Fairfield County Catholic is pleased to publish this interview with Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose Parish in Newtown and co-chair of the 2023 Annual Bishop’s Appeal. This year’s Appeal marks the first time that a pastor will share the co-chair role with chair couple Paula Summa and Jim O’Neill, and Appeal Vice Chairs Mark and Morgan Mooney. As a priest, pastor and Bishop’s Appeal leader, Monsignor Weiss shared the following insights into the importance of the Bishop’s Appeal and its role in uniting the diocese in faith and charity.
Q. Monsignor Weiss, your role as co-chair of the Bishop’s Appeal is another first for you and the diocese. How is it going?
A. Serving as pastor co-chair has been a very positive experience, especially listening to the lay couples co-chairing the Appeal with me. Not only are they extraordinarily supportive of the mission of the diocese and the importance of the Appeal in continuing to keep the Gospel alive in Fairfield County, they are very supportive of the clergy. They have great respect for the pastors and the responsibilities placed on us and are most appreciative of our efforts in the parishes and the diocese. We sometimes forget how blessed we are to have laity supporting us in our roles and responsibilities. They value the ministry that takes place in our parishes and our diocese under our leadership.
Q. Please comment on your long-time role as a member of the Pastors’ Advisory Committee.
A. I served on the Pastors’ Advisory Committee since its inception. It gives the pastors on the Committee an opportunity to discuss the value of the Appeal, become aware of the many ministries the diocese is able to provide through the Appeal and have a listening ear for those pastors who have valid concerns about how effective they can be in terms of meeting their parish goal. Several of our parishes have financial constraints for a variety of reasons, and the Committee is there to guide and assist them in meeting their parish goal. Committee members have difficult decisions to make as they listen to the pastors of parishes whose goal might seem out of reach. This Committee plays an important role when it comes adjusting and finalizing parish goals.
Q. This year’s Appeal theme is, “One in Christ” and the focus that Bishop Caggiano has placed on opportunities for encounter. Why are the programs and services funded by the Appeal so vital in achieving his vision and bringing people back to their faith?
A. “One in Christ” is a realistic approach to strengthening our relationship with Christ and the Church. In every generation there have been challenges for the Church. The challenges that face us today as Catholics are overwhelming as more and more Catholics turn away from the teaching of the Gospel and accept the social, moral and cultural values of contemporary society. The Diocese has set as a priority the challenge to renew the Church one person at a time using the many ministries and programs the Appeal provides.
Q. How does the Appeal impact the lives of all people in the Diocese of Bridgeport, whether they are a parishioner or not.
A. Sometimes we stay focused too often on the needs of our own parishes and forget that we are all part of the diocese. The programs and services of the diocese focus on the person and the needs that person requires… “one” person at a time. It is more than we can ever imagine when we take the time to learn exactly what the diocese is able to provide because of the Appeal funds. The Appeal is critical in assuring the continuation of the task given to us by Christ himself, especially fulfilling the spiritual and corporal works of mercy for those in need.
Q. Many people may not realize that by supporting programs on the diocesan level, they enable the diocese to offer what one parish alone cannot provide.
A. Again, we have to remember that we are part both of the diocese and our parish community. A single parish could never provide the ministries or programs the Appeal is able to accomplish, and it is our responsibility to help support the diocese as well as our parish in achieving those opportunities.
The diocese, which includes all of Fairfield County, is extraordinarily diverse in terms of ethnicity, financial stability and lifestyles. In many ways that diversity is a gift in helping us recognize the needs that exist and how vital it is for each of us to do what we are able to do with our personal resources, as limited as they might be.
Q. Please comment on the over-goal sharing program. If the parish has made its goal, should parishioners continue to give?
A. The over-goal sharing is another opportunity for us to support the Appeal. If a parish is able to raise more than their goal, the over-goal excess will be returned to the parish. It is left up to the leadership in that parish to decide how best to use the funds. The parish can choose to use the funds for their own purposes or to assist another parish or diocesan sponsored programs.
This past year our parish donated our over-goal funds to Foundations in Charity to assist the diocese in creating a new center for Merton House in Bridgeport. I recently attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new center in Bridgeport. It was an event that spoke of hope, faith and care for those who enter the doors of that center. I was proud that our parish is part of this new initiative to strengthen family life and to provide services to individuals that are not available elsewhere.
Q. Many people are already stretched financially and may feel that a small donation won’t make a difference.
A. I recall the poor widow in Scripture who was willing to give all she had for the sake of another by her humility, generosity and her openness to the call of the Gospel. I met a woman recently who said to me after attending a meeting that she was most likely the least wealthy person in that room but then she realized that as little as she has was still more than many others possess. We need to support this Appeal, no matter how much we have or do not have. We all can do something to keep the Gospel alive in our midst.
Every gift to the Appeal makes a difference. I have always held fast to the idea that “everyone doing a little makes a lot happen.” Each of us has to be honest with ourselves in terms of our giving realizing that we have a responsibility towards others, especially those in need of our assistance.
I know that our parishioners receive an endless amount of requests for financial support, and they have to spend the time to really assess where their donation can achieve the greatest good. Our diocese has developed an open and honest financial report to help us understand the purpose of the Appeal and the allocation of its funds.
Q. The Bishop often has said the Appeal unites us as a diocesan family. Do you have any favorite examples?
A. Every time I see the good works at St. Catherine Center for Special Needs, witness the breakfast wagon in Danbury, hear how many meals our soup kitchens serve daily, attend the ordination of our deacons and priests, listen to someone with emotional needs who was able to have counselling provided for them and see the youngest of our diocese have a Catholic education provided as their foundation, I see the Annual Appeal alive and at work in very real and practical ways.
Q. When you see people who have received support, how does that make you feel and what does that mean to our universal Church?
A. I have been blessed to be pastor in two parishes for whom the Appeal has been well received and supported. I have always felt it is my responsibility as a pastor to educate our parishioners on the nature of the Appeal and the role of the Diocese in our lives as Catholics in Fairfield County.
Q. What would you say to anyone who is hesitant about giving?
A. When you see the Appeal at work and the effect it has on the lives of thousands through charity, service, education and the promotion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is vital that we do all we can to support the Appeal and encourage others to do the same.
Q. In your role as co-chair as well as pastor, you’ve seen the Appeal at work for many years, how has it assisted your ministry?
A. As I approach my 50th anniversary of ordination, I cannot help but reflect on my ministry through the years and all that I have been given through the Appeal to help me enhance my ministry and develop a strong sense of community beyond our parish boundaries that touches so many lives. When you give and do the best you can, it comes back to you a hundredfold, and in my case a thousand-fold!