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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 MARCH 2021
March 13, 2021
The weather was less than optimal when Nancy and Deacon Mark met in the parking lot of Saint Joseph’s Parish in Ambler, so we decided to use the car to visit inactive parishioners on the perimeter of the parish. We chose a neighborhood a few blocks away from our last session, and within a few minutes, we parked in front of the first home to visit. When we rang the bell, we waited only 30 seconds for the door to be opened, and we were met by a pleasant woman in her early 70s who immediately invited us in after our brief introduction. She had us sit down in her living room, asked if we wanted coffee or water, and within a minute, a lively conversation was underway. As it turned out, Kate is still a very active Catholic but is now attending a nearby Franciscan Chapel that is active in social issues such as immigration and poverty. The reason that she had stopped attending our parish was essentially its lack of outreach groups, and it was quite evident that Kate was sincere in her personal mission to help the poor and marginalized. After a half hour of talking, which included Kate sharing the names of possible Catholic community groups for us to join, we blessed her home before taking leave. We then went to her next-door neighbor’s house, where we were greeted by a teenaged girl who reported that her parents were upstairs napping. We handed her a goody bag with a kerygma pamphlet, rosary and our contact information, and asked that she give it to her parents later that day.
We drove about a quarter of a mile to the next home, which looked like it was under major renovation. As it turned out, the people that we wanted to visit had moved away, but as we left, we regretted not taking the initiative to invite the new owners to the parish. We resolved right then and there to keep that in mind for future visits and moved on to the next home on the block. When we knocked on that door, a middle-aged woman met us an invited us in without a moment’s hesitation. After we explained the reason for our visit, we asked Maryann if she had any recommendations on what the parish could do to revitalize the faith community. She did not hesitate to tell us that she had become inactive, mainly because she preferred to pray to God from home. Mark told her that while the Church certainly encourages a prayer life at home during the week, there was a value to coming together as a community. As he began explaining how the church community had risen up to help him when his 8-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2000, the doorbell rang again. A woman came in carrying a triangular wooden box shaped like the folded flag used at funeral committals, which she presented to the husband as a birthday gift. We could tell that she was also there to console the couple, and then read the back of the box. It had the name of a man, along with his birth date and death date (16 Feb 2021). We instantly knew that the couple had just lost their young son, an Army veteran. We teared up as we offered them our heartfelt empathy and condolences, and the grieving couple knew that we understood their pain from our own losses. We told them that we had absolutely no idea of what had happened to them when we set off for their home that afternoon, and that the encounter had to have been the work of the Holy Spirit. Maryann was trying very hard to keep her composure and told us that she was not ready to talk at length with us, but eagerly took our goody bag when we told her that it contained our full contact information. We prayed for the family right then and there, blessed their home, and gave the couple a big hug before departing.
At that point, Deacon Mark had to return to the parish for the 4 PM vigil, but we were both deeply touched by the last encounter. We had no doubts about the necessity of such personal visits to the inactive members of our faith community, and upon arriving in the church parking lot, thanked God for guiding our mission and leading us specifically to the bereaved couple before going our separate ways. Upon returning home, Mark sent the couple a two paged condolence letter, opening the door for further interaction, and we are hoping that they will soon contact us.