St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Pittsburgh’s Hill District is known for its warm, friendly people. Visitors are welcomed with applause at the start of Sunday Mass, but the church really comes alive at the sign of peace.
Instead of simply turning to their neighbor and offering a liturgical greeting, parishioners leave their pews and walk up and down the church aisles, sharing smiles, handshakes and hugs.
It takes a while, but no one seems to mind. Building community is important.
“Hospitality is one of the strengths of this parish,” said Capuchin Father Richard Zelik, pastor of St. Benedict the Moor. “If you’re away for a while and come back, we’ll remember you.”
Hospitality in parishes is a vital part of On Mission for The Church Alive!, especially as groupings of parishes are formed and people begin to get to know one another.
It’s been said that the Catholic Church is the only organization that exists mainly for the sake of those who do not belong. “It’s not a club for members,” Father James Mallon wrote in his book, “Divine Renovation.” “Hospitality means reaching out to the stranger.”
Parishioners at Our Lady of Joy in Holiday Park try to live up to their parish name, especially during liturgy. “Greeting people at the doors is where it begins,” said their pastor, Father Al Zapf. “We have to always make them feel like they’re at home.”
Hospitality and relationship building continues far beyond the Mass at Our Lady of Joy. Seventy volunteers with the parish S.O.S. ministry—Serving Our Seniors—regularly visit and help many homebound individuals with shopping and household tasks, and to share lunch together. New parishioners are invited to participate in various ministries. Care packages are sent to college students and members of the military.
Father Paul Zywan, pastor of St. Alexis Parish in Wexford, is mindful of Catholics who only occasionally come to church.
“There’s no second chance to make a good first impression,” Father Zywan said. “Whenever we encounter those who have fallen away from the faith, we have to be ready to welcome them.
“Every member of the parish needs to foster that culture of hospitality,” he added.
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Meadow Lands has earned a reputation for being welcoming. Its works at it.
“We have to look at ourselves and our practices, and think how people who are not part of our community might perceive us,” Father Carmen D’Amico said at a diocesan evangelization summit last month. “Sometimes we’re not family-friendly. When a little kid misbehaves, we turn to look.”
He suggested that Catholics should go to a church they’re not familiar with and see what that’s like, in order to be more sensitive to the needs of others.
“Sometimes a person may think, ‘This is my pew where I pray,’ and God forbid if someone interferes with that,” Father D’Amico said. “If someone comes up to your pew and they expect you to move over, uh-uh!”
“We are the people of God, not just people of a particular church building,” said Father Phil Farrell, regional vicar of Vicariate 4. “It’s important to understand that we’re part of the broader, universal church. We all belong here.”
“Relationships and belonging are at the heart of hospitality,” Father Mallon wrote. “Remember to smile!”
“We’re human, so we need to reach out to people,” Father Zelik said. “It’s helpful, that kind of friendly atmosphere.”