The Diocese of Greensburg, which is my home, received a mention in the post by Rocco Palmo in "Whispers" on January 14th. He was announcing the naming of Msgr. Joseph Hanefeldt as Bishop of Grand Island, Nebraska, and pointed out that in terms of Diocesan bishops over the age of 75, Bishop Lawrence Brandt of this Diocese should have been next. But the Church works as the Spirit guides.
Rocco mentioned that we are eagerly awaiting the news of this pending transition. He mentioned a petition that a group within the Diocese had begun that had 400 signatures. They call themselves "The Abrosians" and, as with the selection of Saint Ambrose by the local church, desire a say in who we will get as our shepherd. I have been tempted to join in that petition, but have hesitated for at least two reasons: a great many of those signatures are of people in parishes where there is great discontent and anger over mergers and partnerings and those feelings are directed more against the present administration than looking to the future good of the church ... and secondly, the effectiveness of such a petition is questionable. All but three of the priests who have signed the petition are from outside the diocese and I am sure are more concerned with the changing of the procedures for selection rather than the outcome for Greensburg.
But it got me thinking ... What do we need in the next shepherd of the Diocese of Greensburg? These are a few of my personal scattered thoughts.
Our diocese was founded only sixty four years ago this March (1951). It is young in age and small in size (four counties in Southwestern PA with only 3,300 square miles). It has much history; an ever increasing aging population and a decreasing overall population in numbers; a few moderate size cities, but mostly small towns and former coal mining and farming communities; ordinary, hard working, faith filled people of many ethnic backgrounds (mostly Europeans and those from Eastern Europe); and demographic changes that necessitate change even when it is not wanted. There are pockets of disheartened people, whose faith has been challenged over these last thirty five years or so and who feel as if they have been abandoned. There are many who have left the Church, and many more whose sense of loyalty to the faith is tentative at best. In many ways, we are like a great part of the Eastern section of the U.S. in demographics and challenges.
I hear what Pope Francis has called for in bishops and I have hope. We are in need of a pastor, a man of the people, a simple man of faith and prayer. We need a good preacher who breaks open the Word and is present to his people. We need someone who is courageous enough to meet the challenges that face us (and they are many) and to do so as a leader but also a fellow journeyer. We need someone who will see the wisdom of not living in the past but rather of recording and reminding ourselves of our rich heritage in these small "patch" parishes, many of whom no longer exist. We must not lose those stories and that past, but must cherish it in our hearts even as we move forward.
It grieves me terribly to see our churches less that full, and most importantly to see major celebrations at the Cathedral and elsewhere poorly attended. It speaks of a lack of pride or of apathy or of schedules that are too busy, but it does not speak of vibrant faith and joy. Bishop Coyne in his homily of installation the other day in Burlington, VT spoke of someone whose conversation he overheard that chose a "mega church" over the Catholic Church. The person said of the Catholic community that "it was like they mourn their religion". He said that he could relate to that statement, and so can I. He went on to say that "If we are going to call people to our churches and they do happen to come in, what will they find? People who have the joy of the "good news" in their hearts, people who are welcoming and encouraging, who celebrate the Church's liturgy with care and commitment or a people who `mourn their religion`."
We have been blessed with four very different bishops, each bringing their own personalities and talents to the job - one was a big city priest and bishop called to the "country" ... one was an inner city pastor who came as a father figure ... one came as an administrator and was often misunderstood ... and one came with a diplomatic background. I realize this is over simplistic, but that is my observation. Each had his strengths and weaknesses, as will the new bishop. I pray for a man of prayer, of deep faith, of overflowing joy, and a man of inspiring character. I trust that this is not too much to ask. Say a prayer - the people of this good diocese needs a good shepherd.