On April 29, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced the details of its restructuring and evangelization initiative, “On Mission for the Church Alive.” The initiative, which was three years in the making, reduces 188 parishes in the diocese into 57 parish groupings, while closing no churches. And it shifts the responsibilities of 65 percent of its priests. Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik recently spoke to Our Sunday Visitor about the changes.
Our Sunday Visitor: What were the root factors that prompted the origins of this initiative?
Bishop David A. Zubik: Three years ago, we challenged everybody in the diocese to do a year of prayer. Two years ago, we started to take a look at pulling together what we then called models — how parishes in geographic areas could come together. We had input from more than 30,000 of our people who gave their insights, and the process continued to unfold to where we were this past weekend, where we announced that we were going to be moving into 57 groupings of our 188 parishes, with the thought that over the course of the next five years, those parishes would move together to form a new parish.
The purpose of doing this, though, is to make sure that we are wisely using all our resources, with the thought of making every one of our parishes complete, so that every parish would have a good religious education program, every parish would somehow be associated with a Catholic school, that every parish would have an outreach to the poor, that every parish would be reaching out to young people. The whole purpose of doing this was evangelization.
OSV: What difference did having local individuals weigh in on the initiative make to the overall process?
Bishop Zubik: Hugely. I think that when we started off, initially we started off talking about models, and we actually had meetings. We had two town hall meetings in every single parish. And so people had a chance to be able to see how the parishes would come together. And in a number of instances, changes were made, even as late as the course of the last month. I think what people really came to appreciate over the course of the last couple of years is how much I was really listening to what they had to say.
OSV: How did you end up at this conclusion not to close any churches?
Bishop Zubik: That’s not what this is about. This is a not a process about closing anything; it’s about bringing people together. But at the same time, it’s a matter of taking a look at wisely using the resources that we do have. I think that for a while that’s all that was thought: You’re going to close my church, or my parish is going to be suppressed. No, the first thing that has to happen is that we have to come together.
OSV: What do you anticipate as the greatest challenge ahead?
Bishop Zubik: I think the greatest challenge right now is for people to come together to form a good relationship. I think we’re a lot better off than we may have been when we started this process publicly, but I think we have to continue to make people believe (that the most important thing is to) form relationships. I keep on reminding our priests that, especially the priests who have been appointed as administrators of the 57 groupings. I think sometimes especially people in leadership positions want to get things done. But the most important thing (they have to do is) bring (their) faith communities together.
OSV: What is the biggest recommendation you would make to other dioceses dealing with similar challenges?
Bishop Zubik: Listen on two fronts. First of all, start with prayer, listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling you. Because it’s the Holy Spirit who’s guiding us. I like to think of this as a new Pentecost. And second of all, listen to each other. Especially if you’re the bishop, you’ve got to listen to where your people are. There’s so much mistrust about authority in the world we live in, not just in the Church. You have to really build up people’s trust so that they know that when they say something that I’m really listening. And if what they put forth was not realized in the final decision, I can give reasons why.
OSV: What did you learn the most from this process?
Bishop Zubik: How much our people love the Church. I think everybody realizes there’s give and take on everybody’s part. Everybody’s going to have to sacrifice something. It really is a reflection of the 28 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It wasn’t always an easy process, but it was a process where the community came together under the direction of Peter and Paul and the other apostles, and I just tried to be consciously aware of that as we were moving ahead.
OSV: Twenty years down the road, what does a thriving diocese look like?
Bishop Zubik: Parishes that are really helping to build each other’s faith in Jesus and helping to do that by how we come together in worship, how we come together to learn what our faith is all about, what kind of job we do in terms of evangelization, how we reach out to the poor. Ultimately, we want to do everything we can to help people get to heaven.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.