Bishop Milan Lach seeks unity, hope

Divine Liturgy of Welcome Celebrated July 21.

PARMA, OHIO — The clergy and faithful of the Eparchy of Parma welcomed Slovak Bishop Milan Lach as their new apostolic administrator during a Divine Liturgy July 21.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States (right), welcomes Bishop Milan Lach as apostolic administrator of Parma, Ohio during a July 21 Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Photo by Laura Ieraci.

The 43-year-old Jesuit was serving as the auxiliary bishop of the Archeparchy of Presov, Slovakia, at the time of his June 24 appointment. Ordained a priest in 2001 and a bishop in 2013, Bishop Milan is the first European-born bishop to oversee the Eparchy of Parma since its founding in 1969, though he is the second European bishop to be named to the United States this year.

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk, former auxiliary bishop of Lviv, Ukraine, was named to head the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Chicago in April.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read the Vatican decree of Bishop Milan’s appointment during the July 21 liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma. Byzantine Catholic Archbishop William C. Skurla of Pittsburgh, who preceded Bishop Milan as apostolic administrator for 14 months,
was the celebrant.

Upon Archbishop Pierre’s introduction of Bishop Milan, the more than 300 people in the congregation responded with a standing ovation and the traditional Eastern Christian hymn “God Grant You Many Years.”

Archbishop Pierre continued reading from the decree and explained that the appointment is for “as long as the pope wants, with all of the rights and duties pertaining to the said office.”

“You will enjoy his presence,” the nuncio told the congregation. “A bishop is there to serve the people, to be with the people.”

Citing Pope Francis, he said the role of bishops and priests is to be “ahead to lead the people, behind to push them, and in the middle to be with them.”

In an interview after the liturgy, Archbishop Pierre commented on the contribution European bishops can make to the U.S. church.

“It’s always good to have people coming from a different experience. The diversity, and especially these people who are being sent, have been chosen for their capacity to (adapt) from one country to the other but also for their abilities,” he said.

“It’s also a sign, especially today, where there is a tendency to build some walls (that) the church is always open. And I think it is a challenge to the church to remain what it has always been — universal.”

He believes bishops from other countries “are also being sent to help us not to lose the missionary dimension, because a church that is not missionary is not the church.” The appointment drew international attention. Thousands
of people logged onto the eparchy’s Facebook page to watch the live stream of the July 21 liturgy. By the end of the day, Facebook reported about 19,000 views of the video; many were from Bishop Milan’s native Slovakia.

Archbishop William, Skurla (right), welcomes Bishop Milan Lach as administrator of Parma, Ohio during a July 21 Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Photos on pages 10 to 11 by David Bratnick unless otherwise noted.

Bishop Peter Rusnak of Bratislava, Slovakia, as well as several Slovak priests, traveled to Parma to concelebrate the liturgy, alongside Bishop Emeritus John Kudrick of Parma, Bishop John Pazak CSsR of the Eparchy of Phoenix, and Romanian Catholic Bishop John Michael Botean of St. George in Canton, Ohio. More than 70 clergy, including three Orthodox priests, and religious attended.

Archbishop William noted in his homily that the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States was established by European bishops, priests and faithful.

“With excitement and enthusiasm…they started from nothing,” he said. “They built churches that we continue to use today.” He urged the faithful to “be gentle” with Bishop Milan as he adjusts to life in the United States. “We pray that his time here is fruitful,” he said.

At the reception that followed in the parish hall, dozens of people stood in line to shake hands with Bishop Milan,
speak with him briefly and take photos. In an interview after the liturgy, Archbishop William described Bishop Milan’s appointment as the pope’s decision to “share a little bit of the Jesuit charism with Parma,” to “reconnect with the Slovak churches in Europe and also to have someone who would be able to go back to the meetings in Europe,” which he said was “a good plan.”

Slovakia is a “very spiritual country” and this appointment also could help to share this richness and bring about “a revitalization” of the Eparchy, he said. The former bishop of Parma Bishop John, said he was “so
pleased” with Bishop Milan’s appointment. “We’re leaving a good eparchy in good hands, with a lot of hope, a lot of life, and a lot of vibrancy,” he said, adding he expects Bishop Milan to add “his own genius and flavor to ministry here.”

“I think that the international element is going to be a very healthy and helpful thing,” he said. Bishop Rusnak said the Slovak church is “losing one young, ambitious, kind and wise bishop” in the person of Bishop Milan.

“On the other hand, I think it is an honor and also a distinction for the Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church that the Holy Father has appointed someone from our church” for Parma, he said. The United States is not an
easy country in which to do pastoral work, he continued.

“I am sure there will be a lot of good people and good co-workers, who will help him,” he said, adding that Bishop
Milan will also have to lean on God, who will help him a great deal. In an Italian-language phone interview five days after his nomination, Bishop Milan said he wanted to encourage and unify Byzantine Catholics of the Eparchy in faith. Though surprised by the appointment, he was eager to follow the will of God, he said. As a Jesuit, he added, he was formed for 18 years to go wherever the pope were to send him.

Bishop Milan said he was aware that some people were skeptical about his appointment, as they were perhaps expecting an American cleric. “We’re one church,” he said.

“…being human, being close to the people”

“A church is not an institution of nationalities. We are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ above all else. In Christ, as St. Paul says, there is no Greek, nor Jew, because we are all united in Christ.

“There are those who would like to create divisions. I’m not coming to divide….rather, I’m coming to unify everyone as a pastor, as a father.” Bishop Milan explained that his appointment includes “all of the duties and rights of the ordinary bishop,” and the length of his term is dependent on the pope and, therefore, yet unknown.

“But I think that if everything goes well — and I hope sincerely that everything goes well — for always,” he said. He offered the example of Blessed Paul Gojdich, who served as apostolic administrator of Presov for 11 years
before the Vatican named him ordinary bishop. Bishop MIlan described his pastoral approach as “being human, being close to the people.”

“I am one who, before making a decision, will listen, pray, reflect and perhaps only after propose a solution. Things may not happen quickly, but first I want to know how things really are,” he said.

“I am convinced that the Christian life and faith are lived in the parish and, above all, in families, where daily life happens,” he said, adding that faith, family and marriage are “under strong attack.”

“The attack on life is a disgrace for Christians,” he said. “That innocent life, from conception is threatened up until the end of life with euthanasia…is a dishonor to the human being.”

He said he appreciated the distinctness of “American culture developed in freedom,” adding that the church within the culture is to “collaborate with everyone, even with those who perhaps hate us.” In this era of globalization, hope and encouragement in the faith are needed today in the United States, as much as in Europe, he said.

“We are all pilgrims, and it doesn’t matter if I’m in Europe, Slovakia or the United States,” he said. “We all have limited time. Therefore, we need to use it for good, not for evil, for deception, for gossip. This isn’t
useful for anyone.” He also said he is not as much of a foreigner as some people might think. His maternal great
grandfather immigrated to the United States and his grandfather was born and baptized in Oglesby, Ill., within the present-day territory of the 12-state Eparchy of Parma. He visited the United States twice before his appointment. He speaks English and said he expects it to improve with time.

In an English-language in-person interview nearly a month later, Bishop Milan repeated that his objectives were “to be attentive, to listen.” He said he is “open to every proposal” to help the faithful of the eparchy
grow closer to God.

His “main interest” is to be close to the priests of the Eparchy, as well as to the families of those priests who are married, “with all of their necessities, questions, challenges and so
on,” he said July 23.

The bishop said he would like to create “good conditions” for priests “to proclaim the Gospel,to be indeed pastors, to be shepherds, to be indeed fathers.” Tasks in management and finance, which can be carried out by laypeople, are secondary to the priesthood, he said.

While he believes he needs to learn more about American culture, “I think that the heart of people is the same everywhere,” he said. Bishop Milan intends to visit with priests and parishes of the eparchy in the weeks ahead. He
will be the main speaker and celebrant at the eparchial pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch in Burton, Ohio, Aug. 12 to 13.

He will return to Slovakia Aug. 14, and is expected to return to the United States at the end of August in order to attend the annual, national Byzantine Catholic pilgrimage in Uniontown, Pa. on Labor Day weekend. He will also join the eparchial pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, in October.