By Kelly Jasper
Friday, Nov. 19, 2010
Twenty years ago, Cristine Bays left the Catholic Church. There was no big pronouncement or public protest.
“I had just drifted away,” said Bays, an Evans mother of three.
photo: Corey Perrine/Staff, Cristine Bays spent most of her adult life going to church off and on, but after an illness about three years ago she committed to attending church full time. "I've always felt at home in the Catholic Church. I wish all people felt it was their home."
The same is true for millions of Catholics who don’t attend weekly Mass, or who have fallen away from religion entirely or become Protestant.
A new program — half evangelism effort, half public relations campaign — issues an invitation to out-of-practice Catholics across Georgia.
Television commercials created by the nonprofit lay organization Catholics Come Home will air on network and cable television from Dec. 17 to Jan. 23. The commercials, in English and Spanish, will air during prime time. Some celebrate church history; others show the testimony of Catholics who have “come home.”
The Catholic Diocese of Savannah raised $160,000 to air the commercials throughout its 90 counties, including Richmond and Columbia.
The Catholics Come Home ad campaign will air in prime time cable and network television from Dec. 17 through Jan. 23 in the 90 counties of the Diocese of Savannah. Watch the commercials and learn more at catholicscomehome.org
The average American watches four hours of TV a day, making the campaign one of the most effective ways to bring Catholics back to the church, said Tom Peterson, a former marketing executive who founded Georgia-based Catholics Come Home in 1998.
He was “nominally Catholic” until attending a retreat in Arizona, which renewed his faith.
“God was calling me to use my advertising talents to serve him,” Peterson said. “The light bulbs went off, and the adventure began.”
He moved to Roswell, Ga., to grow the ministry. Since its founding, some 200,000 Catholics have returned to the church. When the commercials were launched in the Phoenix market, 92,000 Catholics returned. “That was just in one city,” Peterson said.
On average, each diocese sees Mass attendance increase 10 percent.
Most, like Bays, don’t have serious issues with the church but have fallen out of the habit of regular church attendance, Peterson said. Catholics Come Home’s research has shown that the average Catholic who leaves then returns to the church has been away for nine years.
It took a personal invitation for Bays to return, she said. During a hospital stay three years ago, she was visited daily by churchgoers.
“It was the push I needed,” said Bays, now a member of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown, where her husband, Brian, will soon convert to Catholicism.
Augusta parishes were recently visited by Bishop J. Kevin Boland and other leaders in the diocese. They’re traveling the state to deliver workshops on how to deal with the influx of members.
“We know we have to be more welcoming. It’s everything from opening doors to saying hello and offering a doughnut or two. It’s the stuff Protestants figured out years ago,” Joe Soparas said with a laugh. He and his wife, Mary, are coordinators of St. Teresa’s Catholics Come Home program.
Priests are also setting aside time to meet with those returning to the church or grappling with issues, said the Rev. Michael Lubinsky, the parochial vicar of The Church of the Most Holy Trinity in downtown Augusta.
“Catholics Come Home is a process for all Catholics, inactive and active, by which all are invited to come to the Lord by the holy sacraments of love and mercy and affection and forgiveness,” he said.
From 2000 to 2010, only 22 percent of U.S. Catholics attended Mass on a weekly basis, according to a poll by CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit Georgetown University-affiliated research center that studies the Catholic Church. That speaks to the millions of Americans who identify as Catholic but aren’t practicing Catholics, Peterson said.
“This is an invitation for them, too,” he said.
With at least 68 million members, the Catholic Church claims more adherents than any other American denomination, about 22 percent of the U.S. population. With membership waning, 1 in 10 Americans identifies as a former Catholic, according to the most recent Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, compiled in 2008.
“For the most part, it’s really the secular lures of the world that pull people away. Life gets busy,” Peterson said. “Ninety percent say they’d come back if someone invited them.”
Catholics Come Home usually runs its six-week campaigns through the Christmas season or Lent.
“It’s a great time to issue an invitation,” Peterson said.
“Most people see the ad on TV and say, ‘I started to tear up. I felt like God was personally calling me home.’ ”
read entire article