Local News Archive
Print Issue: June 22, 2000
Archdiocese Seeks Catholics Who Are Away
By Suzanne Haugh, Staff Writer
ATLANTAEveryone knows someone-a spouse, a sister or brother, a co-worker, a neighbor, a college roommate. That someone may even be you.
While active Catholics throughout the United States outnumber any other Christian denomination, the second largest group of baptized U.S. Christians, close to the number of any single Protestant denomination some say, is Catholics not regularly attending Mass.
Over 17 million Catholics have drifted away from the faith, according to Paulist Father John Hurley, director of the Office for Evangelization of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The reasons for their absence vary; among them may be a marriage outside of the Catholic Church, disagreement with the church on certain issues, relocating to a new area, worshipping with another denomination or simply being too busy or feeling theres no need for religion in ones life.
Almost in every family theres a relative no longer practicing, said Archbishop John F. Donoghue. ... They miss things, like the Eucharist, but maybe dont feel welcomed. I want to assure them that they are welcomed and want to help them get back.
In line with the Holy Fathers desire for the universal church to focus on evangelization during the Jubilee Year, on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 25, the Atlanta Archdiocese begins an evangelization effort to welcome back those not currently practicing their Catholic faith.
That afternoon, Father Jack Durkin, from St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, and Father Brian Higgins, from the Cathedral of Christ the King, will preach at the cathedral on evangelization and the Eucharist. The event will begin with a eucharistic procession at 2:30 p.m.
Building upon a Eucharistic Renewal that the archbishop began in 1996, the Benediction service will serve as a send-off of active Catholics in North Georgia to go and make disciples, which is the title of the U.S. bishops plan for evangelization. First to be sought out will be members of the Catholic Church who no longer come to church. The first year of evangelization will focus upon them.
Archbishop Donoghue, who will preside at the hour and a half service and lead Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, recalled the phrase once a Catholic, always a Catholic.
... especially when a person is baptized and educated as a kid in the Catholic Church. You know when you come back that something was missing. Even if you join another denomination, and Im not condemning themIm glad theyre going some placebut something is missing still. They come to realize in some cases that they dont have the body and blood of Christ to sustain them. They may have a good homily and good music, but they need spiritual sustenance to sustain them.
One common age group of non-practicing Catholics includes people who drift away in the college years, he said.
Theres no particular reason, just that they get lazy. They dont have their parents to tell them to go to Mass. They graduate from college, get married. Religion is not that meaningful to them until they start having children and then they realize that they want to do something to educate their kids in the faith. They send their kids to CCD, but they still dont go to Mass.
Unless parents nurture their own faith, the archbishop said, the message communicated to children is that religion is really not important.
Parents, be aware: Know that getting the kids to CCD one night a week hasnt fulfilled your obligation to your children and to yourselves. Most often parents know they havent, but they might not know what to do to really get their (faith back). Some may feel unwelcomed ... I want to assure them that they are most welcomed. We want to do what is needed to help them make that change.
Archbishop Donoghue recognized that the situation of each person returning to the faith would be different.
Some of them may not be able to come back in full communion ... but theyre still Catholic. Whether they receive Communion or not, I want them to know that we want to see them at Mass.
He noted that those remarried outside the church might be eligible for annulments, which is one situation that could be addressed initially on an archdiocesan hotline set up to answer inquires or direct people to the proper place for guidance.
While Archbishop Donoghue has remained constant in his Catholic beliefs, he understands the challenges to ones faith life.
In my own case, I never had any thoughts about being anything but Catholic. I never had time away from the church. There have been times I had doubts, but people go through periods wondering what they want to be or whats necessary to save souls. Some people say without question while others still doubt.
The archbishop will trust and rely on the testimony of lay Catholics to walk with those who wish to return to the practice of their Catholic faith.
I want to use (active Catholics), I hope, as examples, especially people who have fallen away and have come back, and how tremendously happy they are. I meet them all the time. They might say, Ive been away 20 years and I knew I was missing something. In most cases, its the Eucharist. We want to use them as witnesses to let those (in the program) know theyre not in it alone, to know that there are so many just like them.
He noted the energy returning Catholics bring to the church.
People who fall away, when they get back, they become active Catholics. Very few whove been away become what we might call Sunday Catholics. Theyre active in their parishes because they see what religion means in their lives ... Its very encouraging when I see that happen.
The archbishop hopes to tap into that potential and not let it go.
And he has with the appointment of Keri Allen, director of evangelization and adult education at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Allen spent five years away from the church but now directs the Come To Me program and the archdioceses Eucharistic Renewal.
It became apparent that we needed to do even more to promote eucharistic devotion and awareness to active Catholics, Allen said of the Eucharistic Renewal, which buttresses the evangelization effort.
Those attending the Corpus Christi celebration will receive prayer cards to distribute to Catholics they may know who need an invitation to church. With the logo of the Good Shepherd on one side, the prayer cards will include a phone number and web page information so that recipients can inquire about church teachings or how they can return to active participation in the church. These cards, printed in English and Spanish, will be available at area churches in the future.
We want to create ways within the archdiocese to welcome Catholics back, Allen said.
The outreach will employ evangelization efforts already in existence in the archdiocese, such as the small faith-sharing groups started with RENEW 2000 or other programs.
It will also mark the beginning of new initiatives, most notably the Catholics Returning Home series. This six-week program will be offered around Christmas and Easter.
Written by Sally Mews, a woman who left the church and found her way back, Catholics Returning Home uses personal faith stories and basic instruction in the Catholic faith to gently guide those interested into active participation in church life.
Archbishop Donoghue has written to all pastors asking them to organize a team of parishioners to focus on the new evangelization at their respective churches for a full year. He hopes that the fruit of the first year of evangelization will be apparent on the weekend of Corpus Christi 2001. The archdiocese has rented the Georgia International Convention Center for Saturday, June 16, 2001, and will host a daylong celebration for all Catholics, particularly those who have rediscovered their faith.
Speakers at the 2001 event are scheduled to include Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., and Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the pontifical household since 1980, who gives retreats for Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials and who has been a speaker at many charismatic congresses. The day will include tracks for teens and children as well as adults and will end with the celebration of Mass.
As the evangelization project progresses beyond the first year, it will reach out to those who are unchurched.
Members of the evangelization steering committee were appointed by Archbishop Donoghue in January. The committee is made up of approximately 30 people who currently serve the archdiocese in various ways. Clergy and Religious on the committee include Father Paul Reynolds, vicar general in curia, Msgr. Louis Naughton, judicial vicar, Father Jaime Barona, Father Tim Hepburn, Father John Hopkins, LC, Father Larry Niese, Deacon Whitney Robichaux and Sister Valentina Sheridan, RSM.
Another member is Kathy Wolf, director of religious education for the archdiocese. She hopes her office will continue to be a resource for parishes and anyone wishing to further learn about the Catholic faith.
The whole (evangelization) program wont go away next year. The office of religious education, its whole purpose is to be here to continue to support, be a resource for and offer training opportunities to learn more about passing on church teachings. Evangelization and catechesis go hand in hand to transform the heart and inform the mind.
People must be involved in the process for it to work.
(As Catholics) were committed to pass on, to echo the faith, to fully meet people where theyre at, to listen, share and invite them into thatto build up the body of Christ.
Wolf offered some guidance to active Catholics who know those not currently practicing the Catholic faith.
Evangelization is very relational. You need to walk with the person, hear their story, share your story. People stop coming to church for various reasons. We want to invite them back in love. We realize there may be barriers to move past, that there is need for a healing process. In certain cases, people just need to be invited.
Information about the Come To Me program is available through parish religious education offices or through Keri Allen at (404) 233-2145, ext. 426.
-- (L-r) Archbishop John F. Donoghue, Keri Allen, director of evangelization at
the Cathedral of Christ the King, John Marotta, Mary Elkins, Father John
Hopkins, LC, Msgr. Louis Naughton, judicial vicar, and Father Paul Reynolds,
vicar general in curia, look over the poster for the evangelization program
entitled Come To Me.
SHARING -- Seated in a booth at the IHOP restaurant in Snellville (clockwise),
Rick Nerone of St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville, Ken Sharpe of St. John
Neumann Church, Lilburn, Lee Buechele and Mike Simonetti of Corpus Christi
Church, Stone Mountain, discuss a section in the Catechism of the Catholic
Church on faith. Since 1991 the men have come together on Friday mornings for
6:30 a.m. breakfast and spiritual dialogue.
FACILITATOR -- Evangelization committee member John Marotta updates the committee regarding Corpus Christi 2001, a daylong evangelization event planned for June 16, 2001 at the Georgia International Convention Center.