When Bishop Zubik was first installed as the Bishop of Pittsburgh, he published a pastoral letter called “The Church Alive!”. It is his vision statement of revitalization for the new evangelization in the diocese. In 2014, Bishop Zubik wrote another pastoral letter, “The Church Evangelizing!“, which focuses on the theme of friendship as the primary method of evangelization. Dr. Michel Therrien, the Secretary for Evangelization and Catholic Education, summed up Bishop Zubik’s vision for evangelization by saying, “We evangelize and advance the mission of Christ primarily through relationships.”
This has led the Diocese of Pittsburgh to focus on evangelization as the way to be on mission for The Church Alive!. According to Dr. Therrien, the initial step of implementing “The Church Evangelizing!” was to invite parishes to create small discipleship groups focused on reading the letter and taking its message to heart. “We had a fair amount of success getting parishes… on board with that,” said Dr. Therrien.
The diocese conducted a major capital campaign for “On Mission for the Church Alive!”,which received nearly $230 million in pledges. Now the diocese is working on the planning process, which is Bishop Zubik’s strategy for implementing his vision for “The Church Alive!” throughout the diocese. “The planning initiative revolves around two things,” said Dr. Therrien. “One is the need to reorganize and align our resources so that we can do a better job doing ministry, especially evangelization.” This includes consolidating and becoming more efficient so that the diocese can put more of its resources towards ministry.
“The second part,” continued Dr. Therrien, “is to re-imagine how we can do ministry focused on evangelization….Right now I am launching a pilot initiative built around evangelization and discipleship.” For this initiative, Dr. Therrien and his team are working with eight parishes within the diocese that are ripe for a revitalization process. “The biggest problem is not so much that people don’t know what we need to be doing,” said Dr. Therrien. “It is that they don’t have the resources to do so.”
Part of the campaign funds are being used for this pilot initiative, which will provide parishes with resources as well as diocesan-led training for lay volunteers in the work of evangelization and disciple making. This pilot initiative is a beta test that will last about two years. It will then get rolled into the “On Mission for the Church Alive!” plan, which will be implemented throughout the diocese in 2018.
The pilot initiative will walk with the parishes through a five step process. The first step is to cultivate an awakening experience for parishioners and will use the ChristLife program to do so. Secondly, participants will move into small discipleship groups for deeper formation and catechesis. Third, they’ll participate in a gift discernment process to help them understand how God has gifted them. Fourth, they’ll be called forth to some sort of apostolic work. The final piece will be helping parishes develop a culture of missionary discipleship.
Each parish has a core team of lay volunteers in place who are being formed to carry out the pilot initiative for their parish in collaboration with staff and their pastor. The process was launched in April with a day-long training session for all the core team members. There will be a “Discovering Christ” training conference in July and Dr. Therrien and his team will be working with them to launch the “Discovering Christ” program in their parishes in January.
“The idea,” said Dr. Therrien, “is to form a culture of missionary discipleship in these parishes to help the people realize that an integral part of being a member of a parish is to grow as a disciple of Jesus who is on mission for the Church Alive!“
“We don’t look at evangelization programmatically ,” said Dr. Therrien. “For example…the Liturgy is part of the very fabric of our existence as a parish. It’s not a program; it doesn’t have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is always part of the life of the community. We really haven’t made discipleship and the formation of disciples…a part of parish life in the same way.”