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Philadelphia - Lower Bucks CountyCountry: United States
State or province: Pennsylvania
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Saint Joseph's Parish (Ambler) - Visits to Inactive Parishioners in January 2021
January 31, 2021
Hello friends –
After a hiatus of ten months, we are pleased to report that we have recommenced the efforts of the Lower Bucks chapter of the Saint Paul Street Evangelization. Nancy Hoyt and I had made one attempt on Labor Day weekend to try setting up our stand, complete with literature and give-away items such a rosaries and religious medals, in Tyler State Park in Newtown, but we were only able to engage a few people where there, mostly with members of a Latino protestant church who were there for the baptism of several people in Neshaminy Creek. In early December, I spoke at length about our dilemma with Ms. Meghan Cokely of the Archdiocesan Office of New Evangelization, trying to come up with a way to get in touch with people who might otherwise be afraid to speak with us due to their fears of contracting the Covid virus. Meghan had received samples of small Catholic pamphlet explaining how to form a deep relationship with Jesus, and we then came up with the idea of handing them out to inactive members of Saint Joseph’s Parish in Ambler, where I am serving as a deacon. Nancy and some other members of our group had done some work in that community in 2018 and 2019j, but there are still many dozens of Anglo and Hispanic families who were never contacted in that period. I asked Meghan if her office would be willing to purchase the pamphlets for us, and she agreed to get us 100 each in Spanish and English. I printed address labels from the parish and applied them to the back of each pamphlet, drafted and printed out an invitation to return to the parish both in English and Spanish, and included a rosary with instructions on how to use it on the back of the invitations. We assembled transparent doorknob bags containing the pamphlets, invitations and rosaries, and then set out to distribute them. We not only had a list of the inactive parishioners, but divided them into Latino and Anglo families, and then had Nancy use her IT skills to import the data into Google maps, making it easy to locate the parishioners.
For the first two weekend afternoons, a Hispanic couple and I visited Latino families, and in all but two cases, we were invited into the homes. In the two cases where no one answered, we hung the goody bags on the doorknobs. We began by introducing ourselves, asking how the parish could better address their personal spiritual needs, offering to pray with them about their personal worries and concerns, and then blessed their homes using the rite from the Book of Blessings. This past Saturday, Nancy and I used the same method on visits to English speaking parishioners. All three sessions went far better than possibly could have imagined, and we would now like to share just one of our wonderful experiences with you:
One Latino family with three young children had not attended Mass since last March, and their oldest child, a girl in second grade, had attended the parish school prior to the lockdown. However, when my wife (the parish DRE) tried reaching out to them last summer in order to re-register the girl, the mother reacted very negatively, saying that she had no interest in having her child take virtual classes or go to Mass. The woman offered no explanation for her decision, so I attempted to call and speak to her in Spanish. After leaving several voicemail messages and sending a letter, but still getting no reply, we gave up on the case. I had no idea when I first entered the house that I was visiting that same family, but I could tell that the wife was not very pleased by the unannounced call. However, the husband was very polite and welcoming, and he asked us to sit down and talk. The wife decided to join us, and we soon learned that none of the three children were baptized and that the couple was not married in the church. We told them that their present situation was a hindrance to them attending Mass, and that if they acted immediately, we could probably get the girl back on track to receiving her first holy communion in May. They were receptive to our offer, and after explaining to them how they could also strengthen their relationship with God by reading a chapter a day from the Gospel. They fetched their Bible, and showed them with a ribbon how to locate the Gospel of John, which is chock full of people’s encounters with our Lord. They agreed to give it a try, and promised to be at Church the next morning by 9:45 AM for the second grade PREP class, and we blessed their home before departing. When I returned home later that afternoon, my wife refreshed my memory about our prior unsuccessful attempts to enroll the girl and get her baptized. Imagine her surprise when the family did show up 20 minutes early for the class the following morning! They not only filled out the registration form and paid the school fees, but returned for the Spanish Mass at 2 PM. Furthermore, they agreed to attend the baptism preparation class this coming Monday, got the letters of good standing for the godparents, and filled out the forms and envelope for all three children. We are pleased to report that all three children will be baptized on 14 Feb 2021 when Bishop Deliman celebrates Mass for the Hispanic community. In the meantime, the older daughter returned dutifully for class and Mass for the second consecutive Sunday.
My friends, this family and seventeen others have been personally touched by our home visits of the past three weekends. It is not a quick process, but it is already bearing fruit. The goody bags give us a way to reach out to people who do not answer the door or feel comfortable with us entering their homes, and they proved very useful when we made calls on Anglo families. On several occasions, we spoke through storm doors, but in no instance were we met with hostility. In fact, most of the people were impressed by our willingness to go out in cold weather and make the calls, and it is difficult to describe how good all of us felt inside after each session. After such a long stretch of inactivity, we were truly grateful for the opportunity to jump start our ministry, and we are hoping that others will be willing to join us in the field. Next weekend, the Hispanic couple and I will continue our work with the Latino parishioners, and weather permitting, I hope to visit Anglo parishioners on alternating weekends. Please prayerfully consider joining our efforts to help inactive Catholics reconnect with their Lord and our faith community, and let Nancy or me know if you are willing to help out.