Keeping the faith despite difficulties

Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - Updated: 1:29 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Ann Shoplik was frustrated.

She had just read another negative newspaper article, titled “Catholic Church in crisis: Series of scandals threatens credibility.” Shoplik decided to write a letter to the editor.

“The picture you paint … of a church ‘in crisis’ is not the church I know,” she wrote. “Every day I see evidence of a vibrant faith community … attending 24-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament … sending large groups of young people to Appalachia to repair homes and hearts, packing lunches for the hungry.”

Shoplik, a longtime member of St. Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Catholic, offered words of support to those who are anxious or discouraged.

“We are praying for you,” she said.

The sentiment is shared by many across the diocese. While affected by the recent grand jury report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy, as well as changes that are part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! initiative, they are keeping the faith.

Laverne Lugar, 80, raised four children by herself, moving from place to place, including public housing. A 52-year member of Incarnation of the Lord Parish in Pittsburgh’s Observatory Hill/Perry North neighborhoods, she can’t attend the new 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass because she needs to eat and take medication at set times. Undeterred, Lugar now takes a bus downtown Saturday afternoons to attend Mass at St. Mary of Mercy.

“My parents helped to build my faith,” she said. “I get a little discouraged at times, but I’m still going to church and so are my children.” Her daughter takes her to Holy Apostles Parish’s monthly festival of praise.

Joe Aul and Anthony Mastrangelo are working to deepen their prayer lives through a men’s group.

“I don’t take my faith for granted,” said Aul, 29, who runs a South Hills company that manufactures and sells wooden baseball bats. “Swinging a bat requires fine motor skills and regular practice. We also need a disciplined prayer life and to keep our eyes on Jesus.

“We had a generation of Catholics who went to Mass just because that’s what their parents did,” said Aul, who attends St. John XXIII Quasi Parish on Pittsburgh’s North Side. “We need to be intentional about putting in the effort — Mass, daily rosary, adoration — to first build a personal relationship with Christ, and then bring him to the world.”

Mastrangelo, 24, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Canonsburg, sees the potential of the On Mission initiative.

“We’re forming new communities and pooling our resources,” he said. “I don’t have an attachment to a church building, but I am focused on my relationship with Jesus and devotion to our Blessed Mother.”

Maryanne Loebig emphasizes the positive in her parish grouping of St. Bede in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze, St. James in Wilkinsburg and St. Charles Lwanga in the East End, offering words of encouragement to the clergy.

Loebig acknowledged the spiritual headwinds facing the faithful, but also recognizes opportunity.

“This is a chance to turn to God more personally, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” she said. “The church will benefit from those who stay and are bold enough to pose the hard questions, speaking truth to power.”

Shoplik recognizes the challenges of addressing the abuse scandal, but also is looking ahead.

“Yes, this is a time of trial for the church. We seek justice and healing for the victims,” Shoplik noted in her letter. “But we have not lost hope. We have not lost faith. And we are not leaving our beloved church.”

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