PITTSBURGH (ChurchMilitant.com) - With its shrinking flock and declining number of priests, the bishop of Pittsburgh is turning to the Charismatic Renewal for a solution.
A Pittsburgh diocesan committee called On Mission for the Church Alive is charged with managing the decline in the number of Catholics in the pews by merging, grouping and consolidating parishes. The group also seeks to make the best of the diocese's bad situation by solidifying community bonds and strengthening the faith lives of the few remaining parishioners.
One way the diocese is seeking renewal, according to a report from CBS Pittsburgh, is through a charismatic worship event known as Festival of Praise (FOP).
"It's a raucous, hand-waving affair that doesn't even look Catholic at all," CBS reports.
FOPs are the brainchild of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS), a Catholic institution in eastern Ohio less than a one-hour drive from Pittsburgh.
As a whole, FUS is known for its commitment to Catholic teaching and Catholic identity, standing in the face of the anti-Catholic progressivism that has devastated so many Catholic universities in the United States.
FOPs typically center on eucharistic adoration and a eucharistic procession. They feature the required traditional elements, like the O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo, times of silence during exposition, the use of incense and the closing benediction. But FOPs often take place in large gymnasiums and feature contemporary worship music, crowds with their hands in the air, impassioned speakers and people collapsing to the ground "getting slain in the spirit."
FOPs are often criticized as lacking an authentically Catholic basis, and of looking for manifestations of the Spirit in ways that hinder deeper growth in the theological virtue of Faith.
A local news crew filmed a FOP on Saturday at St. Albert the Great in Baldwin, a borough in the Pittsburgh metro area. Saint Albert's closed as a parish in 2016, and is now part of a merger known as Holy Apostles Parish.
The news report shows Bp. Zubik saying to the crowd at the FOP, "If anyone dares to say that the Church is dead, we're going to invite you to the diocese of Pittsburgh."
The video also addresses school mergers, noting that the diocese hopes these mergers will bring "new energy." Instead of dozens of small, underfunded Catholic schools on the brink of closure, the diocese wants to have a handful of strong schools with more resources and larger student bodies.
Bishop Zubik told the reporter, "Sure, when change happens, people get ticked. But I believe an awful lot of those people, when they start to see the life that's happening, will say, 'Maybe what I did was a precipitous decision, and now I can really come back.'"
The bishop's new policies are a response to the continued decrease in practicing Catholics in Pittsburgh. The video notes, "While more than 600,000 people in the diocese identify as Catholic, the vast majority no longer practice their faith. Since 2000, Mass attendance is down by more than 40 percent, as are Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations and Holy Matrimony."
The news report compares the consolidation programs to an emergency surgery: "Call it a radical surgical procedure. There will be bloodletting; churches will close; schools will be shuttered. But the bishop says in the end it will save the patient."
The news anchors on CBS affiliate KDKA-TV mentioned the downfall of the city's steel industry and the resulting emigration of blue-collar families. They noted that the declining number of Catholics in Pittsburgh was probably augmented by this phenomenon.
Pittsburgh is part of a stretch of the United States known as the "Rust Belt," so named because it was devastated throughout the 20th century by factory closures, the collapse of heavy industry and the decline of trade-shipping on waterways (i.e., the Great Lakes and the Ohio River). Hundreds of tiny factory towns in the area were devastated by the loss of blue-collar jobs, as were former industrial powerhouse cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit.
But in explaining the continued downfall of the Church in Pittsburgh, other commentators point to the fact that it was led for decades by liberal prelates like Cdl. Donald Wuerl — now stationed in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C.