A Successful Program for Welcoming Inactive Catholics Home
Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin, Texas asked Catholics in his diocese to send him, on a pre-printed postcard, the names and addresses of friends or family members who are inactive Catholics. He will send those individuals a letter and a video in which he asks forgiveness and encourages the recipient to "come home" to the church.
"If your reason for departure (from the church) was because of anything that the church or a particular church leader did or said, I apologize and ask for your forgiveness," Bishop Aymond writes.
"We are a community of believers, but we are also a community of weak human beings, and we do sin -- even priests and brothers. Please do not let that sinfulness stop you from experiencing all that is good in the church," he adds.
People leave the church for many reasons. They drift away in college, when they move because of jobs or careers, or maybe have never had an adult conversion of heart.
A life-changing event, like marriage, the birth of a child or an illness, can prompt them to consider returning to church. When those moments come, people search for deeper answers, which in turn often leads them back to their roots.
The program Landings that Bishop Aymond employs was designed by the Paulist Fathers for Catholics who have been away from active practice in their faith and who want to resolve issues and return to parish life.
This fall many parishes in the Austin Diocese established Landings teams. The teams are run by lay people who are trained in listening skills and are willing to provide a welcoming environment for returning Catholics.
The video that is sent to inactive Catholics includes comments from people who participate in Landings.
In the video Sylvia Murray says she found acceptance and companionship when she joined a Landings group at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin a couple of years ago. The people in her Landings group were honest, she said. "They didn't come in with any pretense. Nobody came in acting like they had already overcome everything."
That nonjudgmental attitude is important, especially for family members, Bishop Aymond wrote in his December letter to active Catholics. He asked families to invite members who arenít churchgoers but, he said, the invitation must be without strings attached.
"Perhaps your friends or relatives are only waiting for someone to listen to their pain, acknowledge their hurt, and lovingly embrace them and welcome them home," the bishop says in the letter. "Be careful not to argue with them or to become defensive. Patience, love and prayer can change hearts."