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January 31, 2010

Catholics Come Home already bearing some fruit

By Daniel P. Smith

CONTRIBUTOR

Lenten learning

Eighteen parishes will hold adult formation sessions during Lent. Sessions will focus on a common question about our faith. Contact a parish for dates and times:

Lake County/Northwest: St. Bede, Ingleside, (847) 587-2251; St. Mary, Lake Forest, (847) 234- 0205; St. Edna, Arlington Heights, (847) 398-3362

North: Sacred Heart, Winnetka, (847) 446-0856; St. Isaac Jogues, Niles, (847) 967-1060; Our Lady of Ransom, Niles, (847) 823-2550

Chicago: Resurrection, 3043 N. Francisco Ave., (773) 478-9705; Notre Dame De Chicago, 1335 W. Harrison St., (312) 243-7400

West: St. Bartholomew, 4949 W. Patterson Ave., (773) 286-7871; St. Giles, Oak Park, (708) 383- 3430; St. Francis of Rome, Cicero, (708) 652-2140; St. Barbara, Brookfield, (708) 485-0589

Southwest: St. Turbius, 5646 S. Karlov Ave., (773) 581-2730; Our Lady of the Ridge, Chicago Ridge, (708) 425-3800; St. Julie Billiart, Tinley Park, (708) 429-6767; Our Lady of the Woods, Orland Park, (708) 361-4754

Southeast: St. John De La Salle, 10205 S. King Dr., St. Agnes, Chicago Heights, (708) 709-2694

Source: CatholicsComeHomeChicago.org

In a parish of approximately 300 families, it’s easy for Father Mike Knotek, pastor of St. John de La Salle, 10205 S. King Drive, to pick out the new faces. In the last month, Knotek has seen a rise in fresh faces filtering into his South Side church, an upsurge he credits to the archdiocese’s Catholics Come Home initiative.

“There have been no phone calls or e-mails, but people showing up for Mass and telling me that the commercials are what brought them in,” Knotek said.

After 2,000 television commercials aired in English, Polish and Spanish throughout the Chicagoland area from Dec. 18 to Jan. 24, Knotek’s report sparks increased optimism. Encouraged by the positive news arriving from Knotek and other pastors throughout the archdiocese, Father Richard Hynes, director for the department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Worship, nevertheless urged restraint.

“The feedback is all anecdotal at this point,” Hynes said.

Returning to the fold

A collaborative venture between the dioceses of Chicago, Joliet and Rockford, the Catholics Come Home evangelization initiative encourages non-practicing Catholics to return to the church as well as welcoming interested parties into the faith.

At St. John De La Salle, Knotek noted three distinct populations entering the church, many citing the television commercials as their motivation. The first, he said, was parishioners who had not been attending Mass with regularity.

“Many of these folks were telling me that the commercials made them proud to be Catholic and reminded them of their obligations to the faith,” Knotek said.

The second group Knotek noticed was what he termed “fallen away Catholics,” once-practicing Catholics who had dropped any sense of Catholic life or identity.

“For these folks, I think the commercials reminded them that they were Catholic and continued to be Catholic,” Knotek said.

A number of local parishes also hosted open houses as informational and educational vehicles for those seeking to learn about the Catholic faith.

For Knotek, the new faces entering his South Side church have not only boosted the church’s attendance, but reenergized the parish base with pride and purpose.

“Off the bat, this has been a real blessing for our parish,” he said.

Next step

Dubbed “the invitation,” the television commercials served as the most visible piece of the initiative’s overlapping, threepronged approach. The Catholics Come Home campaign also includes “the welcome,” in which parishes greet people who return to the faith and “the accompaniment,” which encourages all Catholics to observe the sacraments, strengthen their knowledge of the faith, and return to parish life.

The television commercials and positive early returns, Hynes said, are only the beginning.

“We’ve used the technology of today to encourage the practice of the Catholic faith, but there’s still much work to be done,” he said.

During the Lenten season, 18 parishes will hold adult-formation sessions, evening meetings with a focus on common questions about the Catholic faith. As Easter approaches, six sites will host marriage and annulment conversations.

‘Voice of invitation’

Upon announcing the initiative, Cardinal George reminded practicing members of the faith that the Catholics Come Home initiative was not the church’s task alone. “You are the voice of the church, and you can be the voice of invitation,” the cardinal said in a statement.

By and large, parishioners have heeded the cardinal’s words, including a motivated army of archdiocesan deacons. Hynes said all Catholics will continue to play a crucial role in the Catholics Come Home initiative, their participation and spirit necessary as the campaign further unfolds throughout the first half of 2010.

For initiative resources visit www.catholicscomechomechicago.org.