Church in the City

In 1993, Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla released an amazing white paper, "The Church in the City," which raised urban sprawl as a moral issue for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. The bishop questioned whether the unbalanced pattern of development occurring in Northeast Ohioa pattern of outmigration from older urban areas and the creation of enclaves of wealth in new suburbswas socially just, environmentally sustainable, or spiritually healthy. The following is an excerpt from the vision statement of the Church in the City initiative, which has grown from the white paper into an important church program.

The challenge

The Church has been sent by Christ to reveal and communicate the love of God to all people. In fulfilling its mission, the Church must take into account various social conditions which impact upon this mission. Hopefully it is clear from what has been described above that we are challenged on two fronts: we must recognize and respond to the needs of those, the urban poor, who have been terribly hurt by the outmigration of the non-poor and employers; and we must become engaged in changing the practices of our governments that have contributed to the disastrous situation before us.

The first challenge is entirely within our hands. To what extent will we recognize it and respond? The extent is entirely up to us. Changing the practice of our governments, however, is not entirely up to us. We have a role to play, but we alone cannot do it. We must join with others, many others, in that undertaking. Some of us may feel that it is hopeless, that change of such magnitude, involving deeply rooted attitudes and beliefs, is beyond realistic expectation. But I do not see it that way at all. If anything, reason for hope is greatest when we face reality. So let us face it, and let us join with our neighbors, public officials and community leaders in the hopeful undertaking of building a new urban future for Northeast Ohio.

Let me suggest that these challenges be met in keeping with the following five principles:

Social justice: The practice of charity is different from promoting change which will further the cause of social justice. We are called to work to change underlying causes of what has transpired, focusing on policies and practices of federal, state and local government that strongly favor outmigration over moving inward or simply staying in one's community. The point is not to halt outmigration, as people must be free to move as they wish, but to balance the role of government in such a way that redevelopment and maintenance of cities and inner suburbs is given as much support as the development of new suburbs. Achievement of the needed change will require unprecedented cooperative action on the part of public officials across the region, in order to influence state and federal government and in order to guide future public investments toward new visions and goals. Rebuilding must occur in our cities where vacant land presents that opportunity. But we must rebuild in ways that serve to heal the wounds and close the separations that have been opened and aggravated by what has transpired over the past 40 years.

Redevelopment: Government policies which support development of new suburbs while neglecting the redevelopment of older cities have contributed to the problems caused by outmigration. In an analogous way, the Church can fall victim to this same strategy by concentrating on the development of newer parishes in the suburbs, while older parishes in the cities are allowed to decline. For government, banks, developers, real estate brokers and others, redevelopment means creating and investing in projects such as Church Square and Central Commons in Cleveland and Opportunity Park in Akron. For the Church, redevelopment means renewing its commitment to the cities and finding ways to provide necessary resources for ministry being done there.

Interdependence: City and suburbs are linked by single economy. City and suburban Church are similarly linked by a common mission. Many differences exist between ministry to the city and ministry to the suburbs, but a single mission to reveal God's love binds them together. There are gifts present in every church, whether urban or suburban, which can be shared with all the churches. In order to deal effectively with the effects of outmigration, we will need to find ways to share these gifts more widely with one another. Parishes which have reached out beyond their boundaries have given witness to the kind of Church we ought to be. The parish which does not in some way extend its work beyond its own parish boundaries fails to be Church in its most complete meaning. In our diocesan commitment to stewardship, we must seek to define stewardship in a way that encompasses the urban and suburban Church, with the gifts and problems unique to each.

Restructuring: In order to more effectively and more efficiently serve the people living in the cities, it will be necessary to restructure the parishes in such a way that they will be able to offer proper ministry to their people. We must also work to makes these parishes financially stable and, as much as possible, independent of diocesan subsidy. Restructuring of our city parishes will not diminish in any way the Church's commitment to the city, but will actually increase the effectiveness of the Church's presence there. In considering the ways in which the Church can be restructured in the city, special care must be taken to be sensitive to the cultural diversity of its residents.

Preferential love for the poor: Acknowledging that there are many poor people living in the suburbs, we must still admit that more and more the results of outmigration have contributed to the existence of two societies: one poor and living in the older cities, the other more affluent and living in the outer suburbs. The love of Christ compels us to turn our attention to the needs of our poorer sisters and brothers, who have been most hurt by present policies. Following the example of St. Vincent de Paul, the Apostle of Charity, we cannot relax our efforts to assist the poor in their need. We must be especially mindful of women and children, who are often the primary victims of social neglect.

For more information, call 216-696-6525.


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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003

Pilla speech on The Church in the City
Ethical land use principles

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We share one economy and one environment. Whether we live in the city, suburb or country, we are one metropolitan society. Our fates are intertwined economically, socially and spriritually. Our geographic boundaries can be illusions that distract us from the real needs and real capabilities of the region in which we live.
Bishop Anthony M. Pilla



The Church in the City seeks to address:

  • The gap between people, rich and poor
  • The relationships between peoplesfaith and life
  • Urban Development and Redevelopment
  • The development of suburbs and the decline of central cities
  • The impact of urban sprawl
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