This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 9, 2011 - Archbishop Robert Carlson will step up the St. Louis Archdiocese's Advent outreach called "Coming Home" to Catholics who no longer attend church. This year, he's doing more than running a couple of ads and planting welcoming signs on church lawns. The primary outreach remain in getting members to invite any Catholic who doesn't attend church regularly to come back for Christmas.
Carlson does hope some new ads will punch up the invitation. He's using weeks of ads produced by a successful, nonprofit lay group based in Atlanta called Catholics Come Home Inc. He'll air the ads on St. Louis television stations here Dec. 16 through Jan. 22. Monsignor Mark Rivituso, an archdiocesan vicar general, is chairman of a new ad hoc committee of St. Louis Catholics promoting the welcome back for Christmas campaign. This Atlanta-based, non-profit lay group's ad have aired in 30 U.S. Catholic dioceses in previous Decembers.
The lay group's studies of targeted diocese where the ads have been shown show an increase Mass attendance an average of 10 percent, for a total of about 300,000 inactive Catholics and some converts.
The lay group has had much support from the Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the former Belleville bishop. The Atlanta archdiocese membership has grown from 650,000 to more than 1 million, since Gregory became its archbishop seven years ago this week.
This year the group will also air the ads on national networks.
The St. Louis and national ads will send Catholics or anyone interested in Catholicism to two websites www.CatholicsComeHome.org in English, and www.CatolicosRegresen.org in Spanish. Both sites have search functions that direct readers to a church near their residences.
"These messages are created and sponsored by lay Catholic families who have experienced a renewal of faith and who want to bring purpose and hope to other families across the country," said the lay group's founder, Tom Peterson of Atlanta, in a statement. "The results are nothing short of miraculous."
Patricia Rice is a freelance journalist who has covered religion for many years.