Sunday, May 22, 2016
By Amerigo Allegretto
Eagle Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH — Structural changes and a more “evangelical” approach may be on the horizon for Catholic churches in Butler County and in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The diocese unveiled its plan Friday morning for all member churches at the 50th annual observation of World Communications Day.
About 50 people, including church and university officials and media members, attended the speech by Bishop David Zubik.
“This is for every church. There is no excuse from this,” Zubik said Friday morning.
The planning initiative, “Our Mission for The Church Alive!” focuses on mass attendance, financial struggles and Catholic school attendance.
Mass attendance in the diocese has fallen from 247,000 people in 2000 to about 149,000 in 2015, according to church statistics.
Enrollment in Catholic elementary schools has dropped from 24,000 students in 2000-01 to 12,000 now.
The initiative also addresses financial inequality between churches in poorer areas and churches in affluent areas.
“Nearly half of our parishes ran operating deficits last year, up from one third in 2012,” Zubik said. “Consequently, our services to parishioners and communities are uneven. Those who are most in need often receive the least.”
Zubik said the overlying cause of the struggles and decreases have to do with people’s loss of connection with Jesus Christ and the Catholic church. He said this initiative invites those who have drifted away from the faith or have never experienced it.
“I’m asking every single Catholic in our diocese to look at his or her community as a mission field,” he said. “This will require collaboration, courage and compassion as we work together and dream big about how we can best be a church in a world that is far different from our grandparents’ day.”
The diocese plans to create models for its four vicariates and 21 districts.
These models describe how a district could look in the future regarding parish structure, ministries, school configurations, leadership structures, and ways to strengthen religious education programs.
For financial viability, criteria for models include not grouping parishes of great financial distress together or great financial affluence together.
“Church Alive” communication director Bob DeWitt said the diocese will consult with districts and parishes this fall on the models.
Zubik said while some churches are already exemplifying aspects of the plan, the initiative will come to affect churches in the diocese such as those in Butler County in 2018.
In Butler, members of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Michael the Archangel parishes are donating their gifts from “Our Campaign for The Church Alive!” to organizations serving the needy.
The parishes have awarded grants to agencies including the Community Health Clinic of Butler County, the Grapevine Center serving the mentally ill, St. Vincent de Paul’s food bank, Catholic Charities and Connecting2Tomorrow, a job mentoring program for young people.
Zubik said school closures and more church mergers like the one planned for St. Gregory in Zelienople and St. Mathias in Evans City may occur.
“It’s a very real possibility,” Zubik said.
The ultimate goal, church officials said, is to strengthen people’s faith.
“It’s not all about restructuring,” DeWitt said.
“It’s about getting people fired up.”
Zubik placed focus on church members to be “evangelical.”
“This notion of evangelization has been a tough term for Catholics to get used to,” Zubik said.
“What we mean when we talk about evangelization is living your faith, making sure that in every place you are … stand for your faith.”
“That’s the most powerful tool of evangelization,” he said.