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Published: Saturday, 10/3/2009

Parishioners are taking invitations personally

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Hundreds of volunteers from throughout northwest Ohio will be knocking on doors and handing out literature this month, inviting people to visit their local churches.

They won't be Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses - the two groups best known for door-to-door evangelism - but members of the Toledo Catholic Diocese.

Their goal is to share the news about their parishes, not to proselytize or preach, according to Sister Joyce Lehman, head of the diocese's office of pastoral planning.

"We're just walking up and saying, 'Hi, we're so-and-so from your local parish and we'd like to leave some information for you,'•" she said.

The evangelization effort, titled "The Spirit of Jesus Alive Today: Pentecost in Our Time," targets two groups: nonpracticing Catholics and those with no religious affiliations.

"We're not going out and trying to convince people they have to believe in a particular way," Sister Joyce said. "And we're not trying to poach anyone's flock."

She compared the parishioners' home visits to grandparents showing photos of their grandchildren.

"We have many Catholics who are proud of their parishes and want to share the news with people," Sister Joyce said.

The project was inspired by research showing that the most effective means of communication is face to face, and the visits coincide with preparations for the Toledo diocese's 100th anniversary in 2010.

The literature being distributed includes a 10-minute DVD with testimonies of four local people who chose to join the Catholic church. One was a lapsed Catholic, one converted from the Baptist faith, and a third had been baptized a United Methodist. There's no mention of the fourth person's prior religious practices.

The DVD, which is in English with a Spanish translation option, ends with a message from Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair.

Clergy from other religious groups can get "pass-by cards" from their local parishes for their church members to display in their homes to let the Catholic evangelization teams know they already have a church or synagogue.

"We are trying to respect people who are active in their faith tradition," Sister Joyce said.

Most of the evangelization calls will take place on Saturdays and Sundays in October, although each parish sets its own visitation schedule.

Seventy-seven of the diocese's 128 parishes have signed up to participate, and each parish will have anywhere from 10 to 70 volunteers going out and ringing doorbells in their neighborhoods.

The home visitation program is seen as a way of helping the diocese get ready for the centenary.

The Toledo diocese was established on April 15, 1910, and today has 301,000 members in 19 northwest Ohio counties. Centenary celebrations will begin with a Mass at Rosary Cathedral on Wednesday to be broadcast live on EWTN, the international Catholic cable network.

A hard-cover book with full-color pages throughout is being published in honor of the anniversary. Simply titled A History of the Toledo Diocese, it was written by John Hanley and Rosalia Scalia.

Sister Joyce said preparations for the home visits have been under way for about two years and that the project was designed "from the ground up as our own," not modeled after any other dioceses' or parishes' programs. "This is specifically Toledo," she said.

The home visits should be brief, lasting two to four minutes, and if someone has questions or wants to discuss issues further they will be referred to a staff person who can make a follow-up call.

Core teams consisting of five people from each of the participating parishes have been meeting to discuss the program and the details changed as everyone contributed new ideas.

"It's been a wonderful experience, working with so many people," Sister Joyce said.

- David Yonke



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