Assembly 2021 at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, Pa.
By The Office of Religuious Education
and David Mayernik Jr., Editor
“In a Metropolitan Church, sui iuris, an Assembly is to be held according to the norms of canon 140-145 and is to be convoked at least every five years” (The Eastern Catholic Code of Canon Law).
The faithful of the Metropolia along with the Most Reverend Archbishop William C. Skurla and Most Reverend Bishop Kurt Burnette, gathered Nov. 5 to 6 in an Assembly at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Munhall, Pa.
Their purpose was to explore ways in which the church can improve the ability to listen to the faithful and learn what the pandemic has taught us about worship, parish life, the American family, technology and our faith.
This opportunity paved the way for the Metropolia to enter into the consultation period in preparation for the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops to be held in 2023 at the Vatican in Rome. More information on the Synod can be found on the USCCB website.
Gifted presenters included Archpriest John Kachuba, Eparchy of Parma; Therese Fetsko, Eparchy of Parma; Father Valerian Michlik, Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Father Andrew Summerson, Eparchy of Parma; Most Rev. Kurt Burnette, Eparchy of Passaic; Deacon Tom Shubeck, Eparchy of Passaic; and Christopher Russo, Eparchy of Passaic.
All presentations were recorded and are available for viewing.on St. John the Baptist Cathedral’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/StJohnsMunhall.
A panel participated in an evaluation/summary activity at the end of the program.
Members of the panel were: Deacon Greg Loya, Eparchy of Parma; Diane Rabaj, Eparchy of Passaic; Helen Kennedy, Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Christopher Russo, Eparchy of Passaic; Blaise Wisniewski, Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; and Sister Susan Sisko, OSBM, Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.
Their ideas and suggestions were a valuable contribution on how to encourage participation, communion and mission in our parish communities.
Ninety-three participants attended the Assembly, representing all four eparchies.
Tentative plans are in process for a 2022 Assembly to take place in the Eparchy of Passaic. Check your eparchial websites in the near future for more information.
The Archeparchial Office of Religious Education would like to thank Archpriest Andrew Deskevich, Rector of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, Pa. and the Cathedral catering staff for hosting the Assembly.
Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck
Even with the uncertainty of the past two years, Deacon Thomas began his talk Friday evening with the theme “Looking Back: Looking Ahead with a Hopeful Heart.”
During this pandemic, he said studies show a trend of anxiety and depression among younger adults and those without a high school education.
He pointed out the pandemic may have accelerated decreased church attendance, likening it to a “swarm of insects.”
“That swarm came into our lives and disrupted it and stirred up the elephant in the room. We can’t ignore it.”
On Saturday, Deacon Thomas discussed how looking ahead with a hopeful heart echoes Pope Benedict’s words that “hope is communal” and “no one is saved alone.”
“Our hope is for one another and that includes our enemies and strangers.”
Deacon Thomas said we have to work to more fully “go forth in peace” by reaching out to others who have not been to church in awhile, which he referred to as “nones.”
“We can perform these spiritual acts of mercy in different ways,” he said.
“We can’t be those frigid Christians that Chrysostom described who are indifferent to the salvation of others. It must begin with our participation in the Divine Liturgy…it is the only way to look forward with a hopeful heart.”
Deacon Thomas cautioned not to expect instant results, as sometimes seeds take months or years to take root.
“It comes down to person-to-person contact. It comes down to keeping an open, attentive eye and seeing people who have a need.
“We can learn and we can, with courage, reach out and make a difference in somebody’s life.”
Father Valerian Michlik
Discussing the future of worship in the Byzantine Catholic Church, Father Valerian said parishes have a vital role to play in the post-pandemic recovery.
But first he looked back to his final public Divine Liturgy at St. Gregory in Upper St. Clair, Pa. – March 15, 2020, the third Sunday of the Great Fast – before the lockdown.
He called the coming challenge “overwhelming.”
Worship was transferred to our domestic churches and livestreaming of services, installed at St. Gregory in 2019, became a necessity. The parish’s Bethany Ministry helped him stay in touch with parishioners.
“How did your parish priest respond to beginning of pandemic?” he asked those assembled.
“We came up with a plan, we came up with a program how to go out there and reach all of our parishioners.”
As covid infection rates decline and vaccinations increase, Father Valerian said he can envision the pandemic coming to an end.
And he feels congregational life will increasingly be more important.
“We may still feel a spiritual connection to physical places of worship that cannot be replicated in our homes. Our parishioners still feel that strong tie to the church building, to the community.”
He called it a “vertical function of worship” for our people.
“Sacred places still play an important role and unique function in our lives.”
The “horizontal aspect” of churches as community centers must also be kept in mind.
“When we put those two together, it’s the cross of our Lord.”
Father Andrew Summerson
Father Andrew – speaking from the perspectives of son, pastor and scholar – discussed the essential features of the Divine Liturgy, calling it the “dynamite we have in our hands.”
He said perhaps being deprived of these gifts through the lockdown and attendance restrictions will give us a fresh perspective of the Liturgy.
“We’re trying to move forward with hope.”
Father Andrew said we need prayer to bring people back to the Church post-pandemic, citing the fruits of such prayers have included bringing a seven-year-old girl he baptized on Pentecost Sunday at St. Mary in Whiting, Ind. when churches resumed in-person worship in 2020.
“Industrial strength doses of liturgical prayer that includes, vespers, matins and Liturgy.”
He said the hardest part of the Divine Liturgy is “lifting up our hearts,” or bringing our brokenness and troubles to the altar so we can be transformed.
“We need an excellent liturgy to proclaim this excellent Good News.”
n n n
Bishop Kurt Burnette, DD
Most Rev. Bishop Kurt Burnette, Eparchy of Passaic, discussed “The Eucharist” Holy Gifts to Holy People,” taking an in-depth look at the Body, Blood and Soul of Christ we receive during the Divine Liturgy.
“A gift beyond anything we can say in words,” he said.
Bishop Kurt said Scriptures say “the life is in the blood.”
“When we receive the precious flesh of Jesus, we receive the flesh that suffered as a consequence of our sins and for the forgiveness of our sins. We receive the flesh that walked on foot all over the Holy Land to bring light into darkness. We receive the flesh that healed lepers and the blind and the deaf and raised the dead and freed souls in bondage to demons and made joyful wine at the wedding feast.
“That same flesh calms the storm inside of our own souls.”
Christopher, creator of the young adult ministry “Theosis in Action” in the Eparchy of Passaic, ended Assembly 2021 by providing insight to the question “Where do we go from here?”
“You need three things: beauty, truth and goodness,” all of which the Byzantine Catholic Church is blessed to have.
He said the richness of the Byzantine liturgical life “engages the senses” and “being that icon of Christ to others fueled by that beauty and faith and truth.”
“The first interaction some people may have with our parishes is “Wow, this is beautiful.”
He presented an image of his family’s dinner table on Christmas Eve, saying the head of the table is always left empty and set with the finest things they own as a symbolic welcoming of Christ into our hearts.
“The seat is empty because the seat is reserved for the uninvited guest,” he said.
“We need to welcome those that may feel uninvited and give them the seat at the head of the table. This includes young people and engaging them further.”