Theology on Tap: Bishop 'chews the fat' with young adults

Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final was already underway, but the television screens remained dark as the young adults continued their question-and-answer session with Bishop David Zubik.

Their interest in the church was evident during a Theology on Tap gathering sponsored by the Oakland Young Adult Ministry — Pittsburgh on June 5 on the rooftop of the Steel Cactus Restaurant in the city’s Shadyside neighborhood. More than 100 people packed the space for the event.

“Young people like you can make a tremendous difference,” he told them, noting the importance of having them become involved in ministry.

The bishop said the gathering was a chance to “chew the fat” about the love of his life that is the church. He mentioned his dream for The Church Alive! and challenged the young people to be an important part of helping that dream become a reality. He led them in a recitation of the Prayer for On Mission for The Church Alive! that asks God to endow us with his gifts of collaboration, courage and compassion.

Bishop Zubik pointed to three figures who have influenced his life — Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis — to illustrate those gifts.

Pope John XXIII, he noted, wanted everyone to see themselves as important to helping build the church, and through his emphasis on collaboration taught us the art of listening.

Pope John Paul II tried to meet as many people as possible, and he was able to take complex ideas and make them understandable. His courage taught us to be bold. 

In Pope Francis, Bishop Zubik noted, we have someone who meets people where they are and shows compassion “day in and day out.” “He knows where we are,” the bishop said. “He knows how we talk.”

While the local church is very much alive, he added, the dream for On Mission for The Church Alive! is to make it even more so. A secular world demands that we show more collaboration, courage and compassion.

Bishop Zubik told the gathering that the message of what it means to fall in love can be found in the church. Just as a relationship blossoms and hearts become excited, so too can our relationship with the church.

When we love someone, the bishop continued, we want to know as much as we can about them. It is why catechesis is so important to meet the hunger to learn more about the faith. Young people can use their enthusiasm to lead the way.

Another component of a relationship, Bishop Zubik said, is that we want to let others know that we’re in love. The same holds true when it comes to our relationship with the church. We have to evangelize the faith through our words and deeds, he said. We must do our best to proclaim the word of God to Catholics and people of other faiths.

The bishop traveled in February to the Holy Land as part of a delegation that included Catholics, Jews and members of other Christian faiths. He spoke of dinner conversations in which the pilgrims shared their faith and became even more excited about their own faith traditions.

When people are in love, Bishop Zubik noted, they begin to change and see God through the eyes of those they love. He pointed to the “tremendous” formation programs spearheaded by the Secretariat for Leadership Development and Evangelization that strengthen ecclesial ministry in the diocese.

And finally, to help us overcome the mistakes we have made and help us be stewards of the heart in building a better world, he said people must be merciful in a world that truly needs love and mercy. Every day, the bishop noted, we seem to hear of another terrorist attack. Where will it be next? We must all collaborate to work together, he said, have the courage to avoid being bullied into not talking about God, and have the compassion to help others in their time of need so they can fall more in love with Jesus.

Bishop Zubik fielded a wide variety of questions during the Q&A. He addressed how we can collaborate with people of other faiths by sitting down and having honest conversations with them — in a religious situation, or over a couple of beverages.

One of the great myths about the Catholic faith, he noted, is that it is not Christian. In addition, his work as a member of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania has reinforced the notion that other faiths face the same challenges in today’s world.

Another question dealt with bridging the gap between youth ministry and young adult programs. Bishop Zubik said the church must make sure that it is serious about providing opportunities for young people to become more involved. A recent survey of some 30,000 local Catholics noted that their top concern focused on youth and young adults.

Young people want to be involved in the church, Bishop Zubik noted, and not passive in the faith like his generation. They must be invited to take part in activities or they will look somewhere else. As the diocese moves into the future, he added, he wants to make sure that each new parish has a “dynamic” youth minister and good catechists.

The bishop addressed the notion that the Catholic Church is “standoffish” by noting that the perception is usually true. We often aren’t welcoming to new people and new ideas, he said.

“We need to learn to know what it means to put out the welcome mat.”

He said young adults can help him and his brother priests by their presence and by understanding that there are people who welcome their ideas.

“If we’re going to be worth our salt, we’re going to have to think outside the box to make Jesus better known,” the bishop said.

He noted the sorrow of seeing young priests leave their ministry, as well as seeing many young people grow up with a lack of stability in light of higher divorce rates. Bishop Zubik also noted that he sympathizes with single people, who are often “put down” in the church.

We can look to Pope Francis and how he reaches out to people, Bishop Zubik said, even those with the hardest of hearts. We can emulate his smile and be like him in the way he reaches out to those shunned by the world. He won’t let anyone stop him from showing genuine compassion. The same way we should show compassion to those who face death, job loss or natural disaster.

People who leave the faith, he added, often don’t see the face of Christ. “Soften up the soil and allow the seeds of faith to grow,” the bishop said.

A question addressed the difficulty young people have in defending the faith on college campuses that are full of secular ideas. The bishop said no one can rob a person of their faith if they have a relationship with Jesus. The relationship will give them the courage they need to stand up for their beliefs.

Bishop Zubik answered individual questions for an extended period following the formal program.

Kate Kromka, Theology on Tap coordinator for the Oakland Young Adult Ministry, said it was “an honor and privilege” to have the bishop attend the gathering. Events like it, she noted, bring young adults “out of the woodwork.”

“It’s a good opportunity to build that community and foster our faith,” she said. “To see people who believe in the same things that we do. It’s really important and special for all of us.”

The Oakland Young Adult Ministry meets monthly. Kromka said that up to 150 people attend events. The next gathering is set for July 10 at the Steel Cactus, 5505 Walnut St., and will feature a presentation by Rhodora “Dorrie” Donahue, director of mission integration at Oakland Catholic High School. Food and fellowship will begin at 7 p.m. Follow “Oakland Young Adult Ministry-Pittsburgh” on Facebook for updates and events.