PROVIDENCE—Modern society's attacks on moral values, the closings of parochial schools and churches, and allegations against the clergy of sexual abuse have put the Catholic Church on the defensive and may have driven away people from the pews, according to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.
However, a series of TV commercials and many other outreach programs will highlight the presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church and invite people back to the faith.
The Diocese of Providence's Year of Evangelization advertising campaign will hit the airwaves during Advent when a series of TV commercials produced by CatholicsComeHome.org airs from Dec. 16 through Jan. 30.
The three commercial spots, which will air 1,200 times, will offer Rhode Islanders a chance to reflect on the high and low points of their lives as they are watching the news or their favorite prime-time shows.
Catholics who have come back to the Church describe during the commercials the joy and peace they have once again since they have returned to the Church, and others reflect on their former negligent lifestyles.
The commercials highlight the diversity of the Church as well, and showcase liturgies in Africa, charismatic services in Spanish and features a Native American's reflection on his faith.
Tom Peterson, founder and president of CatholicsComeHome.org, told 280 representatives from parishes throughout the diocese that "the main mission of the Church is to evangelize the world, and the Church has a 2,000-year history of heroes."
He reminded people at the Diocesan Congress at Providence College last Saturday about early
Catholics who refused to relinquish their faith in Christ, and were fed to the lions in the Coliseum by
Peterson stressed how vital it is for Catholics to evangelize, because even though 24 percent of Americans say they are Catholic only 8 percent practice their faith. The commercials should be viewed by 98.5 percent of Rhode Islanders on an average of 26 times per person, according to Peterson.
He said when the commercials first aired in Phoenix in 2008 a priest told him he had 16 people come to confession who had not been to church in years. Peterson said his goal is to lead people to Christ for the rest of their lives, and the outlook for the commercials is to jump-start evangelization.
" CatholicsComeHome.org is the work of the Holy Spirit ,"said Peterson.
The Diocesan Congress kicked off with Bishop Tobin's goal of "energizing parishes and schools, and bringing new life to the diocese." The bishop urged parishioners at the Congress to "reach out to inactive Catholics, and share the good news of Christ with the unchurched."
"We must bring new life to our faithful communities at every level, and reach out to inactive Catholics, because each one of us has these people in our own lives. It’s a huge population of former Catholics. We must share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who have no church home, and those who have no church community.
We need to be proud of our faith," said the bishop. "Jesus is to be known and loved and so we can share the life of the trinity. Parishes need to be inspired, creative and bold. We have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain," he added. Bishop Tobin stressed the yearlong evangelization campaign "starts with me and the second person to be evangelized is you."
Dominican Father Brian Shanley, president of PC, told the faithful at the Congress that they will be the ones responsible for leading fallen-away Catholics back to the Church. "The dialogue you have with people will be most powerful, and it will not come from a priest or a Dominican friar. Your faith will bring Catholics back home and you will be the front lines of evangelization."
"It’s about conversation. These one-on-one conversations will help bring people back to God. It’s not a monologue it’s a dialogue. It’s probably the most powerful thing we can do. I do believe that the best things we can do is to engage in dialogue with people who have left the Church," said Father Shanley.
Joe Fortin, of St. Jean Baptiste Church in Warren, said the commercials produced by CatholicsComeHome.
org will be an excellent way to kick off the Year of Evangelization throughout the diocese.
"I think it will be a home run for the diocese. The commercials are awesome. I didn’t expect it, and they were so interesting," said Fortin.
Peterson is confident that Catholics will return home.
The diversity of cultures and ethnicities highlighted in the commercials showcases how the Catholic Church is universal. "We have charismatic liturgies within the charismatic movement, there is the cursillo movement, we have life and spirit seminars and for traditional Catholics there is the rosary, Latin Mass and organ music,"
said Peterson. "The Catholic Church is universal and we share the Gospels anywhere. The Catholic Church is
broad enough to appeal to the worship styles of all cultures and tastes," he added.
According to Peterson, 100 people entered the Rite of Christian Initiation program at his old parish in Phoenix, and at least 100,000 people returned to the faith in Corpus Christi, Texas and Phoenix after the commercials
aired in those locations last year. He said CatholicsComeHome.org will produce a nationwide commercial campaign during Advent 2010.
Commercials will air in Spanish on Spanish-language TV as well in Rhode Island. Peterson said there was a 16
percent rise in attendance at Spanish Masses in Texas a month after commercials aired on Spanish-
language TV last year.
"I hope this leavens the yeast and what starts in Rhode Island spreads out through New England, nationwide and coast to coast during Advent in 2010. I hope Catholic families support us with prayer and financial support,
and I pray the ads will help love more souls to heaven," said Peterson