“People need to be reminded that the church is ready and willing to receive them with open arms…”

The phenomenally successful program Catholics Come Home is touching thousands of lives around the country.  Take, for example, Augusta, GA:

There is a poster board in the narthex of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown that says, “We Miss You.”

The hope is to draw the eyes of former or inactive Catholics who may have seen one of the television ads of Catholics Come Home, the national campaign inviting lapsed Catholics back to the church.

The Georgia-based nonprofit partnered with dioceses across the country to produce the church’s first prime-time advertising campaign, which aired on national television networks from December to January.

An estimated 250 million viewers in 10,000 cities saw the ads. Just how many former Catholics will return to the church is unknown. Results so far are modest, but they indicate that the campaign will prove to be powerful and life-changing for some.

“There are some incredible stories we’ve seen over the last year,” said Deacon Ken Maleck of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. “People just needed to be reminded that the church is ready and willing to receive them with open arms.”

Viewers in Augusta have seen the ads before. Georgia was one of 30 or so regional markets to air the spots before the campaign went national.

The first time, Catholics Come Home in Roswell, Ga., developed a series of commercials for Advent 2010. They aired in English and Spanish nearly 5,000 times across Georgia at a cost of $160,000 to the Diocese of Savannah.

In the year since the ads first ran in Georgia, local parishes have offered classes and forums for those who have left the church to discuss their concerns…

…At St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown, Joanna Konczal was one of a few parishioners to share her story of reconciliation with Catholics Come Home. It’s been displayed online and in publications to encourage others who have stayed away to come back to the church.

“It took some time before I would actually come. It took me awhile to go back,” she said. “I was focused on my job. I had made some grave errors in my life.”

She was 18 and unwed when she found out she was pregnant. Konczal said that despite her strong Catholic upbringing, she chose an abortion.

“I felt shame,” she said. “I felt like I hadn’t deserved God’s forgiveness.”

Konczal is now a mother of two. Having been raised Catholic, she knew she wanted to get her daughter baptized. That was a turning point, she said.

“I attended the baptismal class,” she said. “I suddenly felt moved to go back to confession. After the confession, it became like a domino effect. I became hungry to read the Bible, join prayer groups, go to Mass.”

Konczal now attends daily Mass, often with one of her daughters.

“It really has changed us,” she said. “I feel like I have come home. In Poland, your whole family life revolves around the church. I really missed that. I have community again.”

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