April 7, 2006

Parishes reach out to non-practicing Catholics during Easter season

By Sean Gallagher

When you attend Easter Mass at your parish in a little over a week, you may notice people there that you don’t usually see at church from Sunday to Sunday.

That’s because Catholics who have left the practice of their faith frequently return for Mass on this most important of feasts.

Parishes in New Albany and Indianapolis are seeing this as an opportunity to reach out to these people and welcome them back to the Church.

In the weeks following Easter, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany and St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis will offer the Catholics Returning Home program to help those who have been away from the Church make it a more important and regular part of their lives.

Elayne Arididon came back to the Church in 2004 through the program at St. Simon the Apostle Parish.

Now a member of the parish, she is also a part of the team that leads the Catholics Returning Home program.

In a recent interview with The Criterion, Arididon said that the program was key to her returning to the faith.

“It was just a door opening to really get in and get your feet wet and get acquainted with people, too,” she said. “You kind of bond when you see other people coming back. When you see them in church, you can speak with them. They’re on the same road you are.”

The program consists of six sessions.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish will host its first session at 7:30 p.m. on Easter Monday, April 17, and will continue to meet each Monday evening for five more weeks.

St. Simon the Apostle Parish starts its program at 7 p.m. on April 27 and will meet each Thursday evening for five more weeks.

Judy McNulty, a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish’s Catholics Returning Home team, said that in its first session, the participants are given the opportunity to write about what led them to leave the Church, and their current questions and concerns about the faith.

She said many participants have identified being divorced and remarried, and having difficulties with particular priests as reasons why they left the Church.

Team members read the participants’ responses after the session and make sure that their needs are addressed in the meetings to come.

McNulty said the writing that participants are asked to do in the first session is an “invitation to vent a little bit.

“A lot of times that’s all they need,” she said. “They just need to know somebody cares, and that they are welcome back.”

Jeanie Fentz, pastoral associate and director of faith formation at St. Simon the Apostle Parish, oversees her parish’s Catholics Returning Home program.

She said that simply reaching out and inviting non-practicing Catholics back to the Church is vital to bringing them back.

“People need to be invited,” she said. “They need to feel a part of [a community]. They need someone to lean on for a while to get them in.”

That is what happened to Arididon. A co-worker she befriended was a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish and learned that she was no longer practicing her Catholic faith. She then invited Arididon to come to Mass there.

Arididon said that she and her husband had left the Church because their previous parish wasn’t filled with the kind of spiritual vitality they were looking for.

A few years later, though, found Arididon having difficulties in her marriage and convinced that a return to the faith was crucial to its rehabilitation.

“The only way we were going to be able to deal with it was to have a third party and that would be God,” Arididon said.

She and her husband, Nestor, said their positive experience in Catholics Returning Home helped them develop a vibrant faith life. They’re now very involved at St. Simon the Apostle Parish.

Elayne Arididon is also looking forward to having her daughter, who has been away from the Church, participate in the program.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “I can’t tell you what it does for you. She is so excited about getting back into the Church.”

Although she has never left the Church, McNulty finds great fulfillment in helping those less active in the faith to embrace it again more fully.

“When you see these people being at Mass again, it’s so rewarding to you spiritually, that they are on their way with the rest of us,” she said. “They’re back in the community of the Church.”

(To learn more about Catholics Returning Home at St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, call 317-826-6000, ext. 188. To learn more about the program at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, call 812-945-3112.) †


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