Despite the frigid temperatures outside, attendees at the First Friday Forum of Lorain County gave Bishop Nelson Perez a warm welcome on Feb. 1 when he spoke at their lunch meeting at Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Center.
The bishop spoke on one of his recurring themes: encounter, explaining how Pope Francis encourages all to go out and encounter others as missionary disciples. He used stories from Scriptures to illustrate his point.
In one story, a widow was mourning the loss of her son. Jesus, who was with a crowd, could have kept moving but he saw her pain and reached out to her, telling her not to weep. Then he raised her son.
There is a difference between seeing and looking and a difference between listening and hearing, the bishop said. Jesus looked and saw the woman. He listened and heard her pain.
The widow whose son died lost her identity twice – once when her husband died and again when her son died. The custom at that time was that women depended on their husbands and sons to provide for them. When both died, the bishop said the woman essentially died, also. “Jesus recognized that and helped her,” he said.
Too often we only think about ourselves – where we’re going and what we’re doing – and don’t notice others around us. This is in sharp contrast to Jesus, who noticed that one woman who was going to bury her son, Bishop Perez said. “He could have said, ‘oh, how sad,’ and kept on going his own way,” he added.
Pope Francis tells us the Church should be a place of encounter – a place where we encounter Christ. He said too often we “go” to church. Many activities take place in our parishes and the same group of people tend to be at most things. We say all are welcome, but the bishop posed this question: Are we really doing anything to bring them in?
Isolation is another problem in our culture, he said, noting his teenage nephews don’t go to the park to play basketball like young people used to. Instead, he said they stay at home often in their rooms and play online games with other people. “They’re playing games with people they don’t see,” he said.
Bishop Perez also talked about how we may brag about the number of friends we have on Facebook or social media. “But we don’t know them. We live in an isolated, digital world. We don’t even need to go to the library anymore – we can look things up at home,” he said, adding it is important that we build communities that are a community – that look out to the world.
“We must be instruments of Christ’s encounter with others. That’s what we’re called to do in a culture of encounter,” he explained. Pope St. John Paul II talked about encounter and then he did it, the bishop said, adding he was always travelling around and encountering people.
“The Church today needs to do that. We need to think about how we can do that in our diocese, our parish and our communities,” the bishop said. There is a need to be flexible as the world changes, including adapting to the way we encounter people in the world. “And we need to do it with great hope,” he added.
Hope is a key part of our faith, Bishop Perez said. He recalled a time when someone asked him how he can stay focused, faithful and not lose hope with all the terrible things happening in the world.
“I told him I gave my life to a faith that believes a dead man came back to life so yes, I have hope.”
During the question and answer session, the bishop fielded inquiries how the Catholics have changed over the years. He said it used to be that good Catholics lived by the mantra “pray, pay and obey,” Now there is a thirst to know more the Scriptures and we should embrace that in order to pass on the gift we’ve received, he said.
Another issue that should be addressed is what the Church offers for young adults – a group often overlooked. Young adults are very mobile and may not register at a parish or attend regular parish events.
“Older people may say these young adults are our future, which means we don’t have to deal with them now. If they want a room to meet in, none is available because we’ve taken up the space so there’s no room in the inn,” he said. In our diocese and elsewhere, the bishop said these young people are taking matters into their own hands and finding other options. Several groups for young adults have begun in the diocese and some meet in bars, he said, pointing out the East, West and Akron Theology on Tap groups. They draw good crowds at their programs and some have outgrown their meeting spots. Young Catholic Professionals, which had its national conference in Cleveland last fall, and Catholic Young Adults also are gaining traction in the diocese.
Regarding the shortage of priests, the bishop said we will never have enough priests. However, the involvement of lay people makes us stronger. He said there are about 45,000 priests in the United States and about 267 bishops for approximately 50 million Catholics – about 700,000 of those in the Diocese of Cleveland. That figure likely is higher because of those who are not registered at a parish.
“You are the ones who have the impact,” Bishop Perez said, as he gestured across the room. “Thank God for you.”
The next First Friday Forum speaker will be David Simmer, Lorain County Community College Office of Continuing Education. His topic for the lunchtime meeting at the March 1 meeting will be “Sacred Landmarks of Lorain County.”
Call 440-244-0643 or email ffflorain@gmail.,com for more information or reservations.