On April 12, 2015, Bishop David Zubik launched On Mission for The Church Alive! with a year of prayer and study. It continued with extensive consultation, open to all Catholics in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. As the planning initiative moves into transition and implementation phases, Bishop Zubik answers 10 questions:
1. What are the key goals of On Mission for The Church Alive!?
First and foremost, to help more people get to heaven. On Mission invites Catholics to envision how our parishes, schools, ministries and institutions can best respond to changes in our communities in ways that deepen people’s relationship with Jesus and each other. We seek more vibrant liturgies, inspirational faith formation, stronger school and parish partnerships, to increase participation in the life of the church, and for all Catholics to boldly proclaim Christ in word and action.
2. What was the most important feedback you received from the 329 parish consultation sessions in 2016?
The responses showed that many of the faithful understand the challenges. They are concerned about the increasing demands on clergy. They recognize the need for fewer, more vibrant liturgies. Their greatest hope is that more young people will come to know Jesus and rekindle their relationship with the church. They also remain committed to caring for our aging parishioners and the poor among us. I deeply appreciate all the comments. They helped in my discernment and decisions.
3. What other feedback did you review?
After the parish consultation sessions, meetings were held within parish clusters and districts. My staff then revised the draft models of parish life and gathered more feedback from parishes. After a year of consultation there was a rigorous review by the On Mission Commission, which has more than 80 clergy and lay members. The commission recommended specific parish groupings intended to best provide sacramental celebration, effective formation for discipleship and compassionate pastoral care. These recommendations were reviewed by my other consultative groups and presented for my consideration. I also personally met with all the priests in active ministry to hear their concerns and hopes for the future. Only after receiving input from all of these groups and individuals did I place our 188 parishes into 57 groupings that eventually will merge to form new parishes.
4. What steps are immediately ahead in the On Mission process?
Interim Mass schedules will be drafted this summer and become effective Oct. 15, with plans to review them next year. Clergy teams will begin their assignments that same day, focusing initially on building relationships with parishioners and in their neighborhoods. They also will begin assessing parish ministries, staffing and other needs. A flexible blueprint will be provided to assist clergy and lay leaders with planning and building parishes focused on mission and discipleship. Parishes in groupings will merge over the next two to five years.
5. Regionalization of parish elementary schools is part of On Mission. What has taken place to date?
In a regionalized school system, all Catholic schools in a geographic area provide an education ministry for all parishes in that region, rather than the traditional model of parishes operating their own schools. The goal is to ensure families have access to Catholic schools that are academically excellent, spiritually vibrant and financially sustainable.
Regionalization began last year in the North Hills region. After Assumption School in Bellevue merges with Northside Catholic in Brighton Heights this fall, six Catholic parish elementary schools will be the education ministry of 32 parishes in the North Hills. Regionalization is underway in the Pittsburgh-East region, with the merger of pre-K-8 education programs at St. Bernadette and North American Martyrs schools in Monroeville, and the closing of St. Rosalia Academy in the city’s Greenfield neighborhood. The Pittsburgh-East region will have 14 schools to serve 57 parishes. Regionalization is expected next in the southern and northwestern regions of the diocese.
6. How is Our Campaign for The Church Alive! helping to strengthen parishes and the Church of Pittsburgh?
The campaign is setting the stage for the On Mission initiative by supporting extraordinary needs across our diocese. The campaign assists parishes; Catholic education, catechesis and formation; evangelization and stewardship; and charitable needs. Donors’ sacrificial gifts are vital to the church’s mission and are having a positive impact diocesan-wide. We have seen this in the funding of missionary outreach to street youth in some of our parishes, in media campaigns that have brought many people back to the sacrament of confession, in improved services to women with crisis pregnancies and scores of other ways.
Any unused campaign funds of closed or merged parishes will be redirected to the successor parish for its future approved use. The diocese will not use any campaign donations given for parish use.
7. What happens to the assets and any debt of a parish?
According to canon law, when parishes merge to form a new parish, the new parish receives all of their assets and liabilities. This includes any savings, debt and buildings. If a building is sold, the proceeds go to the parish.
8. How will bringing parishes together help grow the Church of Pittsburgh?
Right now many of our parishes struggle to pay the utility bills and provide pastoral ministry to the people who faithfully participate. On Mission will pool resources so that the lights stay on — and we share the light of God’s love with those who currently are not in our pews.
The purpose of a parish is to help its people become true disciples of Jesus and prepare them for the mission of making the world a holier place. We should see our neighborhoods as mission fields and view our parishes as centers for worship, faith formation, service and outreach. Parishes help all Catholics to fulfill their baptismal call to share the message and mercy of Jesus.
We currently put far too much money and effort into maintaining under-utilized churches and school buildings. On Mission seeks to redirect some of those resources into outreach to younger people, better faith formation for families and to help priests provide better pastoral care and evangelization. By bringing our parishes together and moving from maintenance to mission, we will experience new life in the Church of Pittsburgh.
9. Besides our aging population and families with fewer children, what are some reasons why Mass attendance and sacramental participation have declined by 40 percent or more since 2000?
Many Catholics have grown distant from Jesus and are not following and passing along the church’s teachings.
For a variety of reasons, many baby boomers received an ineffective religious education, so they were unable to help their children and grandchildren live the faith. Too often, parents drop their children off for religious education class, but don’t bring them to Mass. We can begin to reverse this trend by improving our faith formation programs. We can help parents plant the seeds of faith that will grow in their children, so that they fall in love with Jesus and want to follow him.
10. How can parishioners help strengthen parishes and schools and bring more people to Jesus?
First, continue to pray for On Mission for The Church Alive! Ask how God is calling you to be part of the body of Christ. Second, reach out to build relationships with those from other parishes in your groupings. Third, keep growing in knowledge of the faith. Each day do something more to learn Jesus, love Jesus and live Jesus.