By Anthony Barich
The Australian bishops have undertaken a $20,000 nation-wide secular newspaper advertising blitz with an open invitation for lapsed Catholics to return and ask for forgiveness for any hurt caused by the church to individuals in the past.
In a two-pronged attack, the bishops have also released a Pastoral Letter asking parishioners in the pews to reach out to people they know who have become estranged from the Church.
The advertisements ran over June 14-15 in every News Limited Sunday paper including the Sunday Times in Perth exactly a month out from World Youth Day July 15-20.
In the advertisements, the Australian bishops say they want to welcome back people who have drifted away from the life of the Church “for whatever reason, or people who have never really been a part of it”.
“The Church is God’s family and, like any family, has its differences,” the bishops say in the advertisements. “Sometimes people are hurt by other family members. We ask your forgiveness if you have been hurt in some way through the Church.”
The bishops also acknowledge that some Catholics in Australia have drifted away because of the pressures of life.
“Why not join us again? We need each other,” the bishops said. “We need your help in carrying on the mission of Jesus. Only with you, can we be all that Jesus calls us to be as His Church. You have a God-given gift which you alone can bring to the Church. We need that gift.” The advertisement encourages people to connect with the Church again simply by going along to Mass, talking to a priest or calling a special hotline, 1300 4 FAITH (1300 432 484), where trained staff help put people in touch with a local church community.
The bishops followed this up with the Pastoral Letter distributed to all Australian parishes over June 21-22, encouraging parishioners to make their parish “a place of true welcome for people who do respond to the invitation to return”.
The letter encourages parish communities to make use of two new resources developed by the bishops’ National Office for Evangelisation. The first, called Reconnect, is a six-week program for parishes to run for people wishing to return to practice their faith. The second, called Rewired, is a similar program aimed at encouraging young people to engage in the life of the Church.
In their pastoral letter, the bishops say that World Youth Day will be a “unique and powerful witness to Jesus Christ and to life in the Church”.
“World Youth Day will challenge all those who have Jesus in their heart to reflect more deeply on their relationship with him. It may well be the occasion for many to turn again to the family of the Church,” the bishops say in the Pastoral Letter.