'Passion for service': Gathering centers on the Year of Faith
Social Ministry Institute inspires "love for God and neighbor"
More than 150 participated in the 21st annual Social Ministry Institute sponsored by the diocesan Department for Human Dignity and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The conference was held Sept. 17 at St. Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park.
Following an 8 a.m. Mass with Bishop David Zubik, participants moved to the Family Life Center of the parish for the remainder of the day's activities, which included a keynote address by Bishop Zubik, a plenary session presentation by Father Richard Infante, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Scott Township, and a noontime presentation by Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities, on "Witnessing Together in Faith, Hope and Love."
Helene Paharik, director of the Department for Human Dignity and diocesan associate general secretary, served as facilitator for the day's activities. She pointed out how all the presentations and workshops tie in service as a form of witness to our faith .
"At the heart of it all -- what carries us through -- is our faith," Bishop Zubik said in his keynote address.
He reflected on Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic letter, "Porta Fidei" ("The Door of Faith"), announcing the Year of Faith that begins Oct. 11 and concludes Nov. 24, 2013, on the solemnity of Christ the King.
Bishop Zubik discussed how the Year of Faith is intended to reinforce our belief, to strengthen us. From the Holy Father's letter, he said, "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy."
Applying this theme of faith to the social ministry of the church, Bishop Zubik added, "It is passion for service fixed and grounded in faith that drives us. If we are not rooted in faith, if we are not rooted in our beliefs, our work becomes busy work, our service becomes routine."
Bishop Zubik recalled a morning prayer from his grade-school days and adapted it to the social ministry theme: 'O God, help me to live my faith today as it were, my first day of service; my last day of service; my only day of service."
He noted that "in our ministries we open many doors: doors to recovery, doors to inclusion, doors to respect and dignity, doors to opportunity, doors to housing and material assistance, doors to hospitals and hospice, and yes, even doors to eternal life. As Jesus trusts us to open these doors, let you and me be mindful that this year especially we are called to open the door to faith."
Father Infante, in his plenary session, carried the participants through a 2,000-year history of the journey of faith, from Genesis up to the time that the Word was made flesh.
Throughout this entire history, we constantly see "God's love for us," he said. "Our love for God and neighbor is the heart of social ministry."
In Bible stories there is a constant message of love and mercy, he noted. "Charity is rooted in the word of God."
And in all of these stories, whether from the centuries before Christ or from the many parables he used in teaching, "the focus always comes back to a person -- how we care for each other, how we care for sons and daughters. Many parables are social justice, social ministry stories. We have to bring God's love and mercy into the world," Father Infante said. "What we know about God is what he revealed to us. Love, mercy, goodness and compassion -- these are what he wants us to share with others."
The afternoon assemblies included three concurrent workshops: one focusing on immigrants in the diocese, one on inviting others to witness with us, and a third on witnessing to life and marriage. The final plenary session of the day was a presentation by Msgr. Michael Begolly, pastor of Mount St. Peter Parish in New Kensington, titled "Our witness is nourished by the Eucharist."
Attendees included a wide range, from permanent deacons, pastoral associates and assistants, parish social ministers, volunteers, parishioners and staff members of other organizations within the diocese. What the attendees hoped to bring away from their participation was equally broad ranging.
Deacon Fred Eckhardt of St. Bernard Parish in Mount Lebanon said their local ministry fair "had really taken off, with many people involved. Our pastor, Father David Bonnar, has brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the parish, so anything I can bring back to the other ministries will be useful. I am chair of our human dignity committee and also work with persons with disabilities."
Jim Crable, pastoral assistant at St. Joseph Parish in Coraopolis, said, "I'm hoping to get more insights into evangelization and I want to learn more about the Eucharist and find ways for more people to see it in me."
At a resource tables, Janet Berna, a volunteer for Catholic Relief Services, talked about how CRS support of fair trade is a way of "teaching people how to fish so they can support themselves." She has been a volunteer for the past year and a half and is a parishioner at St. Stephen in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood.
"Our charity is rooted in God's word," said Paharik, recalling the overall theme of the conference, "The Year of Faith: Intensifying our Witness to Charity." "With the Year of Faith opening on 10-11-12, we will truly have the opportunity to intensify our witness in service and in faith."