ShareThis Page
Church’s mission, then & now |
Featured Commentary

Church’s mission, then & now

Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Bishop David Zubik holds mass at Saint Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown on Friday, July 8, 2016 in response to the Dallas shootings. 'Every life is precious in the eyes of God,' Bishop said to parishioners who attended the mass.

When I’m tempted to feel overwhelmed by the challenges before me, I think of my first predecessor, Bishop Michael J. O’Connor, who was installed to lead the newly created Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1843. In those days, the diocese had just 16 priests to serve 40 parishes across 19 counties in the commonwealth. In each of those parishes and in every one of those counties, Bishop O’Connor championed outreach to everyone: every nationality, every race with the help of his priests.

He also brought seven Sisters of Mercy from Ireland to bring the Gospel to the poor. Not long after their arrival in Pittsburgh, they founded the first hospital west of the Allegheny Mountains, a hospital named after them: Mercy. Their love for people of every creed won the hearts of many. Their life and witness remind us that evangelization and ministry don’t depend on buildings or on an abundance of personnel.

That is what the planning initiative “On Mission for the Church Alive!” is all about in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop O’Connor and the Sisters of Mercy didn’t try to recreate what they had known in Europe. Instead, they looked at the situation and the needs of the people around them.

Bishop O’Connor dispatched circuit-riding priests to bring Mass to isolated rural parishes at least once a month. He built orphanages for the children whose parents succumbed to rampant disease or accidents. With patience and reason, he defended the faith against all arguments and charges against it. When he was transferred from Pittsburgh in 1860, the number of parishes had doubled to 41. The number of priests more than quintupled to 82.

This focus on outreach is what I hope to see again in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Today, we have 192 parishes and serve in six counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania. We as Catholics need to restructure our church for the needs of today. We need to be like Bishop O’Connor, who looked at his territory, the people within it and the resources at his disposal, asking: “How excited are we about our faith? How do we bring the love and mercy of Jesus to the communities where we are?”

Our local mission territory has changed. So has our church. Some of this is due to the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s. Many young families moved away. The local population grayed. But it is also due to a loss of faith — a growing number of people who neither know Jesus nor even know about Him.

Mass attendance has declined 40 percent since 2000. The number of Catholic marriages in this diocese has dropped by 50 percent in that same 15 years. The number of priests likewise has shrunk in the same period, from 338 in 2000 to 216 today and is expected to drop to 112 by 2025.

If the streets within what was once an Italian or Polish ethnic parish in our diocese are now filled with people who speak Spanish, Korean or Vietnamese, then we must do whatever it takes to make them feel welcome in church.

If parents don’t participate in Mass because they are so busy, then we must do whatever it takes to convince them to make time for God.

And when those people return, we must do whatever it takes to put out the welcome mat through lively worship, spirited preaching and genuine service to others.

That is what “On Mission for the Church Alive!” is all about — to better learn Jesus, love Jesus and live Jesus. And after all, isn’t that the reason why Jesus founded the church?

David Zubik is the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.