Catholics Come Home.
There is a movement in the Catholic Church to entice families back into the congregation. An American-based group, Catholics Come Home Inc., has found support on the Canadian side of the border. Above, is Haven Lamothe of Carleton Place receiving her first communion at St. Mary's Catholic Church in the same town.
Catholic priests like to think that every Sunday is Super Sunday.
But while the Catholic Church might not have run ads during the recent Super Bowl in New Orleans, the larger fight for the souls of lapsed Catholics has been showing up on other game days in the guise of half-time ads.
An American-based group, Catholics Come Home Inc., has found the support of the Vancouver archdiocese, which is running the group’s ads on this side of the border.
Here in Lanark County, though, there are no plans, as yet to set up chapters of the group, even in the run-up to Lent, which kicked off with Ash Wednesday (Feb. 13), starting the 40 days leading up to the Easter season.
Not that local priests are not interested in the campaign.
“A couple of people have come up to me and said ‘Why don’t we have a come back home movement here?’” said Father Augustine “Gus” Mendonca, who leads the congregation at St. Mary Catholic Church in Carleton Place. “We would like to do that, (but) it requires a lot of energy. We have not acted on it. We hope some day we will do it.”
Mendonca recalled the recent Christmas season, when the inclusion of children in the programs “packed (the church) to the rafters.”
“If we have the children in church, I will fill it,” said Mendonca. “But it is how to keep them. We have to hold them once they come back.”
The problems of keeping Catholics in the pews, and getting those who have been “de-churched,” back, mirrors the declining attendance problems at mainline Protestant denominations.
“Some of it is sheer laziness,” he said with a laugh. “They want to sleep in.”
Other times, the break with the church comes as the result of unintentional misunderstandings about whether they are still welcome in the church because of life changes and decisions.
“Common living (common-law alliances) has become more common,” he said. “They also feel left out in the church.”
Other parents have gotten divorced and have not received an annulment from the church, so they feel that they cannot have their child baptized in the church – which is not so, according to Mendonca.
“Oh, sure, I never refuse anyone,” said Mendonca. “I can work with them (the parents). Let us see what I can do with them,” who wish for their children to be baptized.
In fact, the church requires that a married couple get a civil divorce before they begin the proceedings for an annulment, so that, if they choose, they can get married again within the church, and take part in other sacraments.
The only impediment to a baptism would be if there was an ongoing custody battle, or if both parents could not agree that the child was to be raised Catholic. Both parents must give consent to have a child baptized.
Other challenges facing the church include the sex abuse scandals in Europe and North America, as well as people who left the church as teenagers and never returned.
Down Highway 15 at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Smiths Falls, Rev. Rod McNeil was intrigued by the prospect of the movement.
“(It is) something worth looking into,” McNeil said. “It is a phenomena, for sure, that you see happen. I wish it happened in greater numbers.”
McNeil attributed the return of some Catholics to children asking questions of their parents about faith, the afterlife, and life’s other ponderables. But like Mendonca, he too sees time challenges on families.
“I am a big hockey nut myself,” he admitted, but pointed out that it is a big time commitment, and that some families place too much emphasis on ice time instead of prayer time. “I think families see the priorities get mixed up a bit. (And) we live in a very secular world. People are pulled in so many different directions.”
As a result of this western secularism, “I think people tend to discount religion and question. People assume that they know our faith a little bit better then they really do,” he said, and that goes for Catholics too.
“They are selling their faith a little short,” McNeil said.
This year, McNeil is conducting a class for three new Catholics as they make their way towards baptism. The majority of new Catholics in his church are in mixed marriages, and are converting to facilitate the marriage ceremony, and “for the good of the family so that we are singing from the same hymn book, literally and figuratively.”
Taking on a new faith, or returning to an old one, can be daunting, but McNeil has seen the transformation through one student of his.
“She didn’t feel that she could get up in front of the congregation and recite the profession of faith,” said McNeil.
“I just didn’t think I could do that,” she told McNeil.
But she did, and “that was a faith progression for her.”
Some of the ads for the movement have been appearing during televised football game, and while he was planning to watch what would turn out to be a Baltimore Ravens victory over the San Francisco 49ers at the Super Bowl, Rev. Brian McNally of St. John the Baptist Church in Perth, couldn’t resist a sports pun in supporting the movement.
“The church belongs very much in the arena of sports, as well as in the arena of life,” he said, pointing out that Jesus himself attended parties during his ministry, going where the people were.
The Perth church provides an invitation as well as information to its parishioners on the movement.
“We promote the website here in the parish, though we do not have a group here,” McNally said. “The Catholic Church has the arms wide open to people to come back.”
Like his brother priests, he too points out that “there are a lot of misconceptions,” about what is and is not allowed in the church.
“People think that there are more barriers than there really are,” he said.
One such source of concern has been the church’s handling the various sex abuse scandals in places like the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and elsewhere, where a small minority of pedophile Catholic priests were moved around from parish to parish, instead of being brought to the attention of police.
“It continues to be a source of concern to all of us, though it does concern a limited number of clergy,” said McNally. “Those in responsibility and authority did not handle it with well as possible…(But) the media tends to focus on that.”
McNally was told of the new Divinity Centre in Carleton Place, an evangelical ‘street church,’ which uses stirring music a great deal in its services.
“Music seems to help in some settings,” he agreed, especially when it came to young people, though Catholic masses tend more towards the organ and choir tradition of music. “When young people have an experience with the Lord himself, a deep and personal encounter, it can bring a lot of things to the fore.”