This Christmas, Catholic churches near and far are sure to be overflowing at Masses — thanks in part to attendees who haven’t shown up since last Easter or Christmas, if not longer. Such folks are bound to feel ill at ease; other inactive Catholics might not surface at all at holiday time.
All Saints Parish, on the other hand, aims to counter discomfort and apathy by serving up support and encouragement — with the hoped-for result of reuniting people with their faith.
"Catholics Returning Home," a six-week series presented by the parish’s Welcome Home Ministry, will begin Jan. 7, 2013. All sessions are set to take place on Mondays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the All Saints parish office, 222 Dodge Ave., Corning, on the campus of St. Vincent de Paul Church.
The series is aimed at Catholics who are currently not practicing their faith, regardless of the reason or length of inactivity. The fourth-year program is held twice per year, beginning shortly after Christmas and again after Easter. Participants are invited to attend any or all of the sessions, which are designed to provide support rather than pressure in helping people discern their spiritual path and how it relates to their Catholic faith.
To get the word out about Catholics Returning Home, parishioners are being urged to spread the word among family, friends, neighbors and coworkers who are lapsed Catholics. Further invitations will be issued at Christmas Masses, and "Welcome Home" banners will be erected outside St. Vincent de Paul and St. Mary churches during the holiday season.
Catholics Returning Home sessions will be coordinated by Deacon Ray Defendorf, a parish deacon, and Father John Forni, a parish priest. Series highlights include the sharing of personal stories by those who wish to do so; a church tour; discussion on the different types of prayers; a walk-through of the Mass; and an overview of the sacraments.
Stephanie Rodgers, a Welcome Home core-team member, noted that questions and dialogue are encouraged. However, she stressed that those uncomfortable with sharing personal details can opt to schedule a private appointment with a priest or staff member.
Although each Catholics Returning Home program typically draws a modest amount of people, Rodgers said there have been many positive results and thus the ministry has become a staple of the All Saints community.
"It’s more quality than quantity," Rodgers remarked, saying the effort is all worthwhile "if you can get just one person to be more interested in the church."
Potential reasons for falling away are many — a grievance with a parish or staff member; discontent with changes made by the Second Vatican Council; struggles in one’s personal life. Yet according to Rodgers, most often folks simply drift away.
"A lot of times it’s the famous, ‘My parents raised me Catholic, I went off to college and didn’t come back,’" Rodgers remarked, adding that other fallen-away Catholics actually attend church but just go through the motions, not fully digesting and understanding the Mass and its rituals.
"Even the people you see every week may not really ‘be there,’" she remarked, saying she fell into that category for quite some time: "I raised my kids in the church but sat third row from the back, far right corner at Sunday Mass."
Beginning around five years ago, Rodgers felt called to delve further into her faith. "There’s a lot to learn," she said. "It’s one of those stories where God stepped in and said, ‘Here, let me help you.’"
EDITOR’S NOTE: To register for the Catholics Returning Home series, call the All Saints parish office at 607-936-4689, ext. 210. For more information, contact Deacon Ray Defendorf at 607-426-1100 or Stephanie Rodgers at email@example.com.