When asked what my top priority as bishop is, without hesitation I answer “the new evangelization.” Both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have recognized the need for a new missionary season in the Church through the proclamation of the good news of the Gospel with new ardor and energy, new methods and expressions, inviting others to discover anew the attraction of following Christ in the Catholic Church.
Last Christmas, we distributed over 50,000 copies of the book Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. I was grateful to receive a wonderful response from so many people in our diocese to this book, which has helped them to grow in their Catholic faith. I was especially happy when I learned from people who were not very active in the practice of their faith that the book helped them to appreciate their faith more and to become more active in the Church.
This year, we are embarking on another project that is part of the “new evangelization” in our diocese. We are partnering with the national (and international) Catholics Come Home organization to invite and encourage inactive Catholics to return home to the practice of the faith.
Catholics Come Home uses the media in this important task of the new evangelization, specifically television messages and an interactive website. This media campaign has been quite successful in many dioceses that have used it. The campaign will take place in our diocese from December 16, 2011, until January 31, 2012. The TV commercials that will air during this time are truly inspirational.
Our faith is a precious gift from God that gives meaning to our lives and strengthens us to live as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly, there are many members of our family of faith who have drifted away from the practice of the faith. We miss them and their participation with us at Holy Mass. Many inactive Catholics still believe in Christ and identify themselves as Catholic, yet, for various reasons, have drifted away from active participation in the life of the Church. Research shows that only a small percentage left the Church for doctrinal reasons. Most became inactive due to social stresses that devalued religious affiliation and practice, influences of our increasingly secularized culture.
Many inactive Catholics who have returned have said that they were waiting for an invite. That is what the Catholics Come Home program is all about. It is a warm invitation to these, our brothers and sisters, to come home. We hope to welcome them with the peace and love of Christ.
The Catholics Come Home program calls all of us and all our parishes to have a zeal for evangelization, which means that we warmly welcome home our brothers and sisters who are moved by this media campaign to return to the Church. We should not be afraid to share our faith with our neighbors nor to defend our faith with our detractors. Every parish should be active in its outreach to fallen-away Catholics and to the unchurched.
I think you will find the television commercials to be very inspirational. They include an ad, which emphasizes the history, beauty, spirituality and accomplishments of the Catholic Church over her 2,000 year history. Another ad, a reflective “movie of your life,” teaches that it is never too late to ask for God’s forgiveness and to accept His mercy. Others are mini-documentaries that consist of dozens of real Catholics who share their stories of leaving the Church and the joy and peace they found upon their return.
I imagine that most of the people of our diocese will see the commercials on TV, however you can also view the commercials and learn more about the campaign on the national Catholics Come Home website www.catholicscomehome.org
Our diocesan Catholics Come Home website is up and running, so I invite you to check it out at www.catholicscomehomefwsb.org. One part of the website is a Catholic FAQ. This series of questions and answers can be very helpful for those who have questions about the faith.
We are beginning this important evangelizing effort in the middle of the season of Advent, as we approach the Solemnity of Christmas. It is a time when we celebrate the great event of the Incarnation, that God in His infinite love for us, sent His Son as our Savior. As Saint John wrote: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9). This is the message we proclaim in our mission of evangelization. This is the Good News of our Christian faith. Through the Catholics Come Home campaign, we are inviting our brothers and sisters to embrace this truth anew through active participation in the Church which is Christ’s Body and through which He gives us His grace.
The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of all evangelization, so I ask all the faithful of our diocese to join me in invoking the Holy Spirit in praying for the success of this campaign. Let us pray during the holy seasons of Advent and Christmas that many non-practicing Catholics will indeed come home, will return to the sacraments, and join us at the table of the Lord.
I also entrust this intention of the return of inactive Catholics to the Church to our Blessed Mother, whom we invoke as the “Star of Evangelization.” In the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, “The Virgin Mary, who did not communicate to the world an idea but Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is an unparalleled model of evangelization.” May she make us all aware of being missionaries, sent by her Son to be His witnesses! May Mary, the Star of Evangelization, intercede for us in this campaign and intercede for all those whom we are inviting to come home!
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