“We’re responding to the special needs of Black Catholics in our area.”
You may recall when this story out of Pittsburgh made news some weeks back. It raised a few eyebrows.
Now my friend Peter Jesserer Smith has given Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik an opportunity to explain the thinking behind it.
Here’s part of his interview, from National Catholic Register:
Bishop Zubik, a lot of people are intrigued about your decision to re-establish St. Benedict the Moor as a personal parish in the Black Catholic tradition. How did this process begin?
I think bishops try to respond to the needs of people, and that’s why personal parishes are established. We know that, especially in our area that at the beginning of the last century, when the immigrants were coming from Europe, there were so many personal parishes so people could carry on the traditions as they were helping to build up the faith in our area and in the United States.
So the way this process happened was providential as it happened around the time that all the unrest happened across the country.
So this process began before the protests over Black lives and dignity in our society that erupted after the police-related killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis?
Correct. The establishment of this parish was not as a result of the tragedy in Minneapolis, but it’s just providential that the decision came out at the same time. So we have been involved in an all-diocese reorganization since 2015. St. Benedict was one of the individual parishes, and it was pulled together with two other parishes in the city. But it became pretty apparent at the beginning that it was going to be a mismatch. And people were expressing some concerns. So I went to the parish back on February 23, had Mass with them and a town hall meeting that went for several hours. And people were raising concerns about the needs of Black Catholics. So I had asked that there be an ad hoc committee that would give me some recommendations. They did, and came back with recommendations about months ago, and one of the recommendations was that they would appreciate consideration for the establishment of a personal parish.
This is a new chapter with very old roots in St. Benedict’s history then.
There’s a 130 year history to St. Benedict’s parish. And we’ve tried over the course of the years to be very responsive to the needs of our faithful. Back in October 2018, I established another personal parish, and that was for the traditional Catholics. They have The Most Precious Blood of Jesus parish on the north side, and it’s responding to the spiritual needs of folks there. So this [Black Catholic personal parish] is in the same vein: we’re responding to the special needs of Black Catholics in our area.
So correct me if I’m wrong, but every Catholic can participate in this personal parish for the Black Catholic tradition too. You don’t have to be a Black Catholic in order to be part of this parish, correct?
Exactly, because when you take a look at the two types of parishes, territorial parish and the personal parish, a personal parish has no boundaries. Territorial parishes do, but personal parishes don’t. So people can come from all over and a number of people [other than Black Catholics] do, because they want to be a part of the liturgy of the parish and as well as all the other elements [of the Black Catholic tradition] that make the parish unique.
‘Letter to a New Catholic’: A Black deacon’s thoughts on race, liturgy and the American Church