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For whatever reason a person gives for drifting away from church, the Rev. Herb Weber offers a simple message: “Experience Catholicism Again.”
Those three words, which will appear on billboards this fall, also apply to faithful attenders by encouraging them to look deeper into their faith, he added.
But the primary reason of the billboards ties in with an upcoming program at Father Weber’s Blessed John XXIII Parish in Perrysburg seeking to make it easy for lapsed Catholics to return to the fold.
“Awakening Faith: Reconnecting with your Catholic Faith,” begins at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 and continues each Wednesday through Nov. 15 at Blessed John, the newest parish in the Toledo diocese. About 25 other parishes will host Awakening Faith programs this fall, according to Jason Shanks, the diocese’s head of evangelization and parish life.
Sister Anne Mary Molyet, a Notre Dame nun and pastoral associate at Blessed John, said the program offers a small-group setting where people who have been away from church can ask questions and get answers in a comfortable setting.
Topics include “Spirituality: What’s the Buzz?,” “Who Is Jesus?,” and “Can Mass Make My Life Meaningful?”
Invitees were recommended by members of Blessed John parish, and Father Weber mailed letters describing the Awakening Faith program and inviting them to participate.
Sister Anne Mary and Father Weber said there is a wide range of reasons why people stop attending church. Sometimes it has to do with changes in the family structure, caused by divorce or the death of a loved one, for example.
In other cases, a Catholic might have been hurt or had a negative experience in church. A common reason is that people make too many commitments and become overly distracted, with church getting lost in the shuffle.
Meg Sears is an example of someone who reconnected to her Catholic roots through Awakening Faith.
Mrs. Sears, 54, grew up in Toledo, was a member of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, and graduated from Central Catholic High School.
When she married a non-Catholic, she said, she stopped attending Mass. That was more than 30 years ago.
“I’m certainly not blaming my husband. I probably got lazy,” she said. “I was raised Catholic and went to church because that was something my parents wanted their children to do. When I became of age I decided, ‘I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do.’ ”
A few years ago, her father died. She also became a grandmother. Those lifecycle events got her thinking about church again, she said.
Mrs. Sears attended an Awakening Faith program at Blessed John last January.
“I really got a lot out of it for renewed spirituality and a better understanding of the church,” she said. “They went over some pretty basic things, all the way to developing a deep and profound relationship with God. It’s been life-changing for me, definitely.”
Mrs. Sears is now part of Blessed John’s eight-person Awakening Faith team that is organizing the next sessions.
Sister Anne Mary said the goal is not just to get people into church but to help them “develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The nun, who had served as provincial, or leader, of the Sisters of Notre Dame for six years, joined Blessed John’s staff in July.
She is enthusiastic about the parish, which has grown from zero to 2,566 members since the first Mass was celebrated in August, 2005.
“It’s a really good fit for me,” she said. “I’m enjoying it. I feel a lot of creativity, a lot of energy.”
The median age of parishioners at Blessed John is 33, Father Weber said.
“The most common reason I hear why people are attracted to Blessed John is the atmosphere, the sense of hospitality,” Father Weber said. “The welcome. The kindness. The openness. … I like to say there’s obviously substance, too, to who we are here.”
That substance includes weekly Bible studies at the church and small-group meetings in homes during which parishioners review the Scriptures that will be read at the next weekend’s Mass. When Father Weber preaches his homily, parishioners are already familiar with the Bible verses and ready for a deeper spiritual understanding.
The Awakening Faith program was developed by the Paulist National Evangelization Association to engage inactive Catholics throughout the United States.
Locally, average weekly attendance at Mass last October was 85,303 out of an estimated 322,523 baptized Catholics in the 19-county Toledo diocese, or 26 percent, according to statistics published in the Catholic Chronicle.
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.