Posted by: Fr Chris | June 11, 2010

A Sad End to a Good Conference

Glory to Jesus Christ.

As many know, we had our first-ever national gathering of Byzantine Catholic priests in Pittsburgh for three days this week. Centered at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, we heard two talks, from Archbishop Cyril Vasil, SJ, (Secretary of the Oriental Congregation and from our Church in Slovakia) and Fr David Petras (the leading liturgical scholar of our Church in the US).  But one of the best things of these days was the fact that so many Byzantine Catholic priests came together: 150 out of about 215.  I met the priest from St Nicholas in New Orleans – he is an African-American professor at Xavier University. I saw priests I had not seen since I moved west in 1985. We were old, young, and not-so-young; a lot of grey hairs, and some all white-headed ones. At the closing Liturgy, the youngest and oldest priests were concelebrants with the bishops.  The committee which planned the whole event arranged for painted wooden hand crosses to be given out to each priest, with our name and ordination date engraved in the wood.

Our archbishop however, was not present. He was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer last year.

He went into the hospital again before we all arrived, and then his situation worsened. We went from that announcement and everyone adjusting to the facto that he was terminally ill (Wednesday) to his death on Thursday

Talk about shocks!

Burial will take place next week at the motherhouse of our Basilian Sisters in Uniontown. May his memory be eternal!

There are probably a lot of things one could comment on, but I will restrict myself to these:

1. The oldest priest is 90 years old, born in a village near the town of Serednye, in Transcarpathian Oblast of Ukraine. The youngest priest is a native of the US, born to American parents. Our Byzantine Catholic Church is very much an American church, but see #3.

2. The archbishop had become a Byzantine Franciscan in 1958. As in the Roman Catholic Church in the US in the 1950s, there was a big boom of religious Orders, schools and new churches in our Church, concentrated in the Northeast. Now the Franciscans have a only a few friars at one friary; many of the parishes in the Northeast are clustered with one priest serving two to four churches; our Orders have declined dramatically. Back in 1959, young people who moved to Washington DC were told that we couldn’t have a church in the capital as it was too far south. Now we have a cluster of parishes across the Deep South: Texas, Florida, and North Carolina.

3. While our youngest priest is American, several pastors come from Slovakia and Ukraine. We don’t have enough vocations to serve our parishes. Our big seminary has an accredited program which gives a degree, but less than 10 students! We again look for missionaries from the ancestral homeland of our Church.  Currently there are foreign-born priests serving in all three eparchies (but not the archeparchy), and all are married. It is a time of transition again. Why don’t we produce enough vocations? The Mukachevo eparchy has 350,000 communicants and 85 seminarians.  Our entire national Church can not muster 10 from about 180,000 communicants.  Sure, some churches can be closed where they are 10-20 miles apart, but that does not address the vocations issue, or encourage the evangelization of non-Byzantine Catholics.

4. Evangelization: surely there are a lot of people in Pennsylvania who would like to know God through our Byzantine Catholic Church.  The days of “our people” providing the members of the pews are over. When meeting with our seminarians during the eparchy’s conference, none of them come from families with two Byzantine Catholic parents. Where is the drive to bring God to souls? Where is the passion to see our Church grow and flourish among all nations? I do not believe that it is God’s will that our Church should dwindle away – we have the best shot at forming and sustaining an American Byzantine Catholic Church, but we have to be willing to listen, serve, and pray very hard.

Byzantine Catholic history in the US goes back to the 1880s. I sure hope that I do not live to see a sad end to that history. Rather, I hope to see a strong vibrant Church, like that of our western eparchy, rise up with many new members ready to serve God!


  1. As always, thoughtful and insightful.

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