The Archdiocese of Boston is planning a major campaign to urge inactive Catholics to “come home” to their faith. The campaign will use television ads, parish events and personal invitations, making the involvement of priests and parishioners “vital.”
About 10 percent of all American adults are former Catholics, the archdiocese reports, adding that its own weekly Mass attendance has declined from about 376,000 in 2000 to about 287,000 in 2009.
Janet Benestad, secretary for faith formation and evangelization at the archdiocese, said that the pews seem “emptier and emptier.” The goal of the campaign is to tell people “We are diminished by your absence ... and we want to issue a genuine invitation to return to the practice of the faith.”
The campaign will use television ads, parish events and personal invitations. The archdiocese will partner with CatholicsComeHome.org during Lent 2011.
Writing on his blog in a July 16 entry, Cardinal O’Malley called the effort as “an important initiative.” He also published a message from David Thorp, who is leading the campaign.
Thorp explained that the television commercials will allow the Church’s invitation to reach people in their own homes. Describing the response in other parts of the country as “exciting,” he noted how lapsed Catholics visited websites and sent e-mails with questions. Many returned to Mass, participated in special “welcome” programs and went to Confession after many years away.
Parishioners have also reached out with personal invitations, using the commercials as a starting point.
“Even as people shared how being a Catholic had brought meaning and peace in their lives they spoke about everything you could imagine — people’s longing for God, questions about marriage and divorce, prayer, desire for community, sexuality, the stress of unemployment, suffering, the meaning of life,” Thorp reported.
The “deep grief and broken trust” experienced in clerical sexual abuse scandals were also part of these conversations, he continued.
“The involvement of priests and parishioners will be vital,” Thorp added, noting related archdiocesan programs such as ARISE Together in Christ small groups and The Light is On For You confession promotion.
He related how he himself was surprised by God’s “love and mercy” after some years of deep anger at Him and disdain towards the Church.
“I discovered in a way that I had not known before the one who could satisfy the deepest hungers in my heart,” he explained, noting his deepening discovery of God through Jesus Christ and the Church.
“In times of struggle and distress the community has been the healing and sustaining hand of God for me. It has also challenged me to live more fully for God and for others, stretching me so that I could be all that God has created me to be.”
Millions have had this same experience, with God bringing peace in times of trouble, strength in times of weakness, and light in times of darkness, Thorp said. They have been fed by Scripture and the Eucharist at Mass and have had their guilt lifted in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, knowing “beyond doubt that God’s tender mercy is for them.”
Thorp wondered how he and other Catholics could keep to themselves their “good news to share.” Evangelization is not something that Catholics can escape, he stated, quoting the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that the Church exists in order to evangelize.
He noted Fr. Henri Nouwen’s description of evangelization as one beggar showing another beggar where the bread is. Encouraging Catholics to take this attitude, Thorp wrote, “Let’s look and listen – even now – for a chance to tell hungry people where we have found the bread.”