Workshops lay groundwork to help 'Catholic Come Home'

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese of Boston and its parishes are gearing up for its Catholics Come Home initiative, an effort to welcome lapsed Catholics back to the Church that will begin this Lent.

"On the ground, there are a lot of things going on to support this program," said Archdiocese of Boston Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization Janet Benestad.

Beginning Feb. 22, the archdiocese will be hosting free workshops for pastors, parish staff and Catholics Come Home parish leaders to suggest ways to welcome those who return to the Church through this initiative.

Workshops will be held Feb. 22 at St. Michael Parish in North Andover, Feb. 23 at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton and Feb. 24 at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Braintree. All sessions run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The presenter will be Tom Curran, of, a website featuring Catholic podcasts, blogs, multimedia resources and news. Curran produces a course called "Helping Catholics Come Home," which is available on the website. The course can be used by parishes to train catechetical leaders as part of the Catholics Come Home initiative.

The workshops will be videotaped and made available on the archdiocese's Catholics Come Home website. Information on Catholics Come Home will also be available in Spanish and Portuguese.

Benestad said the workshops are geared towards "receiving those who accept the invitation."

Throughout Lent and ending on Easter Sunday, Catholics Come Home will be airing commercials on major television networks and cable news outlets. They are expected to air on Boston Channels 4, 5, 7 and 25, as well as FOX News, MSNBC, ESPN and TBS. Spots are also slated to be broadcast during cable coverage of Boston Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games.

A total of between 2,000 and 3,000 ads are expected to air in segments of 30, 60 and 120-seconds. English, Spanish and Portuguese commercials are expected, though plans for Portuguese spots are still being finalized.

According to Benestad, the ads are expected to reach 92 percent of local television viewers.

She said that while the commercials will do a great deal to invite people back, the program will not be successful unless parishes are ready to receive them.

She is encouraging parish communities to be welcoming at Mass and be willing to assist those who may be unfamiliar with Mass rubrics.

"(The parishes) know through the ads people are going to call, they might show up at a rectory or they might show up at a Mass," she said.

She said that across the archdiocese, parishes are marking the Catholics Come Home initiative in unique ways.

"Different parishes are going to approach Catholics Come Home in a different way," she said. "In different places, people have come up with a variety of ideas to welcome people back to the Church."

St. Albert the Great Parish is hosting a 24-hour open house on Ash Wednesday, Mar. 9. Masses will be offered at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and a prayer service will be held at 4 p.m. Confessions and the distribution of ashes will be offered anytime, and parish staff and other pastoral leaders will be available to talk with visitors at any point.

"We know this is an archdiocesan initiative. Then there needs to be a local response," said Father Paul Soper, pastor at St. Albert's. "People need to have something to come home to."

"The Church envisioned by Catholics Come Home is a welcoming Church," Father Soper also said. "This is our interpretation of what a welcoming church looks like on Ash Wednesday."

The motto of the parish event is, "Come get ashes any time, come to visit anytime, come to talk anytime."

At Christmas, a time when many inactive Catholics attend Mass, the parish distributed letters to those who attended encouraging them to return to a more active practice of the faith and invited them to the Ash Wednesday open house.

St. Clare Parish in Braintree installed a sign visible to passing traffic that displays creative slogans encouraging people to return to church.

Such slogans include, "Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin Robbins," and "You are not too bad to come in. You're not too good to stay out."

"It's kind of nice to think a little bit," St. Clare's pastor, Father Paul Sughrue said of the sign.

Father Sughrue said the parish instituted the practice of greeting parishioners prior to Mass.

"We're introducing ourselves if we don't know each other's first name to try to be more welcoming to one another," he said.

He also said he will be attending the upcoming Catholics Come Home workshops to get more helpful advice on welcoming lapsed Catholics.

"I'll implement as many of them as I practically can," Father Sughrue said.