Concern for our future
Metropolitan Archbishop William Skurla has directed the Commission for Renewal and Revitalization to organize an Assembly for churches in the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh to be held May 29 to 30, 2018 at St. John Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Munhall, Pa.
The purpose of the Assembly is to ensure the vitality and growth of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the 21st century.
Eastern Christians began to immigrate to the United States of America around 1874 because of economic and political circumstances in their home countries. The United States was a beacon of hope, attracting them with the eloquent words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” They brought their faith with them to the New World. Carpatho-Rusyn newcomers settled for the most part in the northeast. During the 1880s and 1890s, employment was found in coal-mining, factories, oil refineries, steel mills and other related industries. But there were no churches in America for the people to worship. The Ruthenians were almost exclusively Catholic and were first placed under the jurisdiction of the local Roman Catholic bishop and often were not welcomed and forbidden to form parishes. In 1902, an apostolic visitator was appointed for the Ruthenians in America. During his tenure, turbulent times existed between the secular leaders and the people from the various eastern European countries. After much turmoil, the Vatican appointed a bishop for America’s Greek Catholics in 1907. In 1905, it was reported that there were 81 priests of the Byzantine Rite serving Ruthenians in America.
The story of the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States shows how a people grow and adapt when they migrate to new lands. To live in the new country they must change their ways of work, their family lives, their language and whole way of thinking and relating to others. While learning to work and act in American society, they kept their own language at home, built churches for their own rite, and kept their own traditions as much as possible, probably even more so than in the country from which they came. This was natural and human, for everyone needs a home and an identity. The discomfort and uncertainty they felt in their new country was eased by their observance of their original values. These people in the process made a great contribution to American life.
In America, their churches grew and flourished because they loved their church and were committed to its survival. Under very difficult conditions, and sometimes in the midst of poverty, they set aside part of their earnings to build churches and to support a clergy. Churches existed in small, close communities. It has been one of the strengths of the Eastern Catholic Churches to build strong and dedicated parish communities. In the early days of their immigration, ethnic groups tended to gather in neighborhoods.
However, as a result of greater mobility and opportunities, they were no longer bound to their neighborhoods for their friends and acquaintances. The church continued to grow until the 1970s. But there has been a decline since that time due to children leaving the areas to go to further their education and job opportunities.
The Archeparchial Commission for Renewal and Revitalization was established by Metropolitan Judson Procyk in 2002. The Commission continued its work under Metropolitan Basil Schott. Archbishop William now chairs the Commission, which he leads with Very Rev. Andrew Deskevich, Archpriest Dennis Bogda, Very Reverend Ronald Larko, Helen Kennedy, Deacon Dennis Prestash and Deacon Raymond Zadzilko serving as members. The Commission seeks to address how to make the Byzantine Catholic Church “alive” for its members today.
In June 2004, Archbishop Basil reached out to parishioners of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh asking them to complete a five-page Revitalization Survey asking about various aspects of parish life and soliciting their concerns and suggestions. The survey disclosed a Church population of almost one-half above the age of 70. Over the years since this survey was conducted, we know our population has continued to
The current Commission reviewed the 2004 Revitalization Survey, the results of the Parish Census and Financial Reports
Analysis of October 2011, and the results of a Questionnaire for the Synod of October 2015 and comments from the Pittsburgh Eparchy returned with the Questionnaire. Upon review of all of the data from 2004 to 2015, the Commission identified six pre-selected topics that could be addressed at the Assembly. These include:
- Create a plan to raise awareness of Eastern Theology within the Church as a whole.
- Create ongoing education programs for all children and adults, that is life-long learning.
- Establish social activities for opportunities to come together as a Church family.
- Develop formal methods to find new parishioners as well as bringing former parishioners back, including diversity of new members.
- Develop formal orientation and welcome programs for new parishioners.
- Make use of technology to reach out to parish members and the community such as: parish Web pages, electronic bulletins, activities and events, and an explanation of the Byzantine Church.
While all of these concerns seem daunting, the Archeparchy is taking a giant step forward. Archbishop William has directed the Commission for Renewal and Revitalization to organize an Assembly scheduled for May 29 to 31, 2018. This Assembly will include clergy, religious and laity from all parishes of the Archeparchy. The laity is to be a critical part of the Assembly as they will help bring the fruits of the Assembly back to their parishes. The Assembly will provide opportunities to learn more about our Church today, exchange information and ideas, and pray. The Commission is in the planning stage and more information will be provided in the future.
Our ancestors brought the Byzantine Catholic Church to America over a century ago and passed the rich tradition of their faith to their heirs through to the present time. They treasured their history and the Holy Tradition of the Church. We stand upon their shoulders as their legacy and are now called upon to see that the Byzantine Catholic Church remains vibrant to provide the faithful, and ultimately the world, with the joyful proclamation of the Gospel following the Eastern traditions now and forever.