Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh


Credit: Jim Judkis


Laura O’Keeffe initially was uncomfortable with the thought of asking fellow parishioners at Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in Scott Township to support Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

But she allowed the Holy Spirit to fire her up and discovered an unexpected blessing—the chance to talk with others about their love for Jesus.

“Our people have their strong faith, hope for the future and love for their parish community,” O’Keeffe said. “Discussing our faith is so important, and sharing our experiences like receiving the sacraments.”

Across our diocese, the campaign has given tens of thousands of Catholics a unique opportunity to talk about why they go to church and what God may be calling them to do. Those kinds of conversations are critical if we’re to be an evangelizing people, according to nationally acclaimed author and speaker Sherry Weddell.

“Some 62 percent of Catholics report that they seldom or never share their faith or view of God with someone else,” Weddell writes in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, which was the basis of a Diocesan-sponsored workshop she presented to more than 700 Pittsburgh parishioners and clergy.

“Break the silence. Ask others about their faith story. Once a bridge of trust is in place, people can be surprisingly open,” Weddell said.

Debbie Bianco had such conversations when she met with fellow parishioners about the campaign at St. Frances Cabrini in Center Township, Beaver County.

“People did talk about their faith. When something happens in your life, perhaps the death of a loved one, you’re able to turn to the church,” Bianco said. “People told me, ‘The church is always here for me. I’ve been blessed, and it feels great to be able to give back through the campaign.’

“It makes you feel good that people still care,” Bianco added. “It’s brought a renewed spirit.”

At St. Stephen Parish in Hazelwood, Deacon Tom Berna is always inviting people to share their story.

“There are ways to be friendly and welcoming,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll ask people what they did on the weekend, mention that I went to church and here’s what the readings were about.

“So many people want to tell their story. There is a hunger for God,” Deacon Berna said. “You don’t want to pry, just give them an opportunity to talk about it. Meet people where they’re at.”

Weddell describes the initial step of ‘listening evangelism’ as that moment when we invite someone to talk, simply and directly, about his or her lived relationship with God.

“Parish life is full of perfect opportunities,” Weddell writes. “There’s RCIA, returning-Catholics programs, retreats, sacramental and marriage preparation, adult faith formation, spiritual direction, pastoral counseling.”

And, for those who recognize the opportunity, the campaign.

The turning point for O’Keeffe came while on retreat. The director suggested that she step out of her comfort zone and try something new.

“I returned home and felt my enthusiasm growing,” O’Keeffe said. “My attitude changed. The thought of asking people to support the campaign became less scary and uncomfortable.”

There also was a wonderful telephone conversation.

“It was before Commitment Weekend,” O’Keeffe said. “I spoke with a woman whose daughter in college was stressing out before finals. As part of a college outreach through our Parish Youth Ministry we had sent her a Starbucks gift card, which she really appreciated.

“But the first thing her mother said was, ‘Thank you for volunteering.’ That meant a lot.”

For many, the campaign is serving as a conversation starter about our faith, the work of the church, and the call for us to respond to God.

Breaking the silence can be a pretty good New Year’s Resolution.

Credit: Jim Judkis

Credit: Jim Judkis