Welcome home: Boston sees some Catholics returning

The archdiocese launched the ambitious “Catholics Come Home” project on Ash Wednesday, and the Boston Herald takes a look at how it’s doing:

The Boston Archdiocese’s largest effort in a generation to reach lapsed Catholics is drawing wandering souls back to the church’s open arms, but the biggest obstacle could be keeping them, priests and parishioners say.

The archdiocese, still suffering fallout from the clergy sex abuse crisis and parish closings, is hoping to bring back thousands of the formerly faithful through Catholics Come Home, a series of TV ads airing during Lent, coupled with a grass-roots push at parishes. Fewer than 20 percent of Catholics in the Boston area attend Mass each Sunday, down from nearly 80 percent in the 1960s.

With two weeks left in the campaign, there is evidence it’s working.

“I was doing laundry and that stopped me in my tracks, that made me cry,” said Jackeline Rolon, 36, who was so moved by one of the TV ads she started going to Mass at St. Stephen’s in Framingham. She stopped going to church when she was 15. But the ad drew a flood of memories of her grandma, who walked her to church every Sunday in her native Puerto Rico, and her late father, a devout Catholic.

“I know that from heaven he is the one pulling me back to the church,” she said of her dad, Guillermo Rolon.

The most visible components of the $600,000 campaign are the emotional TV ads, lasting up to two minutes and reaching 95 percent of Boston-area TV viewers.

Inside church walls, priests and parishioners are ushering in greeters, welcome tables and a new spirit of acceptance. Parishioners are encouraged to bring a friend or relative who has fallen away.

“Before we just waited for the people to come to the church. Now we see a lot aren’t coming. It behooves us to reach out to them and tell them we want them to be part of our family,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley told the Herald. “My hope is that this effort will help our Catholics to feel more responsible to invite, to welcome, to be an evangelical community.”

The push comes as fewer and fewer Catholics are going to Mass. Only about 300,000 of the 1.7 million Catholics in the archdiocese attend Mass on Sunday. In the 1960s, some 1.3 million of the 1.7 million Catholics in the archdiocese regularly attended.

The archdiocese could see as much as a 10 percent bump in Mass attendance, based on success of similar campaigns across the country. The campaign was launched on Ash Wednesday and runs until Easter.

Read more.

  • Debra

    I know our church in CT is trying to reach out, no commercials, but being more pro-active, making sure new faces and old, feel welcome and a part of the parish. I think in the past, many church’s rested on their laurels, not caring about many things, but then it slowly started to unravel.
    I hope they reverts find the peace and grace they need.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I know I have seen a number of new faces in our just north of Boston congregation lately. And have sought them out after Mass to greet them. Regular parishoners have said they also have noticed and gone out of their way to give a friendly greeting to them. And a number of parishoners brought some over to the pastor or myself to make sure we made contact with the possible “reverts.”
    It should be noted that the Boston Sunday Herald gave over its whole front page to this positive story and a separate two page spread on it inside.
    The Boston Sunday Globe on the same day took half its front page and almost 2 full pages inside to rehash the problems the Catholic Church is having in Ireland.
    I was unaware that the Globe had become the Dublin Gazette. Or is it their not so subtle way of undermining the “Catholics Come Home ” campaign of the Boston archdiocese???

  • Debra

    Fr. Groechel thinks the NYTimes is like that, undermining all the time.

    I hope this renewal will be felt in many parish’s. I know in the past, many years ago, I never felt really welcome, cliques exist, sometimes a lot, with groups involved in the church, they don’t want others to upset their balance and wont let you in. You try to make eye contact or talk with the priest or another parishoner and you can’t.

    These things alone don’t make or break usually, but if you feel alone and then feel alone at church, that shouldn’t be.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Debra–The Boston Globe is owned totally by the NY Times. The Globe has become nothing but a New England tentacle of the Times media octopus.

  • Waz

    It’s a shame that our greatest priest-sociologist was injured by that cab, for I’d love to hear if “Catholics Come Home” would make him change his tune regarding these sorts of efforts:

    “The so-called evangelization movement is a farce if not an outright fraud. . . an enormous amount of rhetoric (not to use scatological language) is generated; a great feeling of achievement and righteousness is exuded – without any notable change in either convert rates or the return of alienated Catholics.” Andrew M. Greeley: The Catholic Myth: The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics.


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