By Anthony Barich
Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth says Western Australia is “not geared” for the Australian bishops’ latest drive to regain lapsed Catholics, but has embarked on his own evangelisation drive.
The Australian bishops spent $20,000 on a national advertising campaign in News Limited’s Sunday papers over June 14-15, set up a national hotline and issued a Pastoral Letter to all parishes over June 21-22 encouraging practising Catholics to welcome lapsed Catholics back.
But Archbishop Hickey has his own plans for evangelising, saying it must extend to those of no faith as well as lapsed Catholics.
While the Australian bishops are trying to get ordinary Catholics to become evangelisers, to talk to their friends and neighbours about returning to Mass, the archbishop said “that’s hard to do”.
“WA isn’t really geared to put a full effort into this particular program, because we haven’t had the time to prepare the people for it,” he said.
“Nevertheless, the material is in every parish, and many parishioners will be very enthusiastic about it. I think if we were to do it ourselves, rather than joining a national program, we would probably take more responsibility for the program.”
After “several concerted efforts” at evangelisation, the Archbishop has assigned Bunbury diocesan priest Fr Michael Slattery to lead a Diocesan Centre for Evangelisation to enthuse, engage and equip parishes, schools, organisations and communities to become more involved in evangelisation.
Its aim is to reach out to those of no faith and those looking for faith, and refer them to RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) and the Catholic Enquiry Centre, among others.
“A Centre for Evangelisation is a good local effort to gear us up to have not only parish evangelisation but special groups in the diocese who reach out through the media (Internet) as well as face to face contact,” the Archbishop said. Though the Archbishop seeks to utilise the Internet more, he said personal contact will always be an essential part of the process.
“You don’t meet Christ in the abstract, you meet Him in people and in prayer,” he said. “Seeing that others are doing it will give them the courage to do it themselves.” He said that in the process of evangelisation and welcoming people back to the Church, patience and compassion is essential.
A recent National Church Life Survey revealed that only one per cent of Mass goers live in de facto relationships, and Archbishop Hickey says these people – of which there are much more than the figure stated – must be treated with compassion and patience.
“That statistic of one per cent (of Mass attenders are in de facto relationships) doesn’t say very much,” he said.
“It says that some people are hanging in, perhaps hoping for better days, perhaps hoping that if there is a matrimonial tangle then in the longer term it can be sorted out.
“So we shouldn’t be harsh on them; we should welcome them then assist them to untangle the problems they have and come back fully to the Church.
“We must understand that maybe they can’t do much about their situation immediately, but long-term we encourage them to do so, so they can fully become part of the local community.”