

This work of building the Church will never be complete until Jesus returns for the second coming at the end of all time. But when we have moved the On Mission for the Church Alive! initiative along, my goal is to have parishes in which people learn, love and live Jesus; lay people pass on the good news of our faith; clergy have more time to celebrate the sacraments and tend to souls in need with obvious mercy. Our parishes, our schools, our religious education efforts, our presence in healthcare centers, our outreach to college students and young adults, our encouragement to those who are in correctional institutions—everything that we do actively as Church—must be geared to the heart and soul of each of those communities, seeking to do good that is a benefit to everyone of every faith.

And what is that good? It is in fact fulfilling the dream of God! And what is the dream of God? That everybody get to heaven.

Yep! There was something about those men dressed in brown that my led my father to call them “missionaries.” Little did he know, and little did I know, that what they did for us, each of us is called to do for one another.

That is our mission. That is being On Mission for the Church Alive!

The Diocese of Pittsburgh will embark on a dynamic planning initiative focused on growth through evangelization, Bishop David Zubik announced in an April 12 letter to the faithful.

The initiative, called On Mission for The Church Alive!, calls Catholics to take part in an expanded effort to spread the love of Jesus to every person they meet.

On Mission for The Church Alive! will engage all laity, religious and clergy to help strengthen school and parish partnerships, offer more vibrant liturgies and effective faith formation programs, and increase participation of the faithful in the life of the Church.

Due to changing demographics in parishes and a declining number of priests, On Mission for The Church Alive! will explore innovative models of ministry, including inter-parish collaboration, ministry teams serving more than one parish, and multiple parishes served by one pastor.

The first step in the multi-year initiative will be prayer, with many opportunities for different experiences of prayer offered throughout the Diocese. As a beginning step, all Catholics in the Diocese are asked to begin to use this Prayer for On Mission for the Church Alive!

My Dear Friends in Christ:

We hear in the Acts of the Apostles today that in the early days of the Church “the community of believers was of one heart and mind,” and “with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:32–33).

As we reflect on how the Holy Spirit worked through Jesus’ followers, I am writing personally to invite you to take part in an expanded effort to spread His love to every person you encounter.

Today I am formally announcing On Mission for The Church Alive!, a dynamic planning initiative engaging all laity, religious and clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. It will involve prayer and study, strengthening school and parish partnerships, and providing support for clergy and lay leaders for every avenue of ministry to you, the faithful of the Church of Pittsburgh.

The goal of On Mission for The Church Alive! is to help our parishes and schools, our health care facilities and campus ministry programs and every faith community in our diocese become even more vibrant communities of worship and service, while challenging all of us to be excited about our faith!

On Mission for The Church Alive!seeks to strengthen and guide us so that we may accept the invitation of Pope Francis to seek out and welcome those who have left the Church or are far from God.

In order to encourage others to be friends of Jesus, each of us must deepen our relationship with Him. We grow in faith and holiness by truly listening to His Word in Scripture and by embracing His presence in the Sacraments so that we can learn Jesus, love Jesus, and live Jesus. Through our own spiritual development, we become truly loving and merciful Christians who must transform our parishes and diocese into The Church Alive!

How is God calling you to be alive in your faith?

My invitation to you is to dream big, say “Yes!” and roll up your sleeves to get more involved in the work of the Church through five important realities—the Eucharist, Catechesis, Evangelization, Formation and Stewardship.

Imagine more vibrant parishes with liturgies that inspire and faith formation that helps every person grow closer to Christ. Consider how we can better support our priests and deacons to help them proclaim God’s Word and celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Sacraments. Picture our lay ecclesial ministers and parishioners working together more closely as members of the Body of Christ, leaving a legacy for the next generation.

On Mission for The Church Alive!will be consultative, courageous and compassionate:

  • Consultative, as we work more closely out of love for the Church;
  • Courageous, as we respond more willingly to the presence of the Holy Spirit; and
  • Compassionate, as we reach out more generously to those in need.

To do so means that we drop to our knees in prayer to ask the Holy Spirit to fire up our souls. To do so means that we be less competitive and less protective of what we may think the Church is. To do so means that we accept the invitation of Jesus to grow the Church now and for the future.

In the coming months, you will be hearing much more about On Mission for The Church Alive! and how you may become a partner, beginning with prayer in your parish. My hope is that you will embrace this invitation as we look at our faith communities and new models of ministry that will help us reach out to all who need His everlasting love.

Pray with me that as we imitate life in the early Church, may we come to learn Jesus, to love Jesus, and to live Jesus.

Thank you for your support and prayers as we seek to be more excited about our faith.

Grateful for our belief that “Nothing is Impossible with God,” I am

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend David A. Zubik

Bishop of Pittsburgh

Prayer for On Mission for The Church Alive!

Father of Mercy,
as we journey On Mission for The Church Alive!,
endow us with your gifts of
collaboration, courage and compassion.
Help us to fulfill the mission of Jesus and His Church
through vibrant parishes and effective ministries.
Raise up selfless, energetic leaders
to serve the Church in fidelity and with care.
May we, the Church of Pittsburgh
in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene,
Lawrence and Washington counties,
be sustained and strengthened by your grace.
Help us to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.
Hear this prayer and grant it through Jesus Christ our Lord,
with the help of our dear Blessed Mother,
under the mantle of her love,

Our mission begins in baptism

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 1 of a weekly series.

It can no longer be business as usual.

That’s the message Bishop David Zubik has for us. That’s why we have been called to be On Mission for The Church Alive!

A mission cannot be business as usual because it is carried out by a new energy that brings new life. Today more than ever our mission calls us to reach out to those who don’t know God’s love and mercy.

How do we begin to understand this mission? By returning to the source of this mission — our baptism.

At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus was baptized. Why was that? He wasn’t baptized because he needed to be redeemed from original sin. He didn’t need to be forgiven or empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was baptized to unveil the Father’s gift to us of a new humanity. Jesus restored to humanity the image and likeness of God that had been disfigured by sin. At his baptism the Father simply made this fact known to all. “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21).

The Father revealed that Jesus Christ is the one in whose image and likeness we were created. And in being baptized, Jesus showed us that baptism is the means by which he would restore that image and likeness to each one of us individually.

When we are baptized our human nature is reborn anew by the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation, descended upon Mary at the annunciation and upon Jesus after emerging from the Jordan River. We are given a new name in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are given a new identity as children of God. Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit we now live as sons and daughters in God’s own divine life.

Nothing more wonderful can be conceived in our imaginations than this gift of the Father’s mercy to us. It is a gift that culminates in eternal communion with God should we persevere in faith, hope and charity to the end of earthly life.

The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus also sent him out to bring to all this amazing good news of the Father’s kingdom of mercy and love. The sacrament of confirmation completes our baptism in the same way.

We, too, are now sent out to live our identity as God’s children in the world; we are sent on mission — commissioned by the Spirit — to proclaim and witness to our Father’s infinite mercy in Jesus Christ.

So in calling us to be On Mission for The Church Alive! Bishop Zubik asks us to proclaim with him that Christ always lives! And that the living Christ dwells within us through our baptism.

To be the Church Alive! means not simply cultivating our own baptismal life in God. It also means going forth, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, to bring that gift of Jesus’ new life to others.

Yes, that means that it can’t be business as usual. Because all of us are on that amazing mission together!

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

Your mission from God

By: Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 2 of a weekly series.

“Go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

A priest I knew once said that the greatest fear of modern times is that Jesus actually meant what he said. And right there in Matthew he gave us our marching orders.

Here’s the truth: at baptism you and I are given a mission. This is our baptismal call. We are all entrusted with a sacred purpose to do for others in Jesus’ name.

Our mission is to take the many gifts that God has entrusted to us and build his kingdom on earth. The primary gift we are given is the love of the Holy Spirit. That love sanctifies us as we share it with others. 

The word “mission” means “sent.” To be on mission is to know that, with the love of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we are to live each day as bearers of the Gospel. A mission is always a movement toward others and for others. 

As announced by Bishop David Zubik, On Mission for The Church Alive! is a planning initiative designed to help us discover how best to be on mission in this present moment of the church.

At our baptism we received a number of powerful gifts from the Holy Spirit to equip us for this mission. The first of these are the virtues of faith, hope and charity, which unite us to God directly. These virtues enable us to make a heroic difference as people of grace. We become a gift to others.

We are called to be an anointing upon the world. This is expressed by charity, the radical gift of self.  We can love in this way because we have hope in the promises of God. And we have hope because we have faith in God’s mercy.

At our baptism, we were also given the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, reverence, piety and courage. Each of these graces enables us to serve others in making God known. Pope Benedict once stated that our world has lost all sense of the sacred. The gifts of the Holy Spirit make us a means for people to encounter the sacred.

Each of us is also gifted with “charisms” designated for a specific purpose. The Holy Spirit empowers each of us to build up the body of Christ in some special manner. Some of these charisms are teaching, prophecy, healing, administration, leadership, mercy, pastoring or voluntary poverty.

What are your gifts and how might God be calling you to serve On Mission for The Church Alive? This is the question we are asking ourselves together — every member of this diocese during this year of prayer and study. What gifts has God given to you and I, and how can we use them to advance the mission of Jesus Christ?

Do you believe you have a mission from Jesus? Bishop Zubik wants you to believe this. He has expressed it as a mission to “learn Jesus, love Jesus and live Jesus.” We are to live out our baptismal call of love in whatever ways the Holy Spirit leads us.

And that puts us on our “mission from God.”

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

We are formed for mission

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 3 of a weekly series.

During his public ministry, Jesus spent three years with his followers. He said to them, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully taught will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). How true this is. Those three years were spent by Jesus teaching his apostles and providing an example of how to build the kingdom.

At times, the apostles didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching. They carried out their apprenticeship with mistakes along the way. Yet Jesus continued to form them so that their work would bear more and more fruit.

Jesus transformed his apostles personally for the ministry he entrusted to them at Pentecost. Because they had been well-formed, when the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to go forth, they were ready and able to carry out their mission.

The same is true for all of us. The life of God implanted in the soul, with all of its gifts, is but a seed at baptism. When the water is poured over our head and we are anointed with oil, we are only conceived into the life of Christian discipleship. That life must grow in us to the full stature of Christ. Where this is supposed to happen is within our families and within the parish.

If by the gifts we have received in baptism we have a mission from God, these gifts need to be developed. Bishop David Zubik is inviting us to be On Mission for The Church Alive! by committing ourselves to being more deeply formed as missionary disciples.

As Catholics we are good, most of the time, at “informing” ourselves and others about the faith. Where we need growth is in being “transformed” by our faith. When this happens we become radiant and joy-filled witnesses of the Gospel, a lamp on the lampstand as Jesus describes the church in the Sermon on the Mount.

We need to be formed by Christ to be fruitful in the mission field he has given us. Our homes need to be places of formation in Christian discipleship. Our parishes need to cultivate our spiritual growth and help us develop awareness of how God is calling us to serve him and others.

Christian formation is first and foremost a formation of the heart. Our hearts must be enkindled with the fire of God’s love. Our hearts must be trained in the way of the beatitudes and learn the ways of love. Love is what motivates us to worship the Lord and serve others.

We must also be formed in the teachings of Christ as passed on by the church. Rooted as they are in Scripture, church teaching imparts to us true wisdom and knowledge of God. It shows us how to interpret the world around us in the light of faith, and how to pray for conversion. Our minds are always enlightened by these teachings.

Bishop Zubik’s initiative, On Mission for The Church Alive!, is an opportunity to explore new models of faith formation, catechetical instruction, evangelization ministry and social outreach for our diocese. All the faithful, especially our children and young adults, need to experience the formation that will empower them to live as faithful missionary disciples of Jesus in our contemporary world.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

Multiply your talents

By: Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 4 of a weekly series.

We cannot just be consumers of grace.

Let me explain. Being a disciple means following Jesus along the path of holiness. This path requires solid instruction and proper formation in the spiritual life. But discipleship — becoming a faithful follower of Jesus — isn’t complete until it flowers into apostolic work.

That is when we are no longer just consumers of grace. We now begin to share our spiritual gifts with others.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells us not to squander our spiritual gifts (Matthew 25:14-30). We are to invest and multiply our baptismal “talents” of faith, hope and charity along with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The personal gifts we receive at baptism are not ours to bury. They are meant for others, too.

The master in the parable reprimands the unfaithful steward who buries his one talent: “You wicked and slothful servant you knew that I reap where I have not sown ... you ought to have invested my money with the bankers ... and I should have received what was my own with interest” (26-27).

What does Jesus mean when he has the master say that he reaps where he does not sow? Think about it. Christ’s work of salvation requires our cooperation. When we draw people to God’s infinite mercy — in whatever ways God calls us to do so — we use his gifts wisely. We sow in others what God has sown in us. We multiply our spiritual talents, and God makes us more and more fruitful for his kingdom.

But if we do not use our spiritual gifts we lose them. “So take the talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given ... but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (28-29).

My salvation depends upon whether I invest and multiply my “spiritual talents” in others. It is only when each of us collaborates with the work of the Holy Spirit that the mission of Jesus Christ advances.

Bishop David Zubik is an apostle to us. As such, his role is to shepherd our talents for the sake of spreading the Gospel.

That is why he is calling us to be On Mission for The Church Alive! He is spurring us to extend his apostolic mission to everyone. He is telling us that we may not bury our talents. We have to invest them and make them multiply. And we cannot wait to do this.

We hear about fewer people attending Mass. We hear about the drop in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We hear about the decrease in healthy marriages. We hear about declining sacramental participation. And we hear about the diminishing resources for ministry throughout the diocese.

Our response can’t be to wonder why someone isn’t doing something about all this. Our response must be: what am I doing about this? What are we doing about this?

Jesus is not calling you and me to be mere consumers of grace. By our baptism he is asking us to be his instruments of grace to others.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

We are the body of Christ

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 5 of a weekly series.

Since I was young I have been a soccer fan. I love the flow of the game and the way a team can move the ball around. As with any team, soccer players have to work together. When you possess the ball, you have to keep one eye on the ball while keeping an eye on everyone else around you.

To win, you have to “look up and look out” to see where your support is. Those who don’t will lose the ball under the pressure of a strong defensive attack. If you hold onto the ball too long because you don’t trust your teammates, you will lose the ball. If the whole team does this, they will lose the game.

Being a disciple of Jesus is just like this. If we look only at our feet, we will eventually lose sight of the goal, and lose faith, too. What strengthens us as we face pressures and challenges is looking up and seeing the team that surrounds us. Even more does our strength come from working together for the common mission of Jesus Christ.

In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he offers us insight about what makes the body of Christ like a team. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (12:4-5). Yes, we are members of Christ and of one another. We belong to each other.

St. Paul tells us that the unity of the church is built up to the degree to which we acknowledge that the body of Christ is made up of many different members, all of whom are essential to the proper functioning of the body. This means that we cannot be envious of another’s talents. Nor can we be arrogant toward those whose gifts do not draw the spotlight. Paul says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” That means we must appreciate everyone’s gifts and create space to allow all gifts to be expressed.

Bishop David Zubik is calling us to be a unified body that works together and accepts the complementarity of what all can do for the kingdom of God. This cannot be a one-man show. Most importantly, the clergy, laity and religious all have to work together to realize God’s plan.

The body of Christ is called to be a team that works together for a good that surpasses any of our own particular interests or talents. It is a body whose members are called to sacrifice for each other and commend one another for the good we each do. This is what builds a functional team that knows how to succeed.

In matters of faith success is measured by how well the mission of Jesus Christ is fulfilled in and through us, his body, the church. Do we play well together? On Mission for The Church Alive! is an opportunity for us to “look up and look out” to see who surrounds us on this team, as we look for support. We have many challenges ahead of us, but together we are one body in Christ — and, as the well-known hymn says, we do not stand alone.

Therrien is diocesan secretary of evangelization and Catholic education.

Play ball!

By Helene Paharik

Part 6 of a weekly series.

The baseball season is long gone, the World Series over and done. So how come I can still recall all too clearly that last Pirates game with the Cubs?

I like baseball. There’s a beauty about the game in the way seasoned pros can make the difficult seem so smooth. Take the classic double play — grounder to the shortstop, flip to the second baseman covering the bag, who smoothly pivots and throws a dart to the first baseman stretching for it. It’s collaboration in motion, the pitcher’s best friend and manager’s delight.

Collaboration means to “co-labor,” to work with others together as a team in a common purpose. In our prayer for the diocesan-wide On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative, we ask the Father of Mercy that he “endow us with your gifts of collaboration, courage and compassion.” We are asking God to help us to collaborate, to have courage and to act with compassion. Collaboration, courage and compassion. These are the keys to learning Jesus, loving Jesus and living Jesus. They will be required of us all as we plan for our common future On Mission for The Church Alive!

There is a big difference between working alongside someone, each in his or her own cubical, and working with someone at a common table, sharing ideas and solving problems together.

Watch toddlers as they play alongside each other. Put two tiny tots down on the floor and they will each play happily with their toy, not paying much attention to one another — like workers in cubicles!

But the fun begins when these little ones develop language skills. They can now play together, sharing in their play. It is a sign of maturity to progress from playing alongside one another to playing with one another — collaboration!

Why do we look for collaboration? The old life lesson is that two heads are better than one. But as we also learn from playing with our friends as little ones, it is also more fun.

God loves us and collaborates with us. God invites us to work with him to make his love known through us. Jesus commissions us to be co-workers, collaborators in his vineyard. There is true joy in that mission.

Just as God works with us, we all need to work with each other. We aren’t meant to go it alone. We are called to collaborate. We do that best when we are people of the beatitudes.

When we are meek and never bully.

When we never insist on “my” way but look for “our” way.

When we adopt a gentle and kind approach.

When we are humble in our own gifts but recognize and celebrate the gifts of others. When we hunger and thirst together for what is right and excellent.

When we look to be a peacemaker.

None of us can go it alone. Each of us has gifts, talents and insights that are needed as we seek together to meet the challenges we face On Mission for The Church Alive!

Mature discipleship requires collaboration. Plus, as when the Bucs pull off a solid double play, it is more fun!

Paharik is a diocesan associate general secretary.

One church! One mission!

By Bishop William J. Waltersheid

The Acts of the Apostles recounts for us the life of the early church. We hear that the apostles were a “community of believers of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all” (Acts 4:32-33). This quote reflects the unity of the church and a single mission. We, as the apostolic church, are to be “cor unum,” that is, “one heart,” and are to continue the mission of proclaiming the Good News.

It is important to recognize that the source of this being of “one heart” comes from God. Jesus proclaimed that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). In following Christ, the apostles learned what it means to be unified. They learned that to be “one” with God means to surrender our own will so that his will may be done. They lived out this unity by breaking bread together, praying together and sharing their resources. They were truly “cor unum.” Today we may ask, “How do we continue to live out this unity of heart?”

As Jesus called his apostles to become one with him in his saving mission, so he calls each of us. This oneness in mission has been passed down through the life of the church to our very day. It is our gift for today, our heritage for tomorrow. We too are called then to be one with God through Jesus, one with his church and one in Jesus to live out his mission.

Bishop David Zubik reminds us of this call to be “one” through the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative. He is asking each of us, as baptized children of God, to be unified not only in our parishes but with the entire Diocese of Pittsburgh. It is through the diocese that we are connected to the church in the rest of the world. This unity, for every Catholic, begins with faithfully coming together to share in the Eucharistic meal each Sunday. From this nourishment we make opportunities to pray together, deepen our understanding of our faith, and share our resources and talents, all to further the mission of salvation.

Jesus came into our world as the Living Word. He preached the Good News, suffered, died and rose on the third day. He remains with us in the church today. Through our baptism, each of us is called to own the truth that the church continues to teach and to share in Christ’s mission. His mission is our mission. Like Christ, we must endeavor to unite our will with God’s will so that we can authentically live the mission of Christ and bring others to him.

Before his death on the cross, Jesus prayed for us to be one as he and the Father are one (John 17:11). May his prayer for us to be “cor unum” be realized in each of us today.

Bishop Waltersheid is auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, episcopal vicar for clergy, and secretary for clergy and consecrated life.

Building the kingdom

By Robert P. Lockwood

Back in the day I had a neighbor who was on the pilgrimage. He wasn’t a practicing anything, but he had a teasing interest in faith. He wanted to know about the Catholic faith, but he also liked to tease.

“Where are you going?” he asked me as I headed out the door. “Going to compline services,” I answered.

“What’s that?” he responded. “Evening prayer at the end of the day,” I said.

“Why don’t you just call it ‘evening prayer?’ You Catholics always talk large,” he laughed.

I’ve tried to keep that in mind. Being Catholic is not about talking large. In On Mission for The Church Alive! we are trying to evangelize with eternal truths. But we want to do so by living them in the small moments.

This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jeremiah 33:14).

This is the season of anticipation. During Advent we are reminded of our role in building the “kingdom of God” in our time, as we anticipate the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of all time.

This is large theology, and we could delve deeply into the meaning of it all. But let’s keep it simple. When we pray in the Our Father “Thy kingdom come” we are asking God to “bring your life into mine.” In other words, may God be the ruler of my heart. And when we are asked to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ, we are asked to live out a good life in every moment we are given.

How? By caring for hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, abandoned and neglected — all those things that Jesus tells us separate the sheep from the goats in the Second Coming. We are “on mission” to bring the reality of God’s love — the kingdom of God — to everyone we touch.

Let’s not make the reality of God’s kingdom so large that it becomes an intellectual concept rather than a loving daily invitation.

We build the kingdom of God in our homes, living out, sharing, nurturing the faith of our loved ones. On Mission for The Church Alive! we grow in faith within our families.

We build the kingdom of God in strong and vibrant parishes, celebrating the faith together as the people of God, the body of Christ.

We build the kingdom of God by living out our faith in our neighborhoods and our community, sharing the goodness and mercy of God.

We build the kingdom of God in the Diocese of Pittsburgh with our parishes, vicariates and districts, with our priests, religious and laity one in mission under our bishop, united with the church universal.

It’s simple really, not a large concept at all. We build the kingdom of God by striving to live the faith in every moment of our daily lives.

I can’t tell you what happened to my neighbor. He moved away before the end of the pilgrimage. But the one thing I do know is that I’ll be asked in the next life, “Who did you bring with you?” I hope he’s there to answer.

Lockwood is former general manager of the Pittsburgh Catholic and diocesan director of communication.

What is a parish?

By John P. Flaherty

Part 9 of a weekly series.

Parish. It’s a word we use all the time. But what is it really? How would we define it?

Is it a place, a church and school building, a rectory and offices? Or is it maybe a geographic region, a subdivision of the diocese? A place to go to Mass, a gathering of like-minded believers?

There are many ways to talk about a parish. All of the above are part of a parish, but even taken together they don’t really define what a parish is, what a parish really means.

Let’s take a lead from Pope Francis in understanding what a parish is. He has described a parish as first and foremost a “place” of encounter. It is that place where we encounter the risen Christ. The parish is where Jesus is present in his word, in his sacraments, in his people and in his ministers.

So when I say that a parish is a “place” I am not talking about a physical location — a building, a rectory, a school. A parish is not a place or a thing in that physical understanding.

Instead, a parish is an encounter with the risen Christ marked by a call and a response. That call is the experience of the gracious call from God. That response is our faith-filled answer to that call.

Parish is the place where we hear and respond to the Word that is God. As St. John tells us as he begins his Gospel, there is the one Word who is God. God desires deeply to be known by us so that we can enter into a loving relationship with him. The parish is the privileged place where we encounter the words of Scripture as testimony to the Word who is God.

Parish is the place where, through sacraments, sacramental signs and symbols, we encounter the call of the risen Christ and respond to that call. Through water, oil, hands, words and, most especially, bread and wine, we encounter in the parish the presence of our God who is at once “over and above,” yet always nearby. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Parish is the place where God’s people gather together. Our encounter with God is always an encounter in and through community. Our individualistic culture dupes us into thinking that encountering God can be a purely private matter. Parish is the place where those who have heard or who long to hear the call of God gather to respond to that call and aid one another in responding.

Parish is the place where God’s saving action manifested and realized in Jesus Christ is made real. It is visible in a unique way by the encounter with those who, through ordination, continue the ministry of Christ entrusted to the apostles.

In the context of On Mission for The Church Alive! perhaps to ask “What is a parish?” is to ask the wrong question. The better question is “Where and who and how is a parish?”

The answer then is clearly that parish is that “place” where we encounter the living God, his call to be his people, and the genuine effort to respond in faith, hope and love.

Flaherty is diocesan secretary for parish life.

The rock and keystone of our faith

By Father James R. Gretz

Part 10 of a weekly series.

I am one of those priests who wears multiple hats. Let me share something about each of them with you.

One of my hats is as director of the Department for Worship. In this ministry, I assist Bishop David Zubik in his role as the chief custodian of the liturgy in the Church of Pittsburgh. I also consult with parishes on liturgical improvements and construction projects that impact the liturgy, oversee the training of liturgical ministers and answer any liturgical questions that arise.

Another of my hats is as diocesan master of ceremonies. In this ministry, whenever large liturgies take place at St. Paul Cathedral or at special parish events such as the dedication of a church or altar, my staff and I are responsible for all the liturgical preparations for that Mass. Once the Mass begins, I am responsible for the flow of the liturgy, making sure what is supposed to happen happens.

My third hat is as administrator of All Saints Parish in Etna. In this ministry, I am responsible for the care of the souls of the parish. I celebrate the sacraments and sacramentals of parish life. I personally see that the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are carried out. I try my best to bring Christ and be Christ to the parishioners.

All my hats lead to the same place — the altar. More than just a large piece of furniture, the altar has been anointed with sacred chrism in the Rite of Dedication. The altar then becomes Christ, the rock and keystone of our faith.

The altar, and by extension, the Mass, has a singular role in our task of being On Mission for The Church Alive! Without the altar, we’d have no mission, no parish, no church and no means of praising God.

People lament how the Mass “used to be.” They tell me how sacred it used to be. They say that it was standing room only and “you can’t imagine how people used to dress for Mass!”

It’s time to turn our praise of God into even more vibrant worship. Fifty-two years ago the Second Vatican Council called for a worldwide liturgical renewal. That renewal is still being implemented today.

The council’s liturgical document called for “full, active and conscious participation” at the liturgy. As a presider, I want the congregation to be more fully present, more actively engaged and ever-conscious of God’s presence at Mass.

The council defined the liturgy as the “summit and source of our lives.” Is it? Imagine if people would come to Mass with the same excitement and anticipation found in so many other aspects of life.

Finally, the council reminded us that liturgy is a “foretaste of heaven.” At liturgy, Christ is fully present in the assembly. He is present in the presider, in the word proclaimed and in the Eucharist. We are able to experience Christ here and now. What a gift!

Now is the time to make our liturgical celebrations the best they can be. We can share the gifts and talents God has given us. We can prepare for, excitedly anticipate and participate in the celebration of Mass more gloriously.

When we do all this, what a celebration it will be!

Father Gretz is director of the diocesan Department for Worship.

This is what love looks like

By Ellen Mady

Part 11 of a weekly series

Human beings learn by experience. Above all, we learn love by experiencing it.

When we feel loved and cared for, and know that our basic needs are being met, we feel safe. When we feel safe, it’s easier to turn our attention to learning, growing and helping others.

Our Lord knew this well. The Gospels frequently tell of times when large crowds approached the Lord and he began by listening to them, healing them and feeding them. Jesus easily could have done all of this single-handedly. Instead, he chose to work through other people. He sent out the 72 disciples to preach and heal in his name. He asked the apostles to help gather and distribute the loaves and fishes in the feeding of the 5,000.

As the body of Christ, the church bears responsibility not only for teaching and preaching but for real pastoral care that meets the real needs of real people. This includes caring for the sick and dying, accompanying the grieving, encouraging those on paths of recovery, reaching out to the marginalized, offering support to families of all ages, living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

In a phrase: loving our neighbor.

When we hear the word “church” different things can come to mind: the local church, the universal church, the parish and church buildings, the hierarchy. But “church” also refers to each and every one of us, the baptized community of believers.

In order to collaborate and work together as we strive to carry out Bishop David Zubik’s vision for On Mission for The Church Alive!, each one of us needs to make a personal contribution. Each one of us needs to be the church, to be the eyes, ears, hands and heart of Christ to each person we meet. We never know when we might be their only contact with God’s love and mercy.

The Year of Mercy has just begun. Pope Francis has invited all of us to encounter God’s mercy in a way that transforms our lives and helps others rediscover God’s mercy through our love and kindness.

That doesn’t take a lot of time. If you have several hours a week to dedicate to ministering and caring for others, that’s wonderful. If you only have a couple of hours a month, it’s worth it. Or do it whenever you can.

The Lord sends us plenty of opportunities to care for others. We don’t usually have to go out of our way to find them. We need to open our minds and hearts to notice and care for those the Lord places in our path, through our family, work, community, parish.

As we move forward in the Year of Mercy and On Mission for The Church Alive! let us remember, in the words of St. Augustine, what love looks like, and freely choose this path of love.

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” — St. Augustine of Hippo

Mady is director of the diocesan Office for Marriage, Family and Life.

Formation is a process

By Dr. Linda Lee Ritzer

 Part 12 of a weekly series.

Powerful images often stick in my mind, like this one: The potter started with a seemingly insignificant lump of clay. It looked like nothing more than a blob of mud with little potential for anything.

Then the potter turned on the wheel and cupped her hands around the clay. With patience, precision and just the right pressure her molding fingers fashioned the most delicate yet durable ceramic object. I was struck by the fact that, before a single turn of the wheel or pull of the clay, the potter knew what form it would take. Her deliberate and thorough skill fashioned the clay into a beautiful vessel.

Scripture often uses this image of a potter to communicate God’s creative power. We are familiar with the second story of creation in Genesis when God formed the man out of the clay of the earth. God is the premier “potter,” molding humanity in the divine image. As God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah: “Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

For me the notion of formation is much like the relationship between a potter and the clay. This is something quite different from instruction or even construction. Formation is a process of coming into being. It is like a potter bringing clay to exquisite form.

What is so awesome is that God, the master creator, entrusts to us a share in the role of potter. It is our job to continue the ongoing work of formation by fostering the goodness and holiness that lies within the hearts of others.

Think about it. Parents are potters. They are the first to shape their children in the way of Christian living. This is the first and most important formation a human being will ever experience. The first school of faith is not so much about filling children with information and facts as it is about filling their hearts with love.

By acts of love and sacrifice parents reveal to children the very love of God. By respecting the dignity of all people, by sharing faith through fervent prayer and worship, and by extending charity, parents mold their children into beautiful vessels open to God’s grace.

Although it begins at home, formation in faith does not end there. Every baptized person has a very important and unique role to form the world in the ways of Christ. The vocation of the laity is to sanctify — to make holy — the world; to fashion a sacred world by living the message of the Gospel in large and small ways.

This happens by loving our enemies, by showing mercy to those who offend goodness and offering compassion to the brokenhearted. Like the molding fingers of a potter, we form the world by speaking against injustice, by acting with preference for the poor and by mending relationships ruptured by hate.

On Mission for the Church Alive! urges us, like clay in the hand of a skilled potter, to fashion a beautiful world in which the mystery of God’s love, the saving work of Jesus and the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit are brought forth.

Ritzer is a diocesan associate general secretary.

What happened, and what do we do On Mission?

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 13 of a weekly series.

Driving with my daughter recently, we were listening to Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” on my smartphone. I was instantly shot back to my early childhood and my great-aunt Marian. She was a friend of Bing Crosby and used to picnic with him and friends while he was a student at Gonzaga University.

Through the enduring heritage of my grandparents and great-aunt I remember the presence of an age that has long since passed. I made the observation to my daughter that I have experienced in my own lifetime three eras, all of which unfolded in rapid succession: the age prior to 1968; the 1970s and 1980s; and now the new millennium, which really began in the mid-90s.

My great-aunt sat in the grass listening to Bing play guitar. Here I sit wirelessly singing along with my millennial daughter to “White Christmas” played through a cell phone!

This long view is so important when we reflect on our current context as church. We cannot go forward as the Church Alive! if we are not clear about where we are now and how we got here.

If we think back to parish life 50 years ago, there were three bonds that held the community together:

• A pious respect for church authority;

• Personal devotion to the tenets of Catholic tradition;

• The cultural association between ethnicity and faith.

These bonds made the Catholic community a vibrant source of faith and a powerful witness, especially here in Pittsburgh.

Since the 1970s we have seen the increasingly rapid decline of faith in our culture. More recently, we can observe a momentous drop in baptisms, participation in Sunday liturgy, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and now even marriage. Many members of our families have drifted from their faith altogether.

So, what happened? Our culture has undergone a seismic shift that has led to a profound loss of the sense of God. We live in a “post-Christian world.” The culture of religious piety has been replaced by a culture of personal preference, consumerism and subjective self-expression.

If we return to the bonds noted above, observe how all three have vanished. The source of authority has shifted away from religion toward scientific expertise. The word “tradition” is now equated with a repressive past. Finally, the cultural association of ethnicity and faith has diminished to a twilight for many of our young people. It might still elicit a faint sense of obligation to parents or grandparents, but not to the practice of faith. Simply put, our culture is doing a better job evangelizing our people than we are.

Yet, we always have our greatest strength at hand: the Gospel has not lost any of its relevance or power. For that reason, we can neither retreat into the past nor despair the future. These cultural shifts challenge us to reinvigorate our personal witness and find new ways of proclaiming Jesus Christ today.

The church is an enduring institution within a fast-changing world, and the church has always adapted to the cultural realities of each age. It is no different for us today who are called to be On Mission for the Church Alive!

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

Lives of service On Mission

By Father Mark A. Eckman

Part 14 of a weekly series.

We have an extraordinary gift. And a growing problem.

The extraordinary gift is simple. It is the clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. As of December 2015, we have 225 diocesan priests and 104 deacons in active ministry (101 permanent deacons and three “transitional,” which means they are moving to priestly ordination).

It’s hard to overestimate this gift. The clergy minister to our sacramental and spiritual needs. They provide leadership, strength and guidance in our parishes. They also offer kindness, friendship, prayer and counseling to the faithful and to each other.

The growing problem? The number of priests is declining. Dramatically.

Let’s review where we stand now. Of our 225 active diocesan priests, 36 are eligible to retire right now, and an additional 86 priests will reach retirement age over the next 10 years. Combined, that’s more than half our available priests. The total number of priests today under the age of 60 stands at just 106.

It’s hard to sugarcoat the numbers. With an average of four ordinations a year there will not be nearly enough priests to serve our 200 parishes, let alone additional ministries.

We need to look at this challenge realistically and as a critical part of planning for On Mission for The Church Alive!

There are a few things we can do right now. Begin with prayer. Pray for our clergy. They always need your prayers, and please know we can feel that support every day. It is our strength.

At the same time, keep in mind that our priests are aging. They may not have the health or the level of energy they had in the past. Of the 36 priests actively serving past retirement age, eight are over the age of 80. They want to serve the people of God. But they are getting older. They need your help and, at times, your patience.

Second, support those who are assisting the priests, particularly in our parishes and where priests are serving in multiple parishes. Encourage and support our deacons, deacon administrators, our lay ecclesial ministers and everyone — lay or religious — who serves. That includes the thousands of volunteers in our parishes, schools and institutions who give of their time and talent to build up the church.

Third, support and pray for our seminarians, and for new vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We know that there are more out there who are open to the call of a priestly vocation. But it can be hard to hear in our culture.

If you see someone you believe would make a good priest, encourage him to pray, discern and talk to a priest about a possible vocation. Many priests have said that they pursued the call to the priesthood because others first recognized in them the possibility of a religious vocation.

My list is far from exhaustive. Look for additional ways that you can help out, particularly in your parish. Be prayerful, be supportive, be hopeful.

Live out your vocation every day and the Church Alive! will be real for all of us.

Father Eckman is diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy personnel. To learn more, visit OnMissionChurchAlive.org.

Recognizing our realities

By Bruno Bonacchi

Part 15 of a weekly series.

When Bishop David Zubik was installed at St. Paul Cathedral as the 12th bishop of Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, 2007, he asked us if we were excited about our Catholic faith. What he wanted for the Church of Pittsburgh is to be a “Church Alive!” with vibrant ministry and evangelization. To help realize that vision, he began a planning effort called On Mission for The Church Alive! It is important to recognize our current realities as we pursue that vision:

Reality 1 — Fewer people attend Mass on a regular basis. In 2000, nearly 250,000 people across the diocese attended Mass weekly. In 2015, that number was a bit under 150,000, a 40 percent decline.

Reality 2 — There are fewer priests to minister in our 200 parishes as well as our region’s hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. As Father Mark Eckman outlined in last week’s On Mission column, the number of active priests in the diocese is projected to decline from the current 225 to approximately 125 by 2025 — less than 10 years from now.

Reality 3 — Many of our parishes are struggling financially. Despite the decline in Mass attendance, parish income has remained relatively stable due to the generosity of our parishioners. However, as we all experience in running our households, parish operating costs continue to increase. Over the past three years, the number of parishes in the diocese that ran operating deficits (their expenses exceeded their revenues) increased from one-third to nearly one-half of our 200 parishes. Some of these parishes consistently run deficits and have depleted the savings they had built up over the years to pay their bills.

Reality 4 — The number of school-age children in most of the six counties in the diocese continues to decline, affecting enrollments in public and Catholic schools. In the 2000-01 school year, approximately 24,000 students attended 102 Catholic elementary schools. This year, there are about 12,000 students in 59 Catholic elementary schools, creating a challenge to keep tuition at affordable levels and at times placing additional pressure on parish finances.

Reality 5 — Parishes in affluent areas generally have more resources and are able to provide a greater breadth of ministry than parishes in less affluent areas. As a result, the ministry and services available to parishioners and communities is uneven and often dependent on the affluence of the neighborhood where the parish is located.

The result of these trends is that, in too many parishes, revenues from offertory and fund-raising are used primarily to meet the day-to-day operating expenses of the parish. Fewer and fewer resources are available each year for ministry and evangelization.

In order to achieve Bishop Zubik’s vision of a Church Alive! for all people of the diocese, it is critical that we address these realities during the On Mission planning process. That means that all of us need to pray, study and work together to determine how we can increase resources for ministry and evangelization. This is important not only in our local parish community but for all the people of the Church of Pittsburgh.

Bonacchi is the chief financial officer of the diocese.

Where are all the people?

By Helene E. Paharik

Part 16 of a weekly series.

Do you remember the childhood finger game: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people?” Today when we open the door, we do not see all the people.

Across the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in every region, Mass attendance has plummeted. Even in locations with increased population, attendance has fallen. The number of baptisms and marriages has significantly declined in the past 15 years as well.

Our statistics are reflective of national trends. In the United States, only 30 percent of people raised Catholic are still practicing today, according the Pew Research Center. The percentage of baptized Catholics who have fallen away is 70 percent.

When do they leave? Well, 79 percent of those who leave do so by the age of 24. And they are not coming back. It was thought that when they were ready to get married or to baptize their children, these young adults would come back to the church. National and diocesan statistics demonstrate that is not the case.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh the number of marriages of parishioners has drastically dropped — from 3,258 in 2000 to 1,700 in 2015, a decline of 48 percent. In the same period the number of infant baptisms declined 47 percent here. It makes sense that if people are not getting married in the church, the number of baptisms would decline as well.

Even for the 30 percent of Catholics who are still practicing their faith, the level of participation in the church varies greatly. The majority are “cultural Catholics” who come to Mass at Christmas and Easter and participate in Catholic weddings and funerals. But that’s about it. They make up 20 percent of all Catholics today, or about 15 million.

This leaves about 8 percent to 10 percent of all Catholics in the United States actively practicing their faith. These are the folks who come to Mass, register their children for religious education, put an envelope in the basket and read the Sunday bulletin.

In the past 15 years, Sunday Mass attendance in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has fallen nearly 40 percent. In 2000, the annual October count, which is the number of people at Mass in all our parishes on a given Sunday in October, was 246,896. In 2015, the October count was a mere 149,215.

On Mission for The Church Alive! is our diocesan-wide plan for growth. Study and implementation will take courage and compassion. But if we want to have more priests, if we want to have more effective ministries led by trained laity, if we want financially stable, vibrant parishes and schools, then we need to increase participation in the church.

One way to do that right now is to ask someone to come to Mass with you this Sunday. Tell them why you go and what Mass means to you. Then offer to pick them up.

Imagine if each of us just brought one more person to Mass. Then when the doors of our parishes are opened, we will truly see all the people.

Paharik is a diocesan associate general secretary.

'A Pause that Refreshes'

By Bishop David A. Zubik

Part 17 of a weekly series.

God gives each of us certain gifts and talents. These gifts and talents, many of which help to define us outwardly, are a reflection of what is within us — our soul, heart and mind, our very idea of self.

One of the gifts God has not given me is an athletic ability. I recognized that at a very early age. That is virtually true in almost every sport: football, baseball, basketball, tennis, swimming. Save for one — running.

Since my earliest days in the seminary, I have enjoyed running. And while I wouldn’t be a candidate for a 26.2-mile run, I have been good at it. In my younger days, I would run outdoors, despite the elements. I would run faithfully every day. As a young priest — winter, spring, summer, fall; snow, ice, heat, humidity — I would be there, pounding the pavement from Sacred Heart Church to Highland Park via North Highland Avenue. Before the crack of dawn, I was there.

But as I got older and the pavement became “unkinder” to me, I resorted to running on a treadmill. Over the last 30 years, I have gone through five treadmills and I am on my sixth.

Whether I ran on a sidewalk in my “younger” days or on a trusty treadmill, there is both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of relief when the workout’s done. Well deserved and well needed. “A Pause that Refreshes!”

The business of saving souls

It’s been a tough month!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined some hard facts in our On Mission for The Church Alive! columns. We looked at the statistics on our aging clergy, our parish finances, our school enrollments and our declining Catholic population. Much of it hasn’t been easy reading.

Now we need “A Pause that Refreshes.” We need to put all of the recent information in perspective. We need to prayerfully and honestly study the current parameters of the Church of Pittsburgh, especially our resources of clergy, facilities and finances, so that we can move forward.

And why? One simple reason. So that we can best help each other get to heaven. So that we are all engaged in the work of salvation. So that we all seek to build the kingdom of God.

In other words, we need to be about the business of saving souls. We can and should talk about everything — finances and buildings, statistics on marriages and baptisms, demographics and vocations. But our bottom line is what it has been since the days of the apostles — saving souls. Everything we do faithfully as clergy, religious and laity together is to save souls.

We are trying to save souls in an omnipresent culture that “evangelizes” its own message every second of the day. It tells us that there is no God, at least no God who is involved with humanity. It tells us instead to create our own little gods, gods of stuff and sex, gods of power and greed. And it aims that message to the most vulnerable part of our humanity, yours and mine.

One of the key statistics discussed in last week’s On Mission column is that 79 percent of the baptized Catholics who leave the church do so by the age of 24. While all of us are the objects of the seductive “evangelization” by our secular culture, it is our young who are most being cultivated to non-belief and to the wreckage it can mean to their spirit for the rest of their lives.

As Pope Francis so vividly put it in a recent interview, “humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.”

The symptoms of non-belief? Loss and confusion. The result of non-belief? The inability to find the cure for those symptoms.

We will succeed

In order to save souls, our task today is twofold: to evangelize each other every day, drawing each other closer to Jesus, helping each other to grow the gifts of faith, hope and love in our lives; and reaching out to the wounded among us, particularly those who abandoned their faith when young and now find themselves lost and confused.

We need to be bringing each other either back to God or closer to him and to his infinite mercy. We need to explain that turning to God is not just a good way to live, but the way every human being is meant to live. And we need to be confident that we can do this together.

In this “pause” between the hard facts of being On Mission for The Church Alive! — I suggest that we take “A Pause that Refreshes!” A “pause” that reminds us what we need to “be about” as current-day disciples of Jesus.

As you already know, my episcopal motto from Scripture is “Nothing is Impossible with God.” No matter the statistics, no matter the lure of the culture, we are going to succeed. We are going to be successful evangelizers. We are going to save souls. And as we do so, from time to time, we need to take “A Pause that Refreshes.”

So, join me now as we take that pause and pray our prayer for “On Mission for the Church Alive!”

Father of Mercy,

as we journey On Mission for The Church Alive!, endow us with your gifts of collaboration, courage and compassion.

Help us to fulfill the mission of Jesus and his church through vibrant parishes and effective ministries.

Raise up selfless, energetic leaders to serve the church in fidelity and with care.

May we, the Church of Pittsburgh in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties, be sustained and strengthened by your grace.

Help us to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.

Hear this prayer and grant it through Jesus Christ our Lord, with the help of our dear Blessed Mother, under the mantle of her love,


To die and rise again

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 18 of a weekly series.

When I was a young child, my family never missed Sunday Mass. If we went to our summer cabin, we packed up our church clothes and made the nearly hour-long drive to St. Nicholas Church in Tacoma, Washington. But I also distinctly remember when my parents didn’t think we needed to do that anymore. It would suffice to attend Monday evening Mass instead.

As my school years passed in the 1970s and ‘80s, I recall how liturgy became very relaxed and the religious education I received spoke increasingly about topics not directly related to faith. It seemed much more about my self-esteem, and the message I heard was “we don’t believe that anymore,” or “the church doesn’t do those things anymore.”

The past several weeks of this series has dealt with some very painful statistical data that indicates a downward trend of participation in the church. While it is true that every number tells a story, no number tells the whole story. The church is always a fountain of living water because she is always joined to her spouse, Jesus. In fact, if we observe closely we see how the church continues to move upstream against the currents of our times. No dead thing can ever do that.

The church is Alive! What’s been happening though is that many of our people are getting swept downstream with our culture. Why?

There are many reasons. But I want to focus on some of the internal issues that have contributed to where we are today, especially as they relate to the practice of faith. 

First, keep in mind that following Vatican II (1962-65) there was a period of deep confusion about the faith. While the idea of “change” was in the air, not every change, or alleged change, was fruitful for the church. What the council called for, in a nutshell, was a deeper conversion to our baptismal vocation to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ on mission to the world. We were called to leave behind a church culture that had become shut up within her institutions and structures.

Despite the good intentions and the many sacrifices of those serving in the church during those years after the council, the people of God became distracted by the cultural whirlwind of the 1960s and ‘70s. This deeper conversion — which requires extensive evangelization, catechesis and spiritual formation — did not occur for most of our people. But let me be clear. This wasn’t the fault of Vatican II. The council gave us only a vision for renewal. There was no instruction manual or plan for implementing that vision.

As is true of any major church council, it takes time to implement. In the meantime, we have to come to terms with the fact that, during those years, many adults brought up between the 1960s and 1980s either left or fell away from the practice of the Catholic faith. And the generation they raised has largely drifted away.

We now feel, deeply, the impact this is having on the church today. Couple this with the rapid and aggressive advance of secularism and we can see why the church now finds herself in a challenging spot. It is Bishop David Zubik’s dream for On Mission for The Church Alive! to develop a plan to evangelize and lead our people to a deeper realization of their baptismal vocation to be disciples on mission. By its very nature, this process of transformation must be a death and resurrection event for us.

Death and resurrection is a great mystery that stands at the heart of Christianity. Jesus redeemed us by dying and rising from the dead. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,” he says, “it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

When the seed dies in the ground it is transformed into a plant capable of generating a multitude of grains. Growth only comes through transformation, the passing away of the old self for the rising of the new.

As Bishop Zubik calls us to be On Mission for The Church Alive! he is asking us to consider what needs to die in us in order for new life to arise. What is holding us back from carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ today? Is it fear? Is it a tired clinging to false ideas or ineffective pastoral strategies? Is it personal despair of salvation? Or is it plain old sinfulness, busyness and distraction?

Whatever it is, this Lent leave it at the foot of the cross and descend with Christ into his death. What awaits us on the other side is the glory of new life and our risen Lord.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

Called to a new evangelization

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 19 of a weekly series.

Many people came to Jesus to find physical healing, to find an impossible cure. Jesus witnessed to the Father’s mercy and people responded.

As Jesus healed, he would say “your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20) and “your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:34). Why does Jesus associate the desperate plea for physical healing with repentance of sin and salvation? Jesus was teaching them that their physical ailments were symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Yet at the same time, he confirmed their faith in his ability to cure. He then sent them forth, challenging them to grow in that faith.

They came wanting bodily healing; they left challenged to embrace his spiritual forgiveness.

What we learn from these healing miracles is that there is, in some mysterious way, a connection between our physical realities and our spiritual ones.

The situation we face today in the church is similar. We see all around us evidence that something is ailing the body of Christ. The shortage of vocations, the financial deficits, the dwindling Mass attendance — all are outward signs that, interiorly, the body of Christ is in need of healing.

Jesus’ healing miracles are helpful in understanding the church’s call for a “new” evangelization. It is the cure to an ailment for which deeper faith is the only remedy. The external challenges we face will ultimately find their remedy through a deeper conversion to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally. The new evangelization focuses our attention on three areas in need of conversion:

• The first is the necessity to evangelize our own people. In the words of Blessed Paul VI, “(the church) always needs to be called together afresh by him (Jesus) and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel” (“Evangelii Nuntiandi,” 15).

• The second is the requirement for parish communities to mature. St. John Paul II indicates in “Christifideles Laici” that we need to attend better to the “formation of mature ecclesial communities in which the faith might radiate and fulfill the basic meaning of adherence to the person of Christ and his Gospel, of an encounter and sacramental communion with him, and of an existence lived in charity and in service” (34).

• Third, we need to move from a status quo mentality of managing decline to a culture of missionary discipleship. As the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization concluded:

“(The new evangelization) is synonymous with mission, requiring the capacity to set out anew, go beyond boundaries and broaden horizons. The new evangelization is the opposite of self-sufficiency, a withdrawal into oneself, a status quo mentality and an idea that pastoral programs are simply to proceed as they did in the past ... (it) is the time for the church to call upon every Christian community to evaluate their pastoral practice on the basis of the missionary character of their programs and activities.”

On Mission for The Church Alive! is our way as the Church of Pittsburgh to respond to the call for a “new” evangelization. It is the remedy to the loss of faith we see all around us. As in natural life, healing is painful, but it strengthens us in the end.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic education.

The culture of silence

By Father Samuel J. Esposito

Part 20 of a weekly series.

There is a common assumption I have encountered in more than 35 years as a priest serving this local Church of Pittsburgh. Catholics, especially older ones, seem to believe that eight or 12 years of Catholic formation in parochial schools or religious education classes is enough for their entire lifetime.

If I mention that disciples of Jesus need to be life-long learners, the usual response is that we have already learned as children everything that we need to know about our faith. (Funny, I never hear professionals — whether doctors or football players — tell me that about their skills!)

We can see from the fruit of the past 50 years that this thinking has not and is not serving us well. Mass attendance, weddings and baptisms have plummeted. Many Catholics regard our faith as private, just between Jesus and me. We find it difficult to speak about him with others.

Let’s look at an example from Mark’s Gospel. In one scene, a leper, after being healed by Jesus, went off and “began to publicize the whole matter.” That is a typical response to an encounter with Christ. This is such good news, such a life-changing event, that it cannot be kept private. So while our faith is certainly personal, it is never private. There’s a difference.

Among the 16 documents issued by the Second Vatican Council is “Lumen Gentium,” meaning “light to the peoples.” It’s about the role of the church as the body of Christ in the world.

This is exactly what biblical Israel was supposed to be. The people of Israel were charged to live in such a way that others wanted to have that same relationship with God. They were to hand down the story of how God had freed them from slavery and took them to the Promised Land. It is no coincidence that the council fathers used this image in “Lumen Gentium.”

What do we do to shine light on who we are as followers of Jesus? How will our actions break the silence and start a conversation about what truly matters?

I think we have forgotten Jesus’ charge to encourage everyone to follow him. Instead, we have circled the wagons. We have focused our energies on maintaining the way we have always done church, while ignoring mission. We have failed to carry out Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples.”

Have we grown comfortable with the shrinking numbers at our Masses instead of asking how we can grow them? Many believe that it is the job of the pastor or the director of religious education to fix that problem. Yet Vatican II’s call to universal holiness was meant to reinvigorate all the laity so that they would embrace their call to be disciples.

Baptism changes us. It’s not insurance or membership in a club, but a moment of grace that alters our identity for life. One author says we have “sacramentalized” our kids, but we haven’t “evangelized” them.

That is no surprise because we ourselves have not been evangelized! Many Catholics don’t even know that we can have a true relationship with Jesus.

Private religion is really no religion. We are the body of Christ, a community of believers. And that’s the best news around! Share it with someone.

Father Esposito is episcopal vicar of Pastoral Vicariate Region 3 in the diocese.

We didn't make disciples

By Father Samuel J. Esposito

Part 21 of a weekly series.

“Everyone is looking for you” is what Jesus hears from his disciples when he goes off to be alone in prayer. Word had spread about this rabbi from Nazareth and what he was doing. People were attracted to Jesus and wanted to hear more from him because he taught with authority, unlike other religious leaders.

When God entered into a covenant with the people of Israel, they received an assignment. It would be their job to bring others to know God. God understands that at the core of every human person is a desire, a longing. And that longing can only be fulfilled by God. Why? Because God placed it there in the first place. As St. Augustine wrote, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you (God).”

A disciple is someone who has been seeking, and in the seeking has found what he or she knows to be real. That longing — that restless heart — is only satisfied by coming to know Jesus as the embodiment of God’s love.

The Greek word for disciple, mathetes, comes from the verb meaning “to learn.” So to be a disciple is to be a learner. In English we use the Latin root, discipulus, which gives us the notion that this learning is never haphazard. It is intentional. It is disciplined.

As a child growing up in a very Catholic environment, I often wondered why Protestants had Sunday school for adults. I went to a Catholic school, so I was getting everything I needed to learn about my faith. There would be no need to do that as an adult. By then, I would know what I needed to know.

I am sure many of you would resonate with that. After all, eight to 12 years of Catholic education in parochial schools or in religious education should give us everything we need. Except it didn’t and it doesn’t.

Disciples are intentional learners, and that means for life. If we believe we know it all, how can God get through to us? What surprises or teachings could God offer us when we think all we need to know has been communicated? We have to continue to study, to explore, to ask questions. We never stop learning.

Somehow we have come to think that Catholics who want to learn more are the minority. We think they should be priests or deacons, sisters or brothers. Certainly they aren’t the normal folks. Catechesis is something we do for children, not adults.

Truth be told, there are generations out there nominally Catholic — as well as the “nones” who don’t claim any religious affiliation — who have either never heard the story, have forgotten the story or are confused about the story.

Pope Francis is always exhorting us to share our faith in simply ordinary ways, beginning with our service to the poor. Do our lives reflect this discipleship to which we are called? Unless we can share what difference this makes in our lives — profound peace, joy and freedom — we won’t be able to invite anyone else to follow Jesus.

It’s time for every baptized adult to make a choice. Are we or are we not serious about what it means to be a Christian?

Father Esposito is episcopal vicar for Pastoral Vicariate Region 3 of the diocese.

A joyful awakening

By Dr. Linda Lee Ritzer

Part 22 of a weekly series.

It’s time for a revolution.

Really, that’s the bottom-line goal in our diocesan-wide On Mission for The Church Alive! It’s a call to a spiritual revolution in each of us.

“I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). The revolution means that we take that understanding and center our lives in it — that we are redeemed, that Jesus has called us individually and that we belong to him.

It’s summed up by the Greek word metanoia that’s all over Scripture. Roughly translated as “repentance,” it means so much more. “Repentance” too often suggests sack cloth and ashes, a grim beating of the breast, a sorrowful acknowledgement of all we have done wrong.

Although real contrition and sorrow for sin is vital, the repentance to which Jesus calls us is a joyful awakening. It’s a call to a change of heart and a change of mind toward God. It’s a call to see the moment differently and the future hopefully.

Real repentance demands that we first of all have an openness to radical change in ourselves. We have to turn away from what we have been doing and to see things — see everything — from an entirely new perspective. To see with new eyes, to listen with new ears. And to live a new way.

This is what we see in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Peter speaks to the crowds at Pentecost, he calls them to metanoia — to repent, to have a change of heart and mind. And 3,000 answered that call.

They had a change of mind and heart. They saw everything from a new perspective. They experienced Jesus in a new way and were transformed. They were baptized.

Acts describes the result of this metanoia in Scripture and its influence on the life of the early church. It fills us with joy and wonder 2,000 years later:

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

This is the revolution — the metanoia — we are looking for in our lives. We want to change the way we think that leads to a change of heart and behavior.

This is what we want from On Mission for The Church Alive! We want a change — a repentance — that is radical and expressed in a new attitude and a new aptitude to serve. We want to think new about old things, to reframe everything so that we not only go in new directions but maybe in precisely the opposite direction.

“Dreams can come true again when everything old is new again.” That’s the miracle that comes with conversion, that’s the miracle that comes with repentance.

Ritzer is a diocesan associate general secretary.

The heart of it all

By Father Lawrence A. DiNardo

Part 23 of a weekly series.

Let’s do a quick Catholic “Jeopardy!” The answer is: “To lead people to heaven.”

The question is: “Why do we have a church?” And I would accept as well, “Why do we have a parish?”

That’s the heart of it. Everything we do in the church — as well as all our structures, institutions, ministries and programs — is fundamentally about saving souls and leading people to heaven. That’s it. That’s the core truth. The church — and our parishes — are the means to attain what our faith is all about.

Bishop David Zubik’s call to On Mission for The Church Alive! is fundamentally about this core mission. How do we best use our resources, our gifts, our talents, our structures to lead people to heaven? That’s what we are praying and now studying in every parish in every part of the Church of Pittsburgh.

In undertaking this prayerful study we will look at things and think about things differently. The faith never changes, but how we spread the faith and present the message of the faith are gifts ever-new to each generation. We will be looking for new ways — new models — for leading people to heaven.

New models require us to look at our structures in unfamiliar ways. To study them in a new light. The means used to serve a predominantly first-generation immigrant community in Pittsburgh 125 years ago are not the same that we would use today. And the means we use 125 years from now will be different than what we use today!

How we evangelize a well-educated population highly versed in today’s social media is not the same as in the past. Again, the Gospel doesn’t change, but how we introduce that Good News to people has to change if it is to be heard above all the noise and distractions of modern times.

The search for new models requires that once we see the vision of leading ourselves and others to heaven, we then look at our parishes and our church institutions not as historical remnants of our past to be preserved in amber. We will see the parish and church in light of what they can and must be now and for the future.

Our goal in On Mission for The Church Alive! from a practical perspective is to discover these new models in collaboration with our neighbors — the parishes within our districts and our clusters — so that we can lead people to Jesus by sharing our limited resources to achieve the ultimate prize.

New models will require us to share or leave behind some of the things that we hold on to — maybe our old church, or our new priest, or our familiar way of doing things. New models will ask us to look at parish life differently.

We will see the church not only as a place where we encounter Christ. But as a place where we become disciples of Christ; a home from where we can best share Christ with the world through education, social and outreach programs.

These new models will allow every parish to share in all that the church has to offer so that we can lead people to heaven. Because that’s the heart of it all!

Father DiNardo is vicar general-general secretary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

We must become the best we can be!

By Father Joseph M. Mele

Part 24 of a weekly series.

Leadership. Nothing gets done — in society, in government, in business and, yes, in the church — without good leadership. That is why Bishop David Zubik established the Secretariat for Leadership Development in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

One of the principal initiatives of this secretariat is dedicated to help prepare and equip pastors to know how to develop their current and emerging parish leaders. It is so right and fitting that our seminarians are trained well in crucial areas such as biblical studies and language, theology, church history, homiletics and moral theology. But they also need training in leadership competency.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Bishop Zubik has implemented a pastoral year in which leadership development will be an integral component of the formation of seminarians. This is the time for more serious leadership development as it is included in the course of study.

But Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians also makes it clear that developing lay leadership is key:

“Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. … And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature personhood” (Ephesians 4:7, 11-13).

Let’s look at the characteristics and competencies that our secretariat has recognized that help us define leadership. In character, pastoral leaders are:

• Women and men who are servants;

• Women and men who have aspired to deepen their spiritual life — the business world calls this character. We call it the virtuous life;

• Women and men who know where they are going — they identify a mission and have a leadership vision that directly serves the overarching mission.

Now, in looking for leaders and leaderships, let’s combine these characteristics with four principle competencies of true leaders:

• True leaders have a deep interior life, the heart and soul of the pastoral leader. This development blesses the leader with Christ-likeness from core to crust. In our secretariat we have adopted the motto “Leading with the Heart of Christ.”

• True leaders have “teach-ability.” If one is unteachable at the beginning, they are not called to leadership.

• True leaders have the capacity for knowledge and learning. In preparing Moses for leadership, God specifically taught Moses what to do. Competency and confidence in leadership is based to a great degree on knowing what to do.

• True leaders have what is called emotional intelligence. These pastoral leaders thrive when they are given sufficient latitude along with support and high expectations. They will become more effective in the “great commission” of Christ (Matthew 28:16-20). Once they begin to understand their emotions and place them at the service of mission, they flourish in self-confidence and consistency, psychological stability, joy and optimism.

The church has long called it human formation or living in our humanity. It is the reality that we are an incarnational people because of Christ taking on our humanity.

While all pastoral leaders are strong in these areas, every good pastoral leader needs to continuously grow and develop these pastoral characteristics and competencies as a plan for life. We must become the best we can be for the sake of Christ and the church.

Father Mele is vicar for leadership development.

Why all this talk about discipleship?

By Dr. Michel Therrien

Part 26 of a weekly series.

Have you ever been struck by the abrupt way the apostles just dropped everything and followed Jesus (Mark 1:18)? Did they leave the front door unlocked at home? What about their family? “Hey, is that Simon’s boat drifting around out there?”

I was always perplexed by this until it occurred to me that perhaps the Gospel writers were conveying something different than I imagined. The image of “abandoning their nets” is really a metaphor for a radical change of direction in life.

There comes a point in every serious Christian’s journey when we realize that Jesus Christ is the one to whom we want to dedicate our lives. It’s that realization that we truly believe in him and we want to change the axis around which our lives revolve — a deeply personal inspiration that moves our lives decidedly toward him.

This conversion doesn’t have to happen instantaneously; nor does it have to be some dramatic turnabout from a gravely sinful life, although it can certainly be either. What it does have to be is an awakening to the realization of God’s profound and personal love for us in Jesus Christ and our willingness to embrace that love as the purpose of our lives.

For most of us, I imagine, this awakening is more like the sunrise. It happens as sacramental graces gradually penetrate the heart and gently captivates us.

What we learn from Scripture is that abandoning our nets happens in the context of a personal encounter with Jesus. For St. Paul it came as an epiphany of Jesus in a flash of light. Or, as it did for the villagers of Samaria, Christ was joyfully brought to them by the woman Jesus encountered at the well. If you recall, Andrew did this for his brother Simon (Peter). “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).

Discipleship doesn’t end, however, with abandoning our nets — that is only the beginning. As we take up with the Master, we soon discover that he wants to change us. He wants to transform our inner self and make us holy.

Accepting the deeper reality of ongoing conversion explains the word “discipleship” more fully. Discipleship requires us to open our hearts daily and allow Jesus to heal us of sin. This is not easy because the disciple not only has to learn what Jesus teaches in general, but he or she has to embrace what Jesus teaches about their life in particular. “Peter, do you love me?”

However, discipleship is not merely a “private” matter either. As members of his body, Jesus wants to transform our lives so we can transform the world through the message of the Gospel. Together, disciples are the salt of the earth, the city on the hill and a light to others (Matthew 5:13-14). As church we become the place where the world discovers Christ.

So, why all this talk about discipleship? Because the key to being On Mission for The Church Alive! is our total commitment to the path of discipleship. If we abandon our nets, recognize our call to holiness and carry out the mission Christ gives us, together we will overcome the challenges we face and renew the Church of Pittsburgh.

Therrien is diocesan secretary for evangelization and Catholic Education. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive! on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is “On Mission?” Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

On the road to discipleship

By Helene Paharik

Part 27 of a weekly series.

In the Holy Land, I was blessed to visit a desert monastery. I met two of the monks and I asked them why they were there.

The first monk said, “This is the place I need to be to get myself into heaven. I can pray five times a day and avoid sin here.”

The second monk said, “This is the place I need to be to get the most people into heaven. Being here I can best pray and work for the salvation of others.”

A disciple does all he or she can to grow in his or her relationship with Jesus, such as my first monk. A disciple maker builds such a relationship with Jesus, then does all he or she can so that others can grow in their relationship with God, such as my second monk.

A disciple has a heart for God. A disciple maker has a heart for God and for people.

On Mission for The Church Alive! is about learning Jesus, loving Jesus, living Jesus. Like all loving relationships there are distinct phases to our discipleship: beginning disciple, growing disciple, co-missioned disciple, disciple maker and spiritual multiplier. Sounds like a lot of jargon, but the bottom line is we all need to think about where we are in our relationship with Jesus.

A beginning disciple is infatuated! It is the “I can’t get enough of you” sensation. The song for this phase might be “Give me Jesus! You can have all this world, but give me Jesus!”

Beginning disciples also have a noticeable change in their attitude toward the church. It is not just a place to go, or a building — but it is how we meet Jesus: Jesus in the sacraments; Jesus in the preaching; Jesus in the serving; Jesus in the faces of fellow parishioners. It is less about where we encounter Jesus and more about the quality of the encounter with Jesus.

Beginning disciples are hungry — we can’t get enough. When we fall in love, we want to learn all about our beloved.

Beginning disciples also want to clean up our act. There is a desire to go to confession, to avoid sin, to change behaviors. Just like when we fall in love, we are willing to change to please the one we love, to be our best selves. This phase does not end but remains with Jesus’ disciples as our relationship with Jesus deepens. But it has to deepen. And it has to reach out.

My first monk, although well into his seventh decade, was stuck as a beginning disciple. It still was all about him. Think about your loving relationships. Mature love is less concerned with self and more concerned for others. A mature disciple of Jesus is able to “be a friend of Jesus and make friends for Jesus,” as Bishop David Zubik said in his pastoral letter “The Church Evangelizing!”

The goal of On Mission for The Church Alive! is to get us all on mission, becoming disciples and making disciples. On Mission for The Church Alive! is less about reorganizing external structures as it is about reorganizing our own priorities. We all have to change on the inside. We all need to assess our relationship with Jesus. Or else we are simply rearranging deck chairs.

For us to be On Mission for The Church Alive! we need to get on the road to discipleship. Then keep moving on.

Paharik is a diocesan associate general secretary.

Disciple maker: Who me?

By Daniel J. Cellucci

Part 28 of a weekly series.

Several years ago I was grabbing coffee with a friend. At some point I shared a challenging situation with a family member and without giving it a thought I said, “say a prayer for her, if you would.” I say that a lot, and while I mean it, often it’s more of a way to conclude the story or move to the next topic. But that day, I received a very unexpected response from my longtime friend. He said, “Well, why don’t we pray for her right now?”

Right now? In a coffee shop? While I’m eating a scone? What would the people around us think? I began to sweat a bit and wondered if it wasn’t time for a coffee refill.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” I mumbled uncomfortably. Mind you, I had been working for a Catholic organization for several years, often speaking in front of large groups about the importance of our faith and our church. We bowed our heads and my friend offered a brief but poignant, spontaneous prayer, and then we continued our conversation.

What started with sweat for me turned into a deep sense of gratitude and a curiosity as to what gave my friend the courage to do what he did.

Even today the words “disciple maker” and “evangelization” scare me a little sometimes. They feel like terms that are too big for me to own. Me, a “disciple maker?” I could never go to a foreign country or stand on a street corner and proclaim the Gospel.

Yet, the more I read Scripture, the more I discover that while Jesus’ Great Commission “to go and make disciples of all nations” is big in importance, it doesn’t require big gestures. In fact, the more individual, the more personal, the more spontaneous, the better.

Jesus spent time with large crowds, but most of the Gospels are focused on his time with a few special people in his life — friends who knew each other well. They shared everything — meals, time, hopes, challenges. In that setting Jesus made the most effective disciples who would go on to canvas the world, making thousands of disciples and disciple makers.

Fast forward to a coffee shop in Pennsylvania thousands of years later. My friend was making a disciple of me. The ingredients were the same — trust, friendship, challenge, even food. At the right time, my friend brought God into a moment of anxiety. He gave me comfort and sparked within me a curiosity about his life and the peace that our Lord clearly brings to him.

Make no mistake — disciple making is all of our responsibility whether we feel like we can own it or not. I try to remind myself that “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called” — if we depend on him. We need not look to the street corner or a foreign land. We have plenty of “mission territory” among our family and friends.

Our mission territory is where we share trust, where we spend time, where we know there is love. Think about that the next time someone in your circle asks you to pray for someone. As their friend, introduce them to your friend Jesus.

Cellucci is lead consultant for On Mission for The Church Alive! and senior vice president of the Catholic Leadership Institute, a national nonprofit apostolate focused on supporting bishops, priests and lay leaders with leadership development and consulting services. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

Launched disciples: Pursuing a master's in the art of being

By Daniel J. Cellucci

Part 29 in a weekly series.

I like to get things done. I love making lists and, even more than making lists, I love crossing things off those lists. I have no problem admitting that on occasion I even add things to a list simply to be able to cross them off later.

I like feeling productive and responsive. With three small children, I like occasionally remembering what it feels like to be organized and “on top of things.” Plain and simple, I like to “do.”

That being said, I’m not that great at “being.” It’s hard for me to take a step back, consider the moment I’m in and appreciate the present.

I never thought that was much of a problem until I heard a presentation from a great priest. Father spoke about the proper order of our lives. He spoke about how we tend to define ourselves by what we do rather than who we are, and much more importantly from his point of view, “whose” we are. We are sons and daughters of God, he explained, and that essential fact must primarily define who we understand ourselves to be as well as what we do.

I am always in awe of the people who seem to have mastered keeping this beautiful reality at the top of their mind. They have a peace and centeredness that is unshakeable. Where did that come from? How do they stay that way despite all of the stress and challenge in our daily lives?

In the presentation that I mentioned, the priest offered that in order to keep that primary focus on our relationship with God we must do what we do with other important relationships in our lives — we must stay in touch. A persistent and consistent prayer life must be at the top of our to-do list and not something we just fit in when we can.

I remember in one of my performance reviews at work, someone shared the feedback, “Dan is very good at doing, his next opportunity is to be able to teach others how to do.”

As a disciple, I have a lifetime of work ahead of me to not only place God at the center of my life but to keep him there throughout the days. What I need to help me do that — and to help me help my children to do that — are good teachers. Those who have excelled at the art of being in a deep relationship with our Lord and through their witness and their accompaniment can help me do the same.

One of the things that I love most about our faith is that, regardless of where we are in our Catholic journey, there is always a next step. We are never done growing, and as Catholics we believe it’s essential to grow together.

Cellucci is lead consultant for On Mission for The Church Alive! and senior vice president of the Catholic Leadership Institute, a national nonprofit apostolate focused on supporting bishops, priests and lay leaders with leadership development and consulting services. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

Saints among us

By Dr. Linda Lee Ritzer

Part 30 of a series.

Do you know anyone who has received a call from God to live a holy life?

Every time I go to Mass, I see many such people.

It’s not only the priests, deacons and sisters. Every baptized Christian receives a call to holiness with the water of that sacrament. We have a call from God to holiness, no matter where we work or where we live.

I know ordinary people whose extraordinarily holy lives bless many other people. Let me introduce you to a few:

• She can be found every Tuesday in the parish craft room, sewing lap blankets for nursing home residents. She doesn’t do this to pass time but precisely because she has taken to heart Jesus’ command to care for others.

• He meets with the men’s fellowship group the last Saturday of every month to prepare and serve meals for a homeless shelter in Pittsburgh. He does it because Jesus said that whatsoever you do to the least of my neighbors, you do to me.

• She is a wife and mother. Her kids are young and she has a job. Her mom is sick. No matter the day, every day, she visits her mom. It’s hard and she’s tired. But she finds a way. This is love. As Jesus commanded, she is not counting the cost.

• He’s 17 and he’s still an altar server. It’s not because he has to. Everyone else his age has given it up, and he could, too. Serving at Mass is his way of staying close, keeping close to God. Something inside him just says it’s right.

• They sing for Jesus. They practice every Wednesday. Many of the children are 8 or 9, others are 10 and 11, a few 14 or 15. Together, they are angelic. It’s not a concert, not a performance. Every week they are learning to lead in worship. Their music is their prayer.

• Nobody knows his name. There is no praise, no glory, no recognition. He cuts the parish grass early every Saturday, before others know and before the weekend Masses. “I want everyone to feel proud of our church home,” he says. It’s his way of giving back.

• She works at Giant Eagle and has for years. She belongs to the parish and serves as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. She’s nice to everyone, whether in church, in someone’s home or bagging groceries, even to those who are not so nice. Why? Because she believes that the Communion she distributes at Mass must be lived in the world, inside or outside of church.

All of these people are following God’s call, as surely as any priest, deacon, sister or monk. In their hands, a lawn mower, sewing needle or a shopping bag becomes holy.

The call to holiness is a call to implementation, to put into action the love of Christ. It’s done in simple and ordinary ways. But the simple and ordinary have the power to change our world. This is On Mission for The Church Alive! It is a call to act in the name of Jesus for others.

Ritzer is a diocesan associate general secretary. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

'Do not be afraid!'

By Father Frederick L. Cain

Part 32 of a series.

As I’ve read through the On Mission columns in the Pittsburgh Catholic, I can imagine very diverse reactions among the readers. Some might come away with the fear that “My peaceful experience of Christ in my church might disappear!” But let me quickly quote nearly the first words of then-newly elected Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!”

That’s based on 46 years of personal experience as a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In that time I have never asked for any of the assignments I’ve had: parochial vicar, confessor to sisters, student and resident chaplain of University of Notre Dame dorm, spiritual director of St. Paul Seminary, weekend assistant to parish, senior parochial vicar, administrator and pastor of another parish, dean and now regional vicar of Vicariate 2.

In each of those assignments, by saying “yes” and begging the Lord to guide me, my eyes and heart were opened to blessed experiences in personal growth and understanding of God’s movement in my life. I would hope similar experiences were had by those I was privileged to serve. Without the willingness to accept new challenges life can become stagnant or routine.

I can’t help but think each person has similar experiences. A young couple falls in love, but only in saying “yes” and sharing life do they realize both the giftedness of their own life and the gift that the other is to them.

A couple once said to me after the first year of marriage: “You told us, ‘You think you know one another or you wouldn’t dream of marrying. But the wealth of things you will discover about one another will amaze you … the good and the not-so-good! If you are patient and remember God created you, that he is always with you, the three of us can handle anything!’”

The religious sisters and brothers among us give another blessed insight in this day and age. We’ve watched many grow older but still actively contribute to the church and the community. They are like the Energizer bunny. No longer only in classrooms or hospitals, you will find their diverse talents at work everywhere.

But they have experienced the same struggles that our diocesan church now faces. Their numbers decreased, their mission changed, their resources dwindled, and they came to realize that in order to continue their service to the church they had to identify their areas of expertise and the real needs of the church, while fulfilling their responsibility for older members of their communities.

This involved letting go of identities related to motherhouses, current employment and even their separate community identities. Their buildings and the preservation of properties could hold them back from living their charism of service to the poor, witnessing to the Gospel among people they didn’t yet know but felt God was calling them to be attentive to. Their life is in God and in Christ, guided by the Spirit.

Every time any of these people has said “yes,” they have not died but risen to a new and spirited life that brings purpose and joy to heart, mind and spirit. This dying and rising is what On Mission for The Church Alive! challenges each of us to do as we more fully learn Jesus, love Jesus and live Jesus.

Let us not be afraid. A whole new and vibrant life awaits this whole church.

Father Cain is regional vicar of Vicariate 2. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive! on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

'Do not be afraid!'

 By Father Frederick L. Cain

Part 32 of a series.

As I’ve read through the On Mission columns in the Pittsburgh Catholic, I can imagine very diverse reactions among the readers. Some might come away with the fear that “My peaceful experience of Christ in my church might disappear!” But let me quickly quote nearly the first words of then-newly elected Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!”

That’s based on 46 years of personal experience as a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In that time I have never asked for any of the assignments I’ve had: parochial vicar, confessor to sisters, student and resident chaplain of a University of Notre Dame dorm, spiritual director of St. Paul Seminary, weekend assistant to parish, senior parochial vicar, administrator and pastor of another parish, dean and now regional vicar of Vicariate 2.

In each of those assignments, by saying “yes” and begging the Lord to guide me, my eyes and heart were opened to blessed experiences in personal growth and understanding of God’s movement in my life. I would hope similar experiences were had by those I was privileged to serve. Without the willingness to accept new challenges life can become stagnant or routine.

I can’t help but think each person has similar experiences. A young couple falls in love, but only in saying “yes” and sharing life do they realize both the giftedness of their own life and the gift that the other is to them.

A couple once said to me after the first year of marriage: “You told us that ‘you think you know one another or you wouldn’t dream of marrying. But the wealth of things you will discover about one another will amaze you … the good and the not-so-good! If you are patient and remember God created you, that he is always with you, the three of us can handle anything!’”

The religious sisters and brothers among us give another blessed insight in this day and age. We’ve watched many grow older but still actively contribute to the church and the community. They are like the Energizer bunny. No longer only in classrooms or hospitals, you will find their diverse talents at work everywhere.

But they have experienced the same struggles that our diocesan church now faces. Their numbers decreased, their mission changed, their resources dwindled, and they came to realize that in order to continue their service to the church they had to identify their areas of expertise and the real needs of the church, while fulfilling their responsibility for older members of their communities.

This involved letting go of identities related to motherhouses, current employment and even their separate community identities. Their buildings and the preservation of properties could hold them back from living their charism of service to the poor, witnessing to the Gospel among people they didn’t yet know but felt God was calling them to be attentive to. Their life is in God and in Christ, guided by the Spirit.

Every time one of these people has said “yes,” they have not died but risen to a new and spirited life that brings purpose and joy to heart, mind and spirit. This dying and rising is what On Mission for The Church Alive! challenges each of us to do as we more fully learn Jesus, love Jesus and live Jesus.  

Let us not be afraid. A whole new and vibrant life awaits this whole church.

Father Cain is regional vicar of Vicariate 2. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive! on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh.

Implementation: From the talk to the walk

By Helene Paharik

Last of a 33-part series.

In this space in the Pittsburgh Catholic, in our parishes and at diocesan gatherings, the Church of Pittsburgh has been reading, praying, studying, reflecting, training and discussing to prepare for On Mission for The Church Alive!

After broad consultation beginning this fall, the strategies for evangelization, the structures for vibrant, sustainable parishes and schools, and the well-formed leadership teams under the direction of a pastor or administrator will be implemented.

So what will it take now to move from the talk to the walk, from the theory to reality?

In this weekend’s Gospel, the disciples come to Jesus and say the crowd is hungry. To face a perceived shortage, Jesus tells them: “Get up your confidence, courage and compassion, get out among the people, get your hands dirty and bring all that you have to me.” That’s what he is telling us today.

I propose two attitudes present in this story of the feeding of the multitude that will be central to implementing On Mission for The Church Alive!

No. 1: A spirituality of abundance. This means realizing that with God we always have more than enough. We hear in the first reading this weekend that Abram gave God a tenth of everything. Do I give a tenth to God of all I have, all I am? What is it that I have that can be useful to the Catholic community of southwestern Pennsylvania?

If you are tempted to think you have nothing to give, you are wrong. I ministered to a man with advanced Lou Gehrig’s disease. No longer able to move, to feed himself or even to breathe on his own, he still wanted to give to the community. He decided to intentionally let his hair grow long to be cut for wigs for cancer patients. We all have something that is desperately needed by others.

We have seen the statistics regarding the challenges before us as a diocese: more than half of our parishes are in debt; the number of our priests is declining; many people have departed.

We can look at this and feel overwhelmed, just as the disciples did when faced with the hungry crowd. But by coming together, sharing what was available and placing it in the Lord’s hands, the needs of the hungry crowd were met.

Implementation requires each of us to contribute all we have and all we are to the mission of Jesus Christ right here and right now. A growing awareness of the super-abundance of God enables us to move to action.

No. 2: we need a commitment to community. “Ecclesial Darwinism” has no place here. We are not engaged in survival of the fittest. Just as individuals are required to reflect upon what they can give for the benefit of others, every parish and school must consider the good of their district, their vicariate, the whole diocese.

If we hold back, if we become self-centered, concerned only for ourselves, our own parish or school, we will not succeed.

The implementation of On Mission for The Church Alive! requires a spirituality of abundance and a commitment to the common good. And that spirituality and commitment define the Church of Pittsburgh!

Paharik is a diocesan associate general secretary. Follow On Mission for The Church Alive! on Twitter at @PghChurchAlive. Have something to share about how your parish is On Mission? Use the hashtags #ChurchAlive and #OnMissionPgh. To view all 33 parts of this series, go to http://www.pittsburghcatholic.org/On-Mission-Series.

Information sessions set for parishes

By Dr. Linda Lee Ritzer

Rumors, rumblings and realities: What’s really happening in the Diocese of Pittsburgh? This summer we are inviting all the faithful to come and find out what On Mission for The Church Alive! is all about.

You might already know that On Mission for The Church Alive! is a diocesan-wide planning initiative in which Bishop David Zubik invites all Catholics to envision how our parishes, schools and ministries can best respond to the changing landscape of our communities so that they remain vital centers of worship and service. You might also know that this process involves every parish and school in the diocese.

But did you know that beginning this September consultation sessions will be held with you, the faithful, on draft models prepared for each of our local communities? And did you know that your participation is essential?

In order to prepare for consultation, Bishop Zubik and three diocesan priests —Father Sam Esposito, regional vicar of Vicariate 3; Father Tom Kunz, vicar for canonical services and associate general secretary; and Father John Marcucci, retired pastor — will host informational sessions over the summer to answer your questions and address your concerns.

Some questions that the sessions will address include: Who are the leaders selected from my parish and what are they doing? What is a parish model? Are there going to be changes to my parish? What does consultation mean for me? Where does evangelization come in to play? Are we replacing priests with deacons? Has the diocese already made decisions? There are 18 opportunities to gather and be informed. To discover where you can find the answers to these questions, see the following list:

On Mission for The Church Alive! Summer Sessions

All sessions are from 7-8:30 p.m.

June 20: St. Ferdinand, Cranberry Township, with Father Marcucci.

June 21: St. Damien of Molokai, Monongahela, with Father Esposito.

June 22: St. Thomas, Clarksville, St. Marcellus worship site in Jefferson, with Father Marcucci.

June 23: St. Andrew, Center Township, with Father Marcucci.

June 28: St. John Fisher, Churchill, with Father Esposito.

July 6: St. Patrick, Canonsburg, with Father Marcucci.

July 7: St. Therese of Lisieux, Munhall, with Father Esposito.

July 11: St. Alphonsus, McDonald, with Father Kunz.

July 12: St. Joseph the Worker, New Castle, with Bishop Zubik.

July 13: St. Joseph, Cabot, with Father Kunz.

July 14: Holy Martyrs, Tarentum, with Father Marcucci.

July 18: St. Joseph, O’Hara Township, with Father Esposito.

July 19: St. Monica, Beaver Falls/Chippewa Township/Darlington, with Father Marcucci.

July 21: St. Paul Cathedral, Oakland, with Bishop Zubik.

July 21: St. Margaret Mary, Moon Township, with Father Marcucci.

Aug. 2: St. Margaret, Green Tree, with Father Kunz.

Aug. 8: St. Frances Cabrini, Center Township, with Bishop Zubik.

Aug. 9: St. Valentine, Bethel Park, with Bishop Zubik.

Ritzer is a diocesan associate general secretary.