The Bismarck Catholic Diocese will unveil a multi-faceted welcome mat soon for those who have drifted away from the church.
The “Catholics Come Home” TV commercials will air statewide from Dec. 17 to Jan. 30 for both the Bismarck and Fargo dioceses; they are financed separately by each diocese.
Other parts of the project take it to a more personal level. Priests and congregations are trained how to welcome those who have returned or want to.
On Nov. 18, several volunteers spent the day stuffing informational packets and DVDs for those who left and church members who want to deepen their faith. The packets include material about confessions, the rosary, and a DVD.
The local ad effort is an offshoot of the national Catholics Come Home program, started by ad executive Tom Peterson, based in Roswell, Ga.
“He wanted to promote the faith,” said Mary Tarver, canon lawyer for the Bismarck Catholic Diocese. “It’s been run successfully in 20 dioceses. Phoenix saw a 15 percent increase in Mass attendance. It is just advertisements.”
Tarver said the ads give examples of why people leave the Catholic Church and what happened when they returned. “Each of the commercials ... says, ‘If you’ve been away from the church, give us another chance, take another look at the Catholic church.’” Tarver said.
The Rev. Tom Richter said most of the ads are testimonies. He said they are true stories from people who share why they left the church and why they came back. Another two-minute ad shows people who watch the story of their lives. “They’re meant to inspire the heart to be close to Christ again with the church.”
Tarver said most who left said they just wanted an invitation to return after they drifted away. “That’s all we wanted to do — invite them back.”
She said specific dioceses are doing the television commercials, but they will go national in 2011.
Richter, who is a member of the Catholics Come Home Committee , said the ads typically target the Advent and the Christmas-New Year’s and Lent-Easter seasons, “when people’s sentiments and desires come back to church are the highest ”
The Three Affiliated Tribes radio station, KMHA 91.3 in New Town, will not charge for air time to air the messages, Richter said.
The project in western North Dakota Catholic parishes will cost $160,000. Priests and deacons in the western part of the state have collectively contributed $60,000 to help pay for it. Bishop Paul Zifpfel has urged each priest to pledge $1,000.
Special collections will be done throughout the state’s western parishes to make up the difference.
Richter said TV air time will cost about $120,000; some $40,000 more will be spent on materials.
More information on the project is given at catholicscomehome.org.
“It’s really a part of the new evangalization that John Paul II wrote about when he was pope,” Tarver said. “... We just want them to take another look and ‘see what you’re missing and see what we can help you with.”
Richter said a big part of the project is to make existing church members more hospitable to those returning.
“The bishop has sent a team around to prepare the parishes. ... First the priests had a training session, then your parish staff had a training session. Then each priest is supposed to be preparing their congregation at the Sunday Mass, primarily through the homily.”
He uses the parable of the “Prodigal Son” as an example. “If the older son had shown up and met him, it might not have turned out so well,” Richter said. “We want our parishes to have the spirit and the heart of the father in the parable.”
Tarver said every person’s story is different, but the church wants to help them come back. “We’ll expect some won’t call the parish; they’ll just sneak into church. Depending on what they find, they’ll stay or they won’t.” She said that’s why it is important congregations be welcoming, but not intrusive.
Richter said there are interior obstacles that prevent people from returning to the church — fears of shame, criticism and rejection.
“We hope the priest and others do not put up any further obstacles.” He also hopes those that want to return won’t be afraid to call up a priest with questions.
Richter said Catholics Come Home aims to stir the hearts of people who left the church to return, and those who attend to “be less critical, be more open and more hospitable.” Grand Forks Herald