WALKING BY FAITH TOGETHER | The Catholic Exponent
MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
Four hundred thirty. That is the number of days I have been your bishop. Time flies! I remain so humbled by this appointment by our Holy Father. And I am honored to be your bishop. In our short time together, we have accomplished much.
The night before I was ordained a bishop, I had the privilege of joining with our priests for a Vespers service in which I gave my Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity in the presence of the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. For the first time I preached to the priests and centered my reflection on the words of the prophet Jeremiah. “For I know well the plan I have in mind for you . . . plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future full of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
During this past year I have learned so much about the clergy, religious, and faithful of this diocese. Every day yields more knowledge. And yet, there is so much more for me to learn. In that spirit of knowing and learning more, and trusting in the knowledge of our priests, I recently convened a meeting with our priests to seek their input and investment as we move forward together.
Our diocese is blessed with a solid fraternity of priests. Currently, we have 69 active priests, 72 percent of whom are over the age of 50, and 54 percent of whom are over 60. There are seven active priests over 70. Thirty-nine of our priests have multiple responsibilities and 27 minister to multiple parishes. While there are presently 13 priests who serve in some capacity of central administration for the diocese, no one is fulltime and all balance their diocesan work with parish ministry. This year, nine priests are retiring with the possibility of only two ordinations for this year. There are 14 men studying for the priesthood for our diocese.
While these statistics could be viewed as startling, I want you to know that I still believe in a future full of hope. But this hope cannot be false or nostalgic. With a fewer availability of priests, things cannot remain the same. Change is inevitable not just because of declining clergy resources but also because we can do better.
Pope Francis points to this necessity for change in our parishes in “The Joy of the Gospel.” He says, “It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented.” (#28)
Not only do we have to make sure that our priests do not burn out, but we also must do better with the mission of the Church. I believe that this means we need to step back and look beyond ourselves or our immediate world. Parish partnerships and collaboratives along with shared planning and resources are keys to our future. In addition, just as our priests are sacrificing much covering multiple parishes and additional responsibilities, our faithful will need to expect sacrifice. One of the ways this has occurred already is with the enforcement of only three Masses on Sunday for a priest. Keep in mind, you can attend Mass in the neighboring parish and use your envelopes which will be forwarded to your parish.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by Father Mike Mikstay to celebrate Holy Mass for the faithful of St. Patrick, Kinsman, and Our Lady of Victory, Andover. These are two parishes shepherded by one pastor. Following the Mass, I was asked, along with Msgr. Robert Siffrin and Msgr. John Zuraw, to attend a parish meeting regarding their possible merger into one parish. This effort did not come from the diocese but from the work of Father Mikstay and his parishioners. I am happy to announce this weekend that these two parishes will be merged. I commend Father Mikstay and his parishioners for their openness to this new model. I am also grateful to Father Fratisek Katrinek who merged the two parishes he was serving in Warren. One merged parish not only forges a sense of unity that Jesus calls us to, but it also no longer means a duplication of services for the pastor.
It is also important that we encourage more men and women to embrace lay ecclesial ministry. Recently I renamed one of our offices to include the recruiting, training, and support of lay ecclesial ministers who serve as co-workers to our priests. We have a very dedicated group of lay ecclesial ministers who collaborate with our pastors for the good of the Church.
The diocese is also beginning work on providing a document for the formation and utilization of parish pastoral councils. The role of the pastoral council is to work with the pastor as a visionary to form a pastoral plan for the parish. A pastor and the parish are well served by this advisory group.
As the regional plan continues to unfold, I ask for your openness. We are committed to realizing the mission of the Church, but we do need to make some modifications. We are living in a time in which we need to collaborate and share more with one another. Secondly, I ask for your prayers. Please pray for our clergy, religious, and lay ecclesial ministers. Pray for an increase of vocations. And please pray for me. Finally, I ask you to trust in the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis reminds us in “The Joy of the Gospel” of the need to trust in the Holy Spirit. “Keeping our missionary fervor alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is He who ‘helps us in our weakness’ (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Spirit constantly…Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide, and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place.” (#280)