By Laurie Kiefaber
WARSAW— Over the years Catholics have left the Church for various reasons, including those needing an annulment and misunderstandings with priests. Sacred Heart Church in Warsaw started the Catholics Returning Home Ministry (CRHM) last year and it’s bringing people back.
This is the second year for the program and the third session of the ministry. Linda Nycz, William Landrigan and Shirley Waldschmidt are members of the ministry committee and organize six meetings to discuss different topics. These include changes since Vatican II, a walkthrough of the Mass, the sacrament of Penance and “The Creed: What Catholics Believe.”
During sessions, people have relayed many reasons why they left the Church. Waldschmidt said a number of people are under the false impression they cannot apply for an annulment.
“As soon as they got divorced, they thought they were out of the Church,” she said.
Some have been intimidated by the process of annulment and worry about being “interrogated,” Waldschmidt said.
Landrigan said many of the Protestant faiths have not helped matters either.
“There’s the liberalization of Protestant religions and various churches with a lively message,” he said. “They appeal to Catholics who have not been catechized sufficiently. They’re impressed by the entertainment and don’t know enough about sacramental life.”
However, some Catholics don’t attend any church after they leave.
“They say they’re Catholic even though they’re not attending,” said Waldschmidt.
Session participants fill out an anonymous questionnaire, describing why they are attending, hopes and expectations, fears and apprehensions, feelings about Church and God and questions they would like answered. Those attending also discuss their faith and share faith stories.
“Some have talked about contraception or abortion,” Nycz said.
Committee members say they have heard various complaints about the Catholic Church such as on clerical abuse, the Mass being “boring,” “not being fed,” not wanting to go to confession, the unavailability of the priest and not having a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s also likely some people stopped learning about their faith and growing after Confirmation.
Other faith stories illuminate a lack of communication.
“Events like Adoration,” Waldschmidt said. “We went, but it wasn’t explained.”
Before CRHM sessions begin, Sacred Heart celebrates a Mass where people are invited to drop names of fallen-away Catholics in a bowl and pray for them. CRHM committee members never know how many people will attend the sessions ahead of time, but there have been plenty of names in the bowl.
“If one comes, it’s successful,” Landrigan said. “If one person needed to be redeemed, Jesus would have come. … We put out the welcome mat.”
Nycz said the first session had about 10 participants, while the second had only three.
“For some, it may take a couple years (before participants feel comfortable at Mass again),” Nycz said. “Everyone is welcome to come to every session if they want.”
The sessions have been popular and many attendees didn’t want to stop after six sessions, Nycz said.
“It’s kind of like once you dip your toe in the water, you want more,” she said. “… Shirley and I have had to delve into information because we try to give correct answers.”
CRHM committee members saw many people transform through the program, which is confidential and nonjudgmental.
“In one man I could see the stirring of the spirit,” Landrigan said. “He wrestled with his own personality. … The Holy Spirit was working.”
“It’s like a relief or a breath of fresh air (for them),” Nycz said.
“It’s a catharsis experience,” Landrigan added.
For more information, contact Sacred Heart Catholic Church at (574) 267-5842. Sessions are held on Wednesdays from 7- 8:30 p.m. beginning April 27.
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