September 15, 2017

Evangelization and Catechesis Supplement

Friends invite others to join in the joy of their faith

Longtime friends Cindy Woods, left, and Catharine Diehr have combined their efforts to try to lead non-Catholics to the Catholic faith at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Longtime friends Cindy Woods, left, and Catharine Diehr have combined their efforts to try to lead non-Catholics to the Catholic faith at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The passion of Cindy Woods and Catharine Diehr is surprising at first.

As they begin their story, they seem like the last two people who would try to bring non-Catholics to the Catholic faith.

For 40 years, Woods left the Catholic faith of her youth, finding Mass to be boring, while Diehr has been a member of Protestant churches for most of her life, including 20 years at a mega-church.

And yet here they are, their faces glowing and their voices filled with joy—like two children at recess—as they share how they both embraced the Catholic faith within the past five years, and how they have tried all these ideas to bring other people to a closer relationship with God, even walking through the neighborhoods of their parish to invite non-Catholics to a cookout marked by sizzling hamburgers, free school supplies and a warm welcome to join them at Mass.

Their smiles grow even wider as they mention how 200 people from the neighborhood came to that picnic.

And that’s just part of the story of Woods’ and Diehr’s efforts to share their faith—efforts that they say all flow from one word, “invite.”

A turning point of faith

The story of the faith journey of the two friends begins in 2012 with Woods’ return to a defining place in her childhood—St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis. Woods graduated from the parish grade school in 1963, the same year as the current pastor of the parish, Father Robert Gilday.

“I left the Church for about 40 years, but I decided to go back,” she says. “I went to the rectory and saw Father Bob. When I went to church there, I didn’t know anyone anymore, but it felt like going home.”

Diehr noticed a difference in Woods once she returned to Little Flower, telling her friend and neighbor that she seemed happier.

“In 2013, Cindy invited me to go to the church with her,” says Diehr who is best known by her nickname “Cac.” “It felt like home. The people at Little Flower were so friendly, and her friends made me an honorary member of the Class of 1963.”

Diehr was also struck by something Father Gilday said during his homily at the first Mass she attended: “He said that Catholics don’t go out and share their faith.”

Woods felt the same way. And Diehr says the turning point of her faith came when Woods invited her to church. Both women soon saw the fruits of what could happen from a simple invitation. Diehr decided to become a Catholic. She went through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program with Woods as her sponsor.

“I’m on the RCIA team now,” Diehr says with a smile. “I realize what a great entry point it is for the Church. I love the Catholic Church. I feel a close relationship to Jesus.”

They also feel a passion to share that relationship and connection with others.

Extending the invitation

“One thing we didn’t have represented on the parish council was evangelization and community outreach,” says Father Gilday. “When Cindy rejoined the parish, she and Cac really took off with this.

“It’s important. We had over 5,000 Catholics in the parish when we were in grade school. Obviously, demographics have changed, and it’s not such a Catholic area. They try to do a lot of good things.”

Woods and Diehr formed a committee to share their faith with people in the neighborhood, a committee they decided to call, “invite.” One of the biggest efforts was the first free picnic in the summer of 2016.

“We wanted to get out to the borders of our parish,” Woods says. “I went up and down the streets of the parish, looking for people in their yards or on their porches and just invited them. I put up posters in the neighborhood stores. We made bookmarks with the Mass schedule. About 200 people came to the picnic.”

Diehr smiles and adds, “We had games for the kids, free school supplies and hamburgers. We ran out of food.”

The friends repeated the picnic this summer. They also try to connect with non-Catholic parents of school children during a special reception. And they’ve held dinner for parishioners of other ministries at Little Flower, encouraging them to share their faith when the opportunity arises.

Some of the best opportunities for the “invite” committee arose when they had a booth at the parish festival.

‘Can we pray with you?’

“We gave people holy cards and Mass schedules. We also gave out necklaces with a crucifix on them. People said, ‘You don’t know how much I needed this,’ ” recalls Wood.

“This one grouchy lady came up and started bad-mouthing the Church. She was angry at the hand she had been dealt in life. We said, ‘Can we pray with you?’ She said yes. We prayed together, and she started crying. I hugged her, and her attitude completely turned around.”

Such moments lead Woods and Diehr “to keep pushing on,” hoping the seeds they’re planting will make a difference to someone, at some point. Father Gilday shares that hope.

“It took a long time to get this going, but now it’s going,” he says. “I’m very grateful to them for taking on this ministry. With Cindy finding her way home and Cac finding her way to the Catholic Church, this is something they have a passion for.”

That passion shines in the smiles of Woods and Diehr.

“The satisfaction is that we’re beginning to see people realize that a very important part of their faith is to share their joy,” Diehr says. “A lot of people don’t know they can have a truly personal relationship with God. They don’t know what they’re missing.

“We always think that people just need to be asked and invited.” †

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