By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published October 28, 2010 | En Español
Last Monday evening I had to fly to New York City for a Tuesday meeting of a committee that I serve on with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Cardinal William Keeler, Bishop Basil Losten and a number of Reform rabbis and Catholic and Jewish leaders. This dialogue has been going on now for several years and aims at bolstering the honored bonds that unite Catholics and Jews in our country. It is a fascinating venture and one in which I am pleased to participate.
We recently have focused our conversations on some issues that impact both of our communities. Last spring, we discussed the disturbing trend of the loss of our people to other religious traditions or to no religious practice at all. Both of our faiths suffer from this disturbing trend, and we have much to learn from one other in finding ways to stem this tide.
Our topic this past week addressed the issue of contemporary marriage practices and attitudes among young Jewish and Catholic adults. Again, there were many issues that both faiths seem to share in common. While our faith traditions are obviously distinct, the challenges that we face are often stunningly similar.
As I was preparing to board the flight from Atlanta to LaGuardia, two folks approached quite independently to tell me that they had seen the video about “Catholics Come Home” at their parishes the weekend before, and they were very impressed with and supportive of this effort. I could not have been more pleased with their responses.
As you have perhaps heard, the Archdiocese of Atlanta will embark on this effort this coming Advent as an opportunity to welcome home those Catholics who may have drifted from the practice of our Faith. Catholics Come Home has proven highly successful in the nearly 20 dioceses that have previously used this program. There are literally millions of U. S. Catholics who have stopped practicing our Faith. Not all of them have done so because of a negative experience or in protest. A great many of them have simply fallen out of the custom of attending Mass or failed to reengage once they relocated to another community, or just found their lives too cluttered with other personal or social obligations.
We need to welcome them back home and that is the express purpose of this endeavor called Catholics Come Home. We also must welcome those back home who have had serious and painful personal encounters with our Church.
As the Catholic and Jewish representatives discussed the trends in our own communities regarding the disassociation of our people from the faiths of their childhood, we all recognized similar forces in our worlds that lead many of our people away from the practice of their faiths. While some observers might suggest the highly publicized and promoted growing irrelevance of organized religion, or the widespread scandals that have plagued all public institutions of every stripe, or the personal negative encounters that some people might have had with a cleric or a religious institution, the simple fact is that lots of folks have disengaged because they have not felt welcomed, pursued, invited or valued in a church or synagogue. Our efforts this coming Advent will attempt to provide a counter response to some of those experiences.
The unsolicited reaction of two of my fellow New York City bound Atlanta Catholics gave me reason to believe that our efforts will be supported and fill a gap in our evangelization efforts that resonate with lots of our people. All of us know of a relative, a friend, a fellow worker, a neighbor or childhood acquaintance who might return to the practice of our Faith if they were invited sincerely and with a warmth that is truly convincing. I do not think that there is a similar program for our Jewish friends who might find themselves facing the same challenge, but if this particular program continues to enjoy such widespread success, it might spawn ecumenical imitations of all kinds.