PITTSBURGH — As the Diocese of Pittsburgh moves to condense its 188 parishes into 57 multiparish groups, Bishop David Zubik hopes the new communities will become inspiring witnesses to the Catholic faith.

“The first and most important thing each of those groupings have to do is come together and form a single community to develop relationships with each other,” Bishop Zubik told CNA.

“We are doing this … for evangelization purposes to try and invite people who’ve left the Church to come back, to try and invite people who are in the Church to become more excited about our faith,” and possibly inspire non-Catholics to want to know more about Catholicism, he said.

The initiative, called “The Church Alive,” began in April 2015, with a year of prayer for the whole diocese. Since the second year of the program, 300-plus parish consolation meetings have been held and more than 30,000 religious, clergy and laity have participated.

The integration process will formally start in October of this year and will extend over the next two to five years. The 57 parish groups will consist of two to seven neighboring churches; no churches will be closed yet.

A clerical team, led by a pastor, will serve the needs of several parishes during the transition. The team will include parochial vicars, parish chaplains and deacons, while retired priests will assist as they are able.

A temporary Mass and confession schedule will go into effect Oct. 15. The number of weekend Masses will depend on the number of priests assigned to that parish group, but each priest will not be able to exceed three Masses, as proscribed by canon law.

After relationships have been built between the different communities, the bishop will receive three suggestions for each parish’s new name and recommendations for the programs needed for the parish.  

Bishop Zubik emphasized to CNA his hope that this consolidation of communities will be an effective tool for evangelization, generating excitement within the Church and strengthening resources to be used for outreach programs.

“By consolidating the resources of parishes in a grouping, what we’ll do is make sure every parish has all of the programs that it needs to be a parish: So every parish will have a religious education program; every parish will have some association with a Catholic school; every parish will have an organized program for reaching out to the poor,” he said.

Some of the parishes have already completed the process, Bishop Zubik said, pointing to four churches in south Pittsburgh that were merged to become Holy Apostle parish in 2016. The churches had been struggling with finances and attendance, and one pastor was reassigned five years before to lead the parish group.

The initial transition posed a struggle to the churches, the bishop said, but as parishioners came together and relationships where built, the community gladly agreed to become one parish.

“They are so excited now about being together that they are not so concerned about the things there were concerned about five years ago,” he said. “I think that that’s kind of my dream for what is going to happen in all of the 57 groupings.”

In an April 28 statement, Bishop Zubik recognized that the reorganization will be a difficult process. However, he challenged the whole diocese to keep the faith alive by refocusing on the theological virtues.

“No matter how the Church is structured, it is the responsibility of all the faithful — bishops and priests included — to make faith, hope and love remain alive in the world around us.”

More than a church’s structure or Mass times, Bishop Zubik emphasized the need to ground faith in an active relationship with Christ, to be motivated by hope and to recognize the true nature of charity.

“It is a relationship first with Jesus and then with others that seeks to unite us as one. It cannot be a passive endeavor, but an active trust in God that grows deeper each day and is shared with others by a courageous, vibrant and authentic witness. Hope is what spurs us on in life,” he said.

“Love is rooted in the realization that we are all God’s children, created in his image, and, as such, we all deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. It seeks to follow the will of God and reach out to others, neighbor and stranger alike.”