Helping Catholics come back home to the Church

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Next week the Archdiocese of St. Louis begins its Catholics Come Home initiative, a campaign of inspiring television commercials airing Dec. 16-Jan. 22 that invite fallen-away Catholics, as well as people interested in learning more about the Catholic faith, to come back to the Church.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has called this evangelization effort “an extraordinary undertaking” that is part of a larger initiative involving the collaborative efforts of our parishes. Many parishes and individuals in the archdiocese have enthusiastically joined in this effort, and many have been evangelizing the faith for some time.

“The Church always evangelizes,” the archbishop said in a recent column in the Review. “Each of us must do his or her part in the important work of evangelization.”

What can you do?

Go the extra mile

At Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, parishioners are going door to door in neighborhoods within the parish boundaries, introducing themselves, inviting people to come to church and offering to pray for them.

Parishioner Ken Livengood has been a leader in this effort for a good reason. It worked for him.

Livengood joined the Church at a teenager, but didn’t continue on in his faith. He and his wife, then dating, were not practicing Catholics and got married outside the Church. “We didn’t go church. Then one day, we got a knock at the door from some nuns who invited us to attend church. We said, why not?”

Then Livengood discovered a Catholic radio station, which educated him more about his faith. “We went to church, we became active Catholics, our marriage was blessed in the Church, we had our children baptized.”

That was around 2005. Shortly thereafter, Youth for the Third Millennium led two missions at Holy Trinity, promoting door-to-door missions. “The experiences from that is where I learned about doing door to door,” Livengood said. When Father Paul Niemann became pastor in 2009, he was “very supportive” of the idea and suggested working with the members of the Legion of Mary at the parish.

Parish volunteers went on their third door-to-door outreach effort Dec. 3. Livengood said, “It’s a very positive experience. We have teams of two or three. One person does the talking and invitation, the others are there for support and prayer. Then we switch roles. There is always some kind of prayer going on, which is integral.”

He recounted several individual visits, one at the home of a woman who asked them to pray for her to find a job. “So she and I and my partner (on the mission) prayed right then and there for her employment.” At another home, they found an elderly couple who hadn’t been to Mass for a long time because they had no way to get there. “They just needed a ride,” Livengood said. “So we got permission from them to call Father Paul (Father Paul Niemann, the pastor) to connect them with people in parish who could give them a ride.”

Father Niemann said, “That’s really all they wanted. They couldn’t get to church because they didn’t have a car.”

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Be a good guide

Father Paul Niemann, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, stressed the importance of being welcoming to people coming to church perhaps for the first time. This was an experience that helped his parishioner Ken Livengood and his family return to the Church.

Livengood said, “We have a wonderful parish. When we came to Holy Trinity, we were met by people who welcomed us and made us feel like family. The nuns invited us in. But the people of Holy Trinity helped us stay in the Church.”

“I consider it very important to be friendly, as a greeter or as anyone in the parish, to welcome people to Mass.” Father Niemann said. “And it’s good to have someone in the parish accompany a new person through the Mass, especially someone who has never been in a Catholic church.”

Be a good listener

Msgr. Mark Rivituso is pastor of Curé of Ars Parish in Shrewsbury, vicar general of the archdiocese and chairman of the Catholics Come Home initiative here. His advice on how to take the first step in welcoming people home to the Church is simple: Listen.

“Before we do anything else, we have to help people reconnect by showing them we care enough to listen to their personal stories. We need to do that to help them reconnect to the Lord and to the Church,” Msgr. Rivituso said.

“We are here to invite people, not to make people feel threatened or be confrontational in these evangelical efforts,” he said, referring to the efforts of a rural parish where the children and youths, accompanied by parish adults, were acting as evangelizers, calling on people and asking for their prayer requests. “I believe these little children offer an innocence and a loving concern. This is what we are called to do, offer a loving concern. This is the simplicity of just wanting to care enough to listen and to pray for the needs of these individuals.”

In his own parish, Msgr. Rivituso said, there are many elderly people. When their families ask what would mother or dad like for Christmas or their birthday, “certain of our people say, I don’t need another blouse or special meal. What I want is for you to come to Mass with me.” Many of these grown children, often fallen away from the Church, then do accompany their parents to Mass, “and that beautiful gift of invitation is bringing a greater gift of welcoming them back to Church, to our family of faith.”

Remember to pray

Msgr. Rivituso is asking everyone to pray for the success of the Catholics Come Home initiative. At Curé of Ars Parish, “everyone is called not only to pray, but to invite someone back to the Catholic Church.” The parish has a prayer basket, and parishioners are asked to place in it the names of people for whom they would like prayers, “people inquiring about becoming Catholic or people who have fallen away from the Church. We are offering their names up in prayer, asking for intentions for these people.”

Archbishop Carlson, in his recent Review column, addressed the entire archdiocese when he said, “Please join me in praying for the success of this special effort.”

Something old, something new

St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood has what real-estate agents call “location, location, location,” according to its pastor, Father John Siefert. “Just by our presence, at the corner of Brentwood and Manchester, our parish is a great evangelization tool, a great tool of outreach.”

Father Siefert called that busy location “a great gift to the Church, a visible representation of Christ” that he and his parishioners work to share. For example, he said, no matter which priest celebrates Mass on the weekend, “we are always there. People want to see their clergy and see they are invested in the parish.” Father Christopher Martin, archdiocesan vocations director, serves there as priest in residence. There are also seminarians and deacons in service there.

When people know that the ministry to the parish is first and foremost to their clergy, Father Siefert said, “it helps create, along with a good group of folks centered in Christ, a good atmosphere. And when people walk into the church, I think they see that.”

About a year ago the parish, located near many businesses, instituted a weekday noon Mass and started offering adoration on weekday mornings. “During Advent we are seeing 50 to 60 people at noon Mass,” Father Siefert said. “And with this location, I think it’s a natural to give so many people the opportunity to spend some time with Jesus. I hope having these things at least gives people the opportunity to come back in to Church.”

The parish is giving people a special Christmas present this year, Father Siefert said — a copy of the book “Rediscovering Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly. “The parish bought 800 copies. At Christmas we will give this book to people as a gift and ask them to consider reading it, this book about the beauty of Catholicism, and sharing that with other people in their families, and with others.”

If only 10 households read it, then each shares it with others, “well, maybe from the grass roots, l this beautiful thing we call our faith can be re-energized.”

As far as participating in the Catholics Come Home initiative, Father Siefert said, “The first Sunday of Catholics Come Home, we will be praying the prayers at all the weekend Masses. And we will charge people to be on the watch for these TV commercials. And if people bring it up in the marketplace, respond. Because it’s such a priceless gift that you can offer to folks. Invite them. All they can say is no.

“It’s a priceless gift. Why not share it?”

A gentle message

Tis the season to send Christmas cards. St. Mark Parish in Affton has a beautiful card it is selling this year, a photo of the church in the snow taken last Christmas Eve by photographer Jerry Adlersfluegel, husband of St. Mark parishioner Maxine Adlersfluegel. The message inside reads: “For unto us a Savior is born” Luke 2:11, “May the Peace and Joy that comes with the Birth of Christ be with you now and always.”

The short text was provided by St. Mark pastor Msgr. Patrick Hambrough, who explained, “We thought it would be a great Christmas card because of the picture — Maxine’s husband is a great photographer — and from that came the idea that, as people send them out, the beauty, the church, the message that Christ is born, all that might just get people thinking, ‘Should I go to church on Christmas? Should I go more?’”

The card wasn’t originally intended to be an evangelization tool, the pastor said, but the parish has gotten feedback that some people are using it that way, sending it to family and friends who have stopped going to church in hopes of inspiring them to return.

Msgr. Hambrough said, “We are hoping the beauty of the card, with the lights of the church, will be like a beacon, saying ‘Come here. Be drawn to church.’”

It’s the little things

The Catholic Church has a full, vibrant, complex theology and doctrine that proclaims the truth revealed from God. However, that was not what drew Leon Henderson, president of Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School, into the Church.

As a child, Henderson attended Catholic school in Cincinnati, although his family was not Catholic. “What I learned in religion class was not what led me to the Catholic Church,” he said. It was the people he met.

“When I encountered the Catholic Church, there was a particular face presented to me, a face of welcome. I think that is key. When people come to our parishes, what experience do they have? Is it welcoming? That is what they’ll remember. That is what I remember.”

He reminisced about losing his winter coat as a little boy. It took his parents a few days to replace the coat, and in the meantime the Franciscan sisters found him a coat to wear. “I remember Sister walked me from school to church in her coat to keep me warm, when we were going to Mass. I never forgot that. In addition the to coat they gave me, she tucked me in her coat to keep me warm.”

Henderson, a member of St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Parish in north St. Louis, said Catholics have an obligation to present themselves as the face of Christ to others. “We are the face that best represents our Church. That face should be welcoming. That face should be the face of Jesus.”

A child doesn’t understand theology, Henderson said. A child just has “the first impression of who we are as Church.” He gave the example of Jesus. “Jesus didn’t present theology to folks. He fed people who were hungry, He healed people who needed healing. And it was through those experiences that they wanted to know more about Him. They had a need and He filled it.The kind gesture. Jesus did that.”

Remember, you’re a witness -- watch video

Julie Bostick, a member of Curé of Ars Parish, was away from the Church for some years, until she was brought back by a bumper sticker.

“It was a bumper sticker for Catholic Radio-WRYT (WRYT-AM 1080, part of Covenant Radio),” Bostick said. “When I saw that bumper sticker we were going to the Catholic church, but I was still floundering.” She and her family were living in the Belleville, Ill., Diocese, and had gone back to the Church after being away, in part because they were sending their sons to PSR and were told that came with a commitment to bring them to Mass. “I noticed the bumper sticker on a PSR teacher’s car.”

Bostick explained that she had grown up in a devout Catholic family in south St. Louis, but had grown away from the faith when she and her husband moved to the Bible Belt in Arkansas and people there challenged her beliefs. She explained that “there were a lot of blanks in my catechesis growing up. I didn’t have a clear understanding” of the Catholic faith.

She started to listen to Catholic radio and liked what she heard. Eventually she and her husband embraced the faith. She became the lay director of the Cursillo program in the Belleville Diocese, and she and her husband, Ralph, became involved in Marriage Encounter. The family recently moved back to the St. Louis Archdiocese, where she is an archdiocesan employee pursuing a master’s degree in pastoral studies through Ave Maria University.

“I went from not practicing my faith to all this. That is what the Holy Spirit can do in your life.”

The change comes with some expectations, she said. Once you come back to the Church “and are passionate about your faith, people expect a certain behavior from you. … Everyone is imperfect, even people who go to church. We are all on a journey to Christ. Sometimes we slip and fall, but we get back up. But if those slips and falls are public they can be damaging, not only to you, but to the whole Body of Christ.”

She mentioned realizing after a recent trip to the grocery store that she had wore her name tag as an employee of the St. Louis Archdiocese. “I thought, ‘I hope I didn’t cut in front of somebody or something, because I was representing the whole archdiocese with that name tag on.’”

Bostick said the number-one reason people leave the Church is lack of understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. “If you understand that Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity are in the Eucharist, how could you leave?”

She urged people to turn their lives over to God. “I came to realize that when I allowed God to control my life, that is the true freedom.”

Just invite them

Msgr. Mark Rivituso, chairman of the Catholics Come Home initiative, said: “Sometimes all it takes is an invitation. That is the idea of these Catholics Come Home TV ads, to make this visible. I think we can win people over to Jesus in the very simple ways.

“I think we can bring people home to Jesus.”

For more information on Catholics Come Home, including videos and testimonials, go online to catholicscomehome.org. The Archdiocese of St. Louis will launch its own website, catholicscomehomestl.org, on Friday, Dec. 16, the day that the Catholics Come Home commercials begin airing on local television stations.

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