Diocese launches effort to invite inactive Catholics back to Church

Bishop William Murphy’s 2010 pastoral letter of the same name invited Catholics on Long Island to “Belong More Deeply.” As part of the next step of that process and to also start reaching out to non-practicing Catholics, the Diocese of Rockville Centre offered three study days early last week for pastoral staff in parishes around the diocese.

“These staff days were developed to introduce the second phase of ‘Belong More Deeply’ and to integrate the universal Church’s celebration of the Year of Faith,” which begins Oct. 11, explained Sister of St. Joseph Mary Alice Piil, director of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation. Father Gerard Gentleman, pastor of Holy Family Church in Hicksville, was the chairperson of the staff study day committee and Bishop Nelson Perez and diocesan director of worship Msgr. Andrzej Zglejszewski both spoke at the event. The Office of Faith Formation assisted with the program.

When he first issued the “Belong More Deeply” pastoral letter, “Bishop Murphy spoke of the shepherds and the wise men, preparing us to develop our own faith life and to enter more deeply into the celebration of Sunday Mass,” said Sister Mary Alice. “The first phase helped us to introduce the new translation of the Roman Missal.  Now in phase two we will reach out to those Catholics who don’t join us for Mass on Sunday.” This next step anticipates not only the Year of Faith but also Bishop Murphy’s next pastoral letter, “You too go into the Vineyard.”

For the second phase, Sister Mary Alice noted, “on the weekend of Oct. 13-14 each parish will ask parishioners to think of someone who is not presently participating in Sunday Mass. They will then write the name of that person — first names only — on a card which will be collected and placed together with others in a prominent place in the church. For the weeks leading up to Advent, parishioners will pray for these individuals. The person who wrote the name will invite that individual to come to some parish activity or to Mass during Advent. Some parishes will have a special Mass with hospitality to welcome those coming back. Others might welcome them to a vespers or a carol service. The particular approach will be designed by the parishes to fit their needs.”

“I thought the staff study days were well attended and had a positive energy about them,” said Maria Davidson, director of religious education at St. Lawrence the Martyr Church in Sayville. “Bishop Perez offered words of wisdom from his own experience with the Catholic Institute for Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He reminded us that ‘evangelizing moments’ can happen just about anywhere, and whether we are prepared for them or even recognize them or not, as long as we are open to the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives, we can be the instruments of God’s grace in the world.  Also, we as Church need to be as hospitable as possible if we want those who have been away to feel welcomed and that they belong. Msgr. Andrzej stressed the importance of remaining rooted in the Eucharist.”

The invitation back does not end this Advent. “The hope is that parishes will have follow up programs for those returning,” Sister Mary Alice said.

“Once we have reached out and invited back those who have been away from the Church for a while, ‘Welcoming Home’ programs can assist in their transition back to the active practice of the faith,” added Davidson, who offered suggestions for those programs at the study days. “Parishes are encouraged to offer or to have in place some means to welcome back those who have felt the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit, calling them back home. My parish, St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville, will be offering one such program beginning January 7 which will meet on six consecutive Monday evenings. The gatherings will include informal sharing and an update of the Catholic faith.”

“What I think is so wonderful about the ‘Belong More Deeply’ initiative is that we, the entire Diocese of Rockville Centre, along with dioceses across the nation, are united in a common effort to belong to Christ and His bride, the Church, ever more deeply and to reach out to those individuals and families who have left the active practice of their faith, inviting them back to the Church, our community of faith,” she continued. “What a great way to celebrate this Year of Faith, which offers to us a unique opportunity to look at our own faith life and to engage others to do the same.”

“Belong More Deeply” parish materials and information on “Welcoming Home” program ideas can be found on the Office of Faith Formation’s website, www.drvc-faith.org.