Finding their way back home

By Jacqui Podzius Cook | Contributor
Sunday, January 3, 2010

A 30 foot banner was just the invitation Matt Schneider needed to return home. Not home to where he grew up, but home to the Catholic Church and the faith that once was a part of his daily life.

Schneider had been contemplating a return to the church after many discussions with his best friend, a devout Catholic who attends daily Mass in his hometown in Poland. Schneider spent several weeks visiting him in Poland, attending Mass with him and asking questions about why his friend believed so deeply in God and the church.

Forgotten prayers

But it wasn’t until he returned home and walked past Holy Name Cathedral one day that he got the answer he was seeking: a large banner announcing the start of Catholics Returning Home.

The six week session is for Catholics who left the church and are considering coming back. Participants are able to ask any questions they have about the church and get a refresher course on doctrine, the Mass and prayer.

“That was one of the barriers I was facing in coming back to church,” Schneider said. “I was apprehensive because I didn’t remember any of this stuff. I didn’t want to go to church and stumble through the routine. So I signed up for Catholics Returning Home, and attended the sessions.”

Today, Schneider is in the pews at Holy Name just about every Sunday. The hope is that others like him will find their way back when Holy Name begins its third Catholics Returning Home session Jan. 12, the first time the program is part of the larger Catholics Come Home initiative.

Catholics Come Home is an evangelization effort to welcome back Catholics who have left the church, as well as provide resources for people interested in becoming Catholic. In the Chicago area, a series of television commercials is airing through Jan. 24, featuring Catholics who returned to the church and found the peace and answers they were seeking. The initiative is a joint effort of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the dioceses of Joliet and Rockford.

Getting creative

The goal is for churches to find creative ways to invite people back to a life with Christ and his church. Participation can be something as formal as classes, like at Holy Name, or simply asking parishioners to bring a friend or family member back to church.

Churches across the archdiocese also are distributing cards with the prayer to the Holy Family, to be said for those who may be considering a return “home.”

Like Holy Name, Incarnation Parish in Palos Heights already had a plan in place that fit perfectly with the intent of Catholics Come Home. In November, Incarnation began designating one Sunday per month for parishioners to bring someone to church — based on a theme selected for that month.

For example, November was Bring a Veteran or Someone in the Military; December was Bring an Adult or Teenage Child; January is Bring a Non Practicing Catholic.

For each of the weekends, an organization within the parish provides fellowship and hospitality for the visitors, and the church creates a special bulletin written specifically for people who may not be familiar with what Incarnation has to offer.

Preparing the faithful

Kathy McNicholas, pastoral associate and director of catechesis at Incarnation, says the homilies prior to the start of the program focused on ways parishioners could be welcoming at all points of a newcomer’s visit — in the parking lot, in the pews and after Mass — even if it means giving up a regular spot or seat.

“The pastor did a homily on stepping over with a smile,” she said. “That really made people think, ‘What is it I am really doing when I come here? Has it become routine, like going to the bank, or does it mean something to me?’ It inspired people to feel more in touch with the mission of the church.”