A recent conference in Ohio brought together hundreds of Eastern Catholics, expressing their love for their faith and their hope that their numbers will grow.
The message hit Patrick Keegan loud and clear: He’s a leader in his Byzantine Catholic parish just as much as his pastor.
A catechist at St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Barberton, outside of Akron, Keegan said he wants to assume a greater leadership role in his parish and in the wider community by living out his faith.
“You have to make yourself known. You have to listen at the feet of Jesus, but you can’t just stay at the feet of Jesus. You have to go out,” Keegan told Catholic News Service during a break at Encounter 2012 near Cleveland Sept. 22 sponsored by the Eastern Catholic churches.
“I can’t teach what I don’t live and to know what I have to live I have to read Scripture,” Keegan continued. “I have to read the church fathers. I have to pick a side of the fence, so to say. I either live for Christ or I don’t.
“It’s tough. It’s really tough.”
Keegan, who joined St. Nicholas after years in the Latin Catholic Church, said he travels 60-mile round trip from his home in Wooster, Ohio, to his parish once or twice a week to teach the faith to young people. He said he hopes his example inspires others.
He was one of 200 laypeople and 85 Eastern Catholic clergy to attend the conference on 20-23 September.
Conference organizers hoped the events featuring well-known speakers mixed with a healthy dose of worship and prayer will inspire and reinvigorate lay members and clergy to collaborate in evangelization, invite newcomers to check out their churches and to raise the profile of the Eastern churches in their communities.
The Eastern churches are diverse, encompassing cultures from Eastern Europe, throughout the Middle East and India. Among the churches participating in the conference were the Armenian, Chaldean, Syro-Malankara, Syro-Malabar, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian Byzantine, Syriac, Ukrainian Byzantine and Ukrainian Catholic churches. The Slovaks of the Byzantine Rite of Canada also participated in the conference. All are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Many attendees described the Eastern Catholic churches as the “best-kept secret” of the North American Catholic Church and expressed hope that the conference series will be the start of a major effort to boost membership in their not-very-well-known parishes. Several said collaboration — especially in religious education, Bible study, cultural programming and prayer — is vital.
“We need this. We need people from our churches to interact with people of our faith,” said Mary Snell, a member of Nativity of Mother of God Slovak Byzantine Church in Toronto. “Our churches are empty and we need to get people back in.”
And for more on the Eastern Christian Churches, check out Ronald G. Roberson’s book (old/broken link: https://cnewa.org/default.aspx?ID=123&pagetypeID=9&sitecode=SSSS&pageno=1) and profiles of the different churches that have appeared in the magazine over the last several years.