In the hopes of hearing the 'voice of the people', Msgr. Robert Zapfel welcomed a crowd of over 600 Catholics, Wednesday evening, to an open discussion called "Let's Talk About...The Future of the Catholic Church" at St. Leo the Great Parish in Amherst.
"We know the church has and will always have a future," said Bishop Richard J. Malone in opening remarks as one of four panelists invited to the discussion. The bishop expressed hope for a more pure church in which the laity and clergy collaborate. "Apathy among Catholics is toxic," said Bishop Malone. "We have to fight that at every turn."
Another panelist, Sister Denise Roche, GNSH, former president of D'Youville College, predicted that in 25 years, the Catholic Church will be smaller but may be stronger by going back to its roots. "The seeds have been sewn and we'll be surprised at what blossoms," said Sister Denise.
This was the first in a series of 'Let's Talk About..' discussions planned at St. Leo the Great Parish. The next is scheduled for September with a focus on engaging the millennial generation in the Catholic Church. Panelist, Dr. Anthony Pivarunas, OBGYN for Catholic Health, suggested that the focus should not be on blaming the younger generations, but focusing more on oneself. "The more Christ-like we become, the more others will be attracted to the church," said Dr. Pivarunas." Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society."
A member of the audience named Michael questioned whether there is greater potential for young and married Catholics to attract new members. Dr. Pivarunas agreed that young people seem intrigued by married people who are active in their faith. "Everyone's heart is restless and when they see someone living out the faith, they're going to want to emulate that. I think we each are called to the person that others would be attracted to."
An audience member named Rita questioned why only men can be ordained into the priesthood. Bishop Malone explained that although Jesus chose men as his apostles, women have had significant roles of leadership. "While I don't think the ordination question will change," said Bishop Malone. "I do believe that women need to be in positions where their voices can be heard in ways that determine important things in the life of the church."
A University at Buffalo student named Julia asked how Campus Ministry can be more effective at all colleges and universities. Father James Vacco, OFM, drew on his experience as a campus minister at St. Bonaventure University in explaining that a Catholic campus has a little more freedom to engage the students than on a secular campus. "I think you have to rely on your core students who are part of campus ministry to be the missionaries to bring other students in and arrange gatherings at coffee houses or whatever it might be."
To hear the entire 90 minute discussion, watch the livestream replay at: https://www.stleothegreatamherst.com/