By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published March 17, 2005
Catholics this March 23-27 will go forth like the first disciples and spread the Good News to all the ends of the archdiocese, or at least their parish boundaries, as they make door-to-door house calls to invite people to Holy Week activities at their churches.
The sponsor of Holy Week MegaMission USA 2005 is Youth for the Third Millennium and Missionary Families of the Third Millennium, both apostolates of Regnum Christi, the lay movement of the Legionaries of Christ religious order. Organizers invite all Catholics to participate in this mission to reach out to others with Christian love and hospitality.
YTM and FTM are also sponsoring MegaMissions in Maryland and Virginia, Chicago and Sacramento. The organization has been leading this mission in the archdiocese since 1999 in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization.
Teddy Wiegand, a friendly, outgoing member of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, helped to organize the event last year at his parish and said it was so effective they decided to hold two more over the summer. Their approach is simply to introduce themselves as neighbors who attend the Cathedral, give them a parish bulletin and invite them to Holy Week activities and ask if they have any prayer intentions. They visited one family who shared with them that their newborn had some disabilities and that they were facing financial difficulties.
“It was clear that as we were speaking to this family they were happy to meet us. We were explaining that the Cathedral community was very interested in having them return to the church. It was wonderful to see them the following Sunday at Mass. They were not aware of many of the programs at the Cathedral and quickly registered for two of them.”
Wiegand is enthusiastically helping to coordinate the effort again this year, and said the Cathedral is hoping for 250 participants to visit all homes within parish boundaries.
“We try to visit every home in each neighborhood. Christ invited people of every age, race and religion to follow him and we will do the same.”
Event coordinator Monal Dhabliwala also participated and helped plan the mission last year, having sought a meaningful Lenten activity to participate in with his wife. He never encountered any confrontational people and many asked questions about the faith. In his experience “one of the things that really stood out to me was the impact on the missionaries themselves of just sharing Christ with strangers and letting people know they are welcome in the Catholic Church,” he said.
The main purposes are “to invite people back to the church, to ask for prayer intentions and to answer any questions people might have.”
The program will begin with an opening Mass on Wed., March 23, at 4 p.m. at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta and will conclude with a Mass on Easter Sunday, March 27, at a location and time to be determined. Persons not registered should arrive at Holy Spirit at 3 p.m. to sign up. Individuals and families will meet each morning at 8:30 a.m. for training and a meditation by a priest at Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, where a camp will be offered for children while adults meet. Separate boy and girl groups for ages 13-15 and 16 and over will meet at designated parishes, at which they will sleep, eat and go out for the missions. Youth can also choose to go with their families; adults and children will go back to their own homes at night. Only out of town families will stay at a private home.
To cover costs for marketing materials promoting the mission, for materials in missionary kits, for T-shirts and for the children’s camp, the cost for missionaries is $100 per person or a maximum of $250 per family.
Priests from 15 participating churches will supply lists of those the missionaries will visit, whether inactive Catholics of the parish or others who may or may not be Catholic but whom they can always ask for any prayer intentions. They’ll also advise them on how missionaries should approach homes. After the training participants will break up in parish groups of around two to eight people to visit homes in the boundaries of their churches from around 2-5 p.m. Missionaries will wear mission T-shirts and can bring satchels full of literature on Catholicism to give to those they visit. Individual parishes may plan additional activities for children and youth.
Last year about 150 families were involved, and they knocked on approximately 30-40 doors a day. About 900 people attended the closing Mass.
The first home visitation mission was held in 1999 at St. Andrew’s Church, Roswell. Msgr. Paul Reynolds, then pastor, invited the group back in March 2000 to lead another mission focusing specifically on inactive Catholics. Tom Hoover and Pete Lichtenwalner led 15 teams that knocked on 249 doors. After that successful mission, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue launched the home visitation program as part of the “Come To Me” yearlong outreach to invite Catholics back to the church.
Andrés Montaña, dean of students at Pinecrest Academy, very reluctantly decided to give up his spring break and to participate last year in the outreach at his parish, St. Benedict’s Church, Duluth, where, as a Spanish speaker, he was assigned to visit Hispanic neighborhoods of the church’s mission on Buford Highway. He gathered with a group of around 33 people following a morning training session, and then went door-to-door with two families.
“I didn’t want to do it to be honest. I’m kind of a shy person by nature so this was scary, basically, but what I liked about it was that you were really making a sacrifice. What I think about is it’s Passover week and Christ spent his time saving souls and that’s what you’re out there to do. It’s a very spiritual experience … you’re living the Gospel, what it is to spread the Gospel to all the nations. It’s just kind of an intense experience,” said the Colombian-born Catholic.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m a teacher. This is my spring break.’ It was out of my comfort zone. But basically it was as extremely rewarding as anything which you do that you do for Christ and not for yourself.”
The missionaries invited those they called upon to church on behalf of the pastor and gave them mission kits. Some weren’t interested in chatting, while others were conversational and invited them in. Some said their children hadn’t been baptized, some said they were familiar with the mission but didn’t attend Mass, and others lived together but weren’t married. When it seemed appropriate the missionaries were able to tell them what the church has to offer for their situations and talk further.
“We had the Gospel passage for the day. We’d say ‘can we read the Gospel passage of the day?’ and offer an Our Father. We’d gather together and pray for them. Some were praying to themselves in the back because they didn’t speak Spanish.”
They also invited them to a Stations of the Cross service at another apartment complex where a man playing Jesus carried a cross to a hilltop before hundreds of people to reenact the crucifixion.
“We had the whole apartment complex involved,” he said. “We really did the Way of the Cross.”
Montaña experienced an awakening of his power to help others find Christ. “You always think of Protestants going door to door. It’s really a neat experience. It makes you just think that you can have such an impact on people if you talk to them about Christ and not keep Him to yourself,” he said. “(Last year) I did see people we talked to who said they’d show up and they did. We just encouraged them. You never know what you do, what kind of impact you have on people.”
Dhabliwala shared the story from last year of one little girl in a family who asked a grandfather at the door to come to the church and he did come and later said the only reason he was there was because this little girl had asked him to come.
“I feel strongly about it because I know this is our call and I really think it’s more of a delayed fruit than an immediate one. A lot of times people are caught off guard and thinking ‘why are Catholics knocking on my door’ but later they may think ‘somebody cared enough to come and invite me.’”
Others wrote down testimonies about their experiences last year. Kim DiSalle of Michigan came with her family to Atlanta for the mission. Her husband, who is not very open about his faith, said he’d never had such a meaningful Easter experience.
“The Lord showed us in our obedient act of participating in the new evangelization about how hungry the people are for Christ, how afraid they are to share Christ, how Christ can hide in strangers who open up their homes, their hearts, their parishes to do exactly what the first apostles did in going out into the world to share the risen Lord,” she said. “In our experiences the strangers would share their hearts with us in asking for prayer intentions. Some would ask us to pray with them right then. A Lutheran family even gave us a donation to take back to our local host parish.”
One young man described how he was about to quit visitations for the day when he pushed himself to knock on one more door. An elderly man in a wheelchair opened it, and after they invited him to church, he began to weep and tell them how his wife and son had died and how he had prayed that day for the first time in 20 years.
“He was lonely and sad because his wife and only son had just recently died in the same year. We were his sign from God. Later that evening the old man rolled into the parish in his wheelchair. He attended the rest of the Holy Week services. I thank God for giving us the grace to push on a little further…”
A 15-year-old recalled how a woman approached him and other youth and asked about their work. She was so impressed with their faith she returned to church.
“I was crying because I realized that God had a great mission in store for me, that He needs me to be His hands and His feet and to make His love known to all those around me.”
Youth for the Third Millennium was founded in the United States in December 1994 after a group of men gathered to discuss ways to build a youth organization that would help bishops and priests provide opportunities for young people to share their faith with others. The first year they held 12 missions and by 1996-97 the number of YTM missions more than doubled to thirty and through 1999 the number continued to increase. Its sister organization in Mexico, Juventud Misionera, also holds an annual Holy Week MegaMission.
On the YTM Web site is a letter from the organization’s executive director Paul Bernetsky challenging Catholics to participate.
“Home visits, vacation Bible camps, special Holy Week liturgical events and community service projects will provide wonderful opportunities to witness the Gospel message. Are you ready for this challenge? Make this year of the Eucharist a year you will never forget. It can begin with you making a commitment to do something great for Christ.”
For information visit ytm.org or call a participating parish. Churches involved are: Mary Our Queen Church, Norcross; Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta; St. Mark Church, Clarkesville; St. Helena Church, Clayton; St. Benedict Mission, Duluth; Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta; Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Doraville; St. Patrick Church, Norcross; Holy Spirit Mission, Sandy Springs; St. Bernadette Church, Cedartown; St. Joseph Church, Athens; Holy Cross Church, Atlanta; St. Peter Church, LaGrange; St. Elizabeth Seton Mission, Warm Springs; and St. Andrew Church, Roswell.