June 16, 2006

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

SAM: Reaching out in God’s love

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein recently shared a letter in his column that caught his attention.

An anonymous person wrote: “I am not so much interested in the winning of new converts as I am in the care of and recovery of the saints, the sheep of his pasture—the stray and the stolen, and the lost sheep” (published in The Criterion on March 10, 2006).

Considering the overall statistics on Mass attendance and the number of non-practicing Catholics, the Evangelization Commission for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is looking into ways to address fallen-away or alienated Catholics. Nationally, inactive Catholics represent a group nearly the size of our present active membership.

Bill Jones is a second-year deacon candidate for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and is interested in starting a substance abuse ministry (SAM). The stated goal of the group is to “reach out to members of the ‘whole body of Christ’ and to make all feel welcomed.”

“It is a way for all those recovering from addiction to experience acceptance, healing, support and understanding through their Catholic Church communities,” Jones said. What we are seeking is “a safe and confidential parish ministry” that provides recovering persons a place to experience God’s love within our Church.

Demonstrating her deep spirituality, Jones’s wife, Mary, echoed, “It’s embarrassing for families in recovery and you want to turn to the Church, if we only knew there was an open door.

“Even if you have AA [Alchoholics Anonymous] or some other support group, you still need the Church,” she added. “It’s an unbeatable combination.”

Bill Jones explained that once progress is made on the journey, there is less need for anonymity. “Our parishes need a visible representative that says, ‘If you are a recovering person, you are welcome here,’ ” he said. “It’s part of the new evangelization to sponsor such programs.

“What we need to do is to identify parishes that would be willing to pilot a SAM program, identify potential parish leaders and develop training for parish leadership, such as techniques for outreach and models of Catholic spirituality.”

Father Larry Voelker, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Indianapolis, has served as spiritual director at retreats for recovering persons.

“What we want to do is to create a warm and welcoming community, and let people know that our Church is a place that addresses the real needs of people,” he said.

Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). I think Jesus knew that we all fall short of the kingdom.
One such person sought out Father Voelker and said, “I hear you help people in recovery find God.”
“Yes,” Father said. “Come in where the love is.”

(John Valenti is associate director of evangelization and faith formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.) †


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