Emily Stimpson reports on a visit to an inner city parish in Pittsburgh. A church that can seat 700 has 70 at Mass, and the church is about to close due to lack of support, vandalism and inner city blight. What can be done?
After Mass, a small group of elderly people stopped us to chat. We paid a compliment or two and Chris mentioned he’d tried visiting before. The parishioners just nodded their heads.
“Can’t keep it open anymore,” one older gentleman told us. “It’s the kids. We just spent $35,000 fixing the stained glass. They keep breaking the windows. It’s the same in the school. It’s closed now, but we can’t board the windows up fast enough. And the pipes and gutters, they’ve taken all them too.”
“Copper,” another woman added, by way of explanation.
Right then, the priest, who was making his way back up the aisle, stopped to chat with our little group. The conversation repeated itself—“Such a beautiful Church.” “Such a bad neighborhood.”
“Sounds like you’ve cut your work cut out for you,” said Chris, adding some momentary variety to the dialogue. “You’ll have to get out and evangelize those boys.”
This is the problem: we’ve got to maintain the church we’ve got, evangelize the people in the pew, build up the stagnant, cold and indifferent Catholics. That’s an overwhelming task in itself, AND we’re supposed to reach out and evangelize the drug addicts, vandals, criminals and gang members?
And this is supposed to be the priest’s job? What we need is radical conversion of the Catholics in the pew first. Then, just then we might have the army of Christians necessary to evangelize the world around us.