ROCHESTER — In explaining the benefits of a new outreach program at Holy Apostles Parish, parish missionary Becky Colón described one woman whose home had been robbed.
Although she was not Catholic, the woman welcomed the chance to have Holy Apostles Pastor Father Tony Mugavero bless the inside and outside of her home. It was a way for her to feel safe in her own home, Colón said.
"You can feel the Holy Spirit while it is being done," she said of the home blessing.
Colón is one of several missionaries conducting a methodical, door-to-door survey of homes around Holy Apostles Church to identify neighborhood leaders and needs ranging from vacant homes to trash concerns. Also, participants are asked whether they would like to speak to someone from Holy Apostles, and whether they would like Father Mugavero to visit and bless their homes.
So far, 12 families have said yes to the home blessing, and most of the 12 have not been Catholic families, Colón said.
The effort is an attempt to help identify needs in the urban Rochester parish, connect people with existing ministries, and help develop a neighborhood leadership structure that can stabilize the area, which has been challenged by crime and drugs.
As part of the missionary outreach, in September the parish has renamed its Urban Center as the Mother Teresa Missionary Center. In this building, the parish runs many of its neighborhood programs, including a food closet and a clothing cupboard.
Father Mugavero noted that Blessed Mother Teresa was a natural choice as a patron of the missionary center, because her loving, compassionate service to the poor is well-known, even among those who are not Catholic.
"When you mention Mother Teresa, people know who she is and they know the story about her," Father Mugavero said. "She’s a rallying figure."
Father Mugavero noted that in adopting a mission focus, the church is drawing on its apostolic roots by bringing the Gospel to people, just as Christ’s apostles did. In the past, people flocked — literally and figuratively — to churches in the city of Rochester, he said.
"We didn’t have to think about mission, but at a certain point, it shifted, and we’ve been slow to respond to it," Father Mugavero said. "We are still expecting people to come to us."
Contemporary religions that are gaining followers are not unified by ideology or theology, but instead place a heavy emphasis on outreach to individuals, he said. That’s why Holy Apostles’ urban missionaries have adopted the door-to-door approach.
Survey respondents have been connected with the Notre Dame Learning Center’s new program to prepare adults to get their general equivalency diploma. Others have helped with food and clothing, and some have been referred to mental-health and chemical-dependency programs.
The next step, Father Mugavero noted, is to bring neighborhood leaders together with elected and city representatives to help resolve some of the neighborhood concerns that are outside of parish control, such as a decline in the area’s housing stock.
The parish also has continued its outreach through social events, including ice cream socials that have attracted hundreds of people. Area agencies have been present at the events to give out information about their services.
During the week before Easter, parishioners baked 500 loaves of bread using dough provided by the parish. That bread was then distributed in the neighborhood along with an invitation to join Holy Apostles for Easter Masses.
"Our church was full for all three services," Colón said.
The missionary effort is still a little too new to evaluate whether it has increased attendance at Holy Apostles, but a few families have responded to the invitations by attending English and Spanish Masses more regularly, Father Mugavero said. Ultimately, the hope is neighbors will ask those connected with Holy Apostles’ ministries why they do what they do, which will give the parish an opportunity to invite them to learn more, he said.
"Little by little you penetrate the neighborhood, and the neighborhood feels the church," Father Mugavero said.