Goal of On Mission is to draw people deeper into the faith

Friday, May 04, 2018 - Updated: 8:51 am

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

After three years of prayer, study and consultation, Bishop David Zubik announced key changes April 28-29 designed to promote vibrant faith and healthy growth in every parish of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Zubik released his decisions on the 57 groupings of parishes, the maximum number of weekend Masses per grouping, timeline categories for each grouping to work toward merger and clergy assignments. The moves, part of On Mission for The Church Alive! planning, are effective Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. No church closings are part of this phase of the initiative.

The goal of On Mission is to offer a deeper relationship with Jesus and the Catholic Church to practicing and inactive Catholics, as well as those who have never been baptized.

“For three years, we have labored to discern how to best position our local church for the future,” Bishop Zubik wrote in his letters to parishes. “We must respond to the reality that populations have shifted, that many Catholics have drifted away from Mass and that we will have fewer priests.

“We need to share and mobilize our resources to draw people deeper into the faith, seek the lost and serve those in need.”

The diocese’s 188 parishes were placed in 57 groupings that eventually will become new parishes. Key consultative groups recommended that Bishop Zubik increase to that total from 48 groupings endorsed by the On Mission Commission of clergy and lay leaders. (See map, list of parish groupings on Pages 25-28.)

A priest who serves as administrator will lead a clergy team for each grouping. An administrator has all the rights and responsibilities of a pastor, but does not have a specified term.

Clergy teams may include priests who are parochial vicars and parish chaplains, as well as permanent deacons. Priests are also being assigned as institutional chaplains to major hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, high schools and correctional institutions. (See “Key terms,” Page 25.)

The maximum number of weekend Masses per grouping is based on the number of priests assigned there and other factors. According to canon law, the number cannot exceed three Masses per priest who has parish responsibilities. Priests who live at a parish, but whose duties are elsewhere, are not included in the count.

Over the next several months, incoming administrators will collaborate with current pastors and administrators to create interim Mass schedules. These will be announced in August and take effect Oct. 15. New schedules for confession and religious education also will be created in many groupings.

Every parish grouping has been assigned a timeline category for the creation of a new parish. Groupings in Category A will complete the process by the end of 2020. Those in Category B will have until December 2021 to form a new parish. Groupings in Category C will come together by the end of 2023. After determining the needs of each grouping, clergy and lay leaders will recommend to Bishop Zubik which church buildings, ministries and staffing will best serve the new parish.

During the first year, clergy will focus on building relationships with and among their parishioners.

Launched April 12, 2015, On Mission for The Church Alive! invites all Catholics to envision how parishes, schools and ministries can best respond to the changes in their communities. Since 2000, Mass attendance has decreased more than 40 percent, sacramental participation 40 to 50 percent, and the number of diocesan priests available for active ministry is expected to decline from about 200 today to 112 by 2025.

After a year of prayer and study, 329 consultation sessions were held in parishes across the diocese to review options and discuss the best ways for parishes to come together and be strengthened. Nearly 30,000 people participated in these sessions and provided substantive feedback that helped to guide planning.

Following that consultation, the On Mission Commission reviewed the data and ideas, recommending specific parish groupings intended to best provide sacramental celebration, faith formation, pastoral care and outreach. The diocesan presbyteral and pastoral councils reviewed the plans and proposed changes that led to nine additional groupings. Bishop Zubik also met with each priest in active ministry to hear his concerns and hopes for the future.

Effective religious education and evangelization are key goals of On Mission for The Church Alive! Efforts are underway to recruit and form the next generation of lay ecclesial ministers who will collaborate with clergy to lead and help revitalize parishes. When more lay leaders serve in new and creative ministries, especially reaching out to youth and young adults, priests can focus on spiritual care of the faithful.

“I truly believe that change can bring new life and joy,” Bishop Zubik wrote. “I realize that such transformation is rarely easy, especially in the heartfelt matters of faith and parish life.

“I know this change will require us to let go of some things that are precious and familiar. I ask you to open your hearts in your grouping of parishes, to create a welcoming community.”

To learn more about On Mission for The Church Alive!, https://diopitt.org/onmission.

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