Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Moving beyond the parochial vision" 2

Almost three years ago, I moved to Steubenville, Ohio with my family, and here I discovered, to my amazement, that there are many, many ways to be a "conservative" Catholic -- and not all of them are orthodox! I have met conservatives here who are just as intent on changing the Church as Chicago liberals. Some are as suspicious of and resistant to our local bishop as liberals were to our archbishop in Chicago. But perhaps the most challenging thing for me to witness has been an astonishing lack of unity among Catholics here. If forgiveness is characterized, as Father Giussani says, by "the capacity to tolerate difference," then from where I'm standing forgiveness seems to be in short supply.

I know very well that if I am going to make these kinds of claims, I should back them up with hard evidence -- either that, or keep politely quiet. My point, here, is not to write an expose of Catholicism in Steubenville, though. What I have written so far are merely my impressions and opinions, so that I can discuss particular developments that have taken place in the diocese.

There are eight parishes in this city. Of the 6,074 (2002 census) Catholics living in the city, 4,117 attend Mass. We have six priests. The number of practicing Catholics does not warrant keeping eight parishes open and operating; nor does it warrant six priests, when the rest of the diocese (comprising several counties) is experiencing a severe priest shortage, which promises to get worse before it gets better. On May 29, 2003 our bishop, the Most Reverend Daniel Conlon, convened the first meeting of The Steubenville Task Force to determine how to address this discrepancy. In due time, the task force recommended that six parishes close (including the current cathedral), a new cathedral be built that would become the parish church to everyone from the closing parishes, and that all ministries in the new cathedral and the two parishes that remain open be consolidated. The recommendations were transformed into a plan, and the plan began to be implemented; then, with the cornerstone for the new Triumph of the Cross cathedral already in place, 8.5 million raised for its construction, and many of the city's Catholic ministries consolidated, last month the building finance committee announced that there were insufficient funds to build the cathedral. Jim Coyle, writing on the new cathedral parish blog, made the following comments:

Even as we were continuing to develop the designs and plans for the new church and cathedral, we could see that financial support of the capital campaign was weak in most of the Steubenville parishes. I think that by not financially supporting this project, many people were expressing their sadness and pain about their parishes being closed. But it was most difficult for me to see and hear the anger being expressed in public. Through frequent letters to the editor in the local newspaper, a number of accusations and allegations were made that were more destructive than constructive. At times language and content of public conversations were extremely negative and inappropriate. Too often words and actions expressed anger and bitterness - and I think were actually often reflecting pain.

For the Catholic Church in Steubenville, 2007 ended much differently than it started. Divisions are deeper, the future of a church for a new parish is unknown - and our area needs hope and peace more than ever. My prayer as we approach the start of Lent, anticipating Holy Week and Easter, is that each of us - myself certainly included - will turn to God and experience the hope and peace He has for each of us in new and tangible ways. And through that, worship Him in heartfelt unity.

I hunger and thirst for this heartfelt unity that Mr. Coyle also wants -- so much so that my mind has been preoccupied with schemes and projects to promote unity, each one less feasible than the last. I keep telling myself that schemes and projects are worthless -- when I read the quotes from Jean Vanier's Community and Growth that Frederick quoted on Sunday, it was with a stab of recognition. Especially this one:

«I am struck by the number of people who want to create or enter community. Their energies are so taken up by this aim that they no longer see reality or those beside them who need their attention and their touch. So their project blinds them. The best way to come into community is to have no project, but to live intensely, with all that means by way of work, openness to others, listening and welcome. Then the passage to life in community comes quite naturally.» (32)

I am praying that through the grace of this season of Lent, I can finally learn the truth of these words, not intellectually, but with my whole self.


Freder1ck said...

Wow! that's a radical contraction!

Suzanne said...

Yes, and the response has been radical, too.