I was at a doctor’s office in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I now live after my years in Pittsburgh. He’s my pulmonary guy, also with a Pittsburgh background, and I made his acquaintance after an emergency room run awhile back. The joy of smoking. So it goes.
He’s a good man, a good doctor and a faithful Catholic. He comes from a devout family and has a brother who is a priest at the apostolic nunciature in Washington.
After our business, we talked a bit and — inevitably — touched on The Troubles. He offered a prayer for victims of sexual abuse and the hope for healing.
I asked him if he is doing OK, or if he has gotten lost a bit in all the news. His answer was a simple no, with the explanation, “I couldn’t imagine life without the Eucharist.”
We talked about our shared time in Pittsburgh. He was there mostly before I arrived. He was busy with his residency, but he hung around the Opus Dei center in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
Opus Dei is a Catholic institution that promotes ordinary work as a path to holiness. Most of its members are lay and many are active professionals.
Though I’m not Opus Dei, we had a litany of mutual acquaintances that were devout Catholic friends, leaders in faith, family and community. That’s what we really talked about — the faith of the Church of Pittsburgh, the faith of the people in the pews.
An outsider, we agreed, can’t understand Pittsburgh without understanding the depth of the faith of the people. It defines and creates the culture of southwestern Pennsylvania.
He talked about the crowds packing St. Mary of Mercy downtown on holy days, but also the priests hearing confessions at the back of the church every day. I mentioned my first visit to Pittsburgh and how moving it was to see St. Mary of the Mount across the river overlooking the city.
We recalled parishes flourishing in the counties with packed food pantries, overflowing CCD classes and processions for every feast. I told him about a group of guys who meet in the basement of a bar every month for a presentation on the faith, its people, heritage and history. They might have a beer, too. Or two.
We remembered good priests, brothers and sisters and a Catholic school system that is one of the largest in Pennsylvania, public or private. I had done some research on Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and told him that just last year Catholic Charities served 19,265 individuals through 441,205 acts of service.
Mostly we talked about the people. The guy who has been an usher at his parish for decades. The volunteer at the Red Door who has been passing out free lunches with no questions asked. The parishioners who keep the flowers fresh on the altars and bring Communion to the homebound.
I wondered aloud what The Troubles might do to all this. An act of evil — no matter how many decades ago — lives on and destroys. The devil is out there, seeking souls to devour.
My doc was quiet for a moment, then answered that he is absolutely confident.
“I don’t see, at least in the Church of Pittsburgh, the devil winning any more in this battle. The faith of the people is too strong there. They’ll give Peter’s response: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Two old boys missing Pittsburgh. Amen.
Lockwood is former general manager of the Pittsburgh Catholic and diocesan communications director.