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June 20, 2010

Catholics came home: Report shows increase in Mass attendance following media initiative

By Michelle Martin

ASSISTANT EDITOR

Key findings

The Office for Evangelization surveyed parishes about the Catholics Come Home initiative. This is what they found:

  • Parishes experienced an 8.1 percent increase in Mass attendance
  • 88 percent think the archdiocese should use media to evangelize in the future
  • 71 percent thought the initiative benefited their parishes
  • 52 percent said there was an increase in confessions

Source: Office for Evangelization

Before Catholics Come Home commercials started airing in the Chicago area during Advent last year, parishioners at Our Lady of the Woods in Orland Park got involved in planning ways to be more welcoming and started becoming more interested in their own faith, said Michael Callahan, the parish’s pastoral minister.

Once the 2,000 television ads started airing, the one question they had for Callahan was whether people were, in fact, coming home to the church, Callahan said.

That wasn’t an easy question to answer, he said, “because most people who are coming home to the church don’t come to the parish office and say, ‘I’m back,’” he said. “They just start coming to Mass.”

Some people did tell the pastor and other priests in the confessional that they had been away from the church, or mentioned it after Mass, Callahan said, but there was no way to quantify it. In May, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Evangelization released a report showing that the average Mass attendance at the 269 parishes and missions that reported in increased 8.1 percent between October 2009 and February 2010, when the Office of Research and Planning conducted a special count.

However, the February count was taken at the beginning of Lent, when more people usually attend Mass, according to Nancy Polacek, the Catholics Come Home coordinator.

At Our Lady of the Woods, the increase was even larger; it went from a weekend Mass attendance of 1,820 in October 2009 to 2,151 four months later, a jump of 18.2 percent.

Benefits parishioners

Callahan said benefits of the Catholics Come Home initiative went beyond the Catholics who were inspired to return to the church. Active parishioners also benefited from the attention to their faith.

“We can see an increased interest in their faith and the way they live it out,” Callahan said. “There seems to be an increased sense of awareness of their own Catholic faith.”

The evaluations of pastors and parish contact people for Catholics Come Home were also generally positive. More than 90 percent of the parish contact people reported that their parishes were positively engaged in and enthusiastic about planning for the initiative.

Immediately after the television ads aired, 22 parishes hosted special opportunities for reconciliation, each with at least two priests available for confessions for two hours on two days. A total of 449 confessions were heard during the event, and some parishes reported an uptick in the number of confessions heard during regularly scheduled times.

Need for reconciliation

Callahan suggested that the next major evangelization outreach could focus on the sacrament of reconciliation, as relatively few parishioners take advantage of the sacrament.

Most pastors who responded to the survey agreed that the archdiocese should continue to use the media to evangelize, and twothirds of them suggested that it use the Catholics Come Home commercials again.

According to the summary report, representatives from the archdiocese and the dioceses of Joliet and Rockford — partners in the original $1.3 million Catholics Come Home initiative — will meet to consider a second-phase media effort.

Meanwhile, parishes must continue to welcome and evangelize, Polacek said.

“Evangelization needs to be at the center of every ministry in the parish,” she wrote in response to e-mailed questions.

“The Catholics Come Home initiative offered a template of ‘invite, welcome, accompany’ that could provide a new way of looking at the parish sacrament preparation programs and families coming into the religious education programs or Catholic school for the fist time. Whenever a new person enters into a part of parish life, parishioners need to be there with a warm welcome and a way to accompany the newcomer as they grow in faith.”

For more information about Catholics Come Home, visit catholicscomehomechicago.org.