By Anthony Barich
The Legion of Mary returned to Perth last week and doorknocked a staggering 3431 houses in City Beach, Scarborough and Wembley Downs over two weeks to seek conversions.
The 2006 Australian Census revealed 2363 people who called themselves Catholic, which includes those practicing and non-practicing, but the work of the Legion of Mary told City Beach parish priest Fr Don Kettle why, in many cases, people had drifted from the Catholic Church.
In the process, the Legion of Mary doubled Fr Kettle’s workload, as their work revealed 471 Catholic families in the surrounding area.
Alison Buman, the leader of the Legion of Mary PPC (Peregrinato Pro Christo, “Travellers for Christ”) team that conducted the parish census, said many non-practicing Catholics they found expressed a desire to attend the local church and meet the new priest.
Mrs Buman, at 63 the youngest of the Legion of Mary group who wandered around Perth’s beach suburbs last week, said non-Catholics received them positively, especially other Christian denominations who “gave us their encouragement and blessing”.
Reaching up to 300 homes a day, the group, which at one stage grew to 18 with local helpers, distributed over 2000 copies of a special edition of City Beach parish’s Paraclete bulletin, hundreds of Miraculous Medals and prayers cards, rosary beads and various spiritual literature.
Fr Kettle, who commissioned the group, said the Legion of Mary’s work formed a crucial foundation of what a parish’s function should be – a nurturing and prayerful spiritual community that reaches out to the lost and disillusioned and help facilitate their journey towards Christ, where ever they are at in their lives.
The Legion of Mary members have been welcoming new people at the church.
“It’s stirred up a lot of excitement in the parish, which has actually laid dormant for a while,” Fr Kettle said. “These people are about bringing the Gospel – truly apostles, they went out in pairs.
“Their findings have doubled my workload, but parishes have got to be more aggressive and pro-active to get back to being a house of prayer and a true spiritual community where people feel like they belong, not to just rock up, receive Holy Communion and leave.
“Pope John Paul II said the parish should be a community of prayer, and Pope Benedict XVI followed that up recently saying that parishes can truly be the seedbed of vocations… and why can’t they be? Spiritual multiplication happens on a one-on-one level.
“The Apostles didn’t seek mass conversions at once, they told people personally about their own encounter with Christ and changed hearts that way.
“Parishes can produce individuals who live lives of sanctity, so that people can see that in them and are changed as a result of their witness. We need holy priests to be examples to others.
“Priests are called to sanctity first and foremost, all else comes second, and building up a prayerful spiritual community is the first step in developing such people.”
Mrs Buman, who came to Perth with two others from Rochester, a small country town just south of Echuca in northern Victoria to help City Beach evangelise, did not come out from her work unscathed.
Last Thursday a dog jumped up and bit her on the bicep, which the tough Victorian shrugged off but for Fr Kettle urgently taking her to the doctor’s clinic.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Legion of Mary, who do what needs to be done to bring about the kingdom of God.