SYDNEY, Australia, JUNE 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Catholics reading the newspaper in Australia last weekend saw ads inviting them to reconnect with their Church community.
The nationwide advertising campaign gave the country’s bishops a chance to say they want to welcome back people who have drifted away from the life of the Church for whatever reason, or people who have never really been a part of it.
“The Church is God’s family and, like any family, has its differences,” the prelates said. “Sometimes people are hurt by other family members. We ask your forgiveness if you have been hurt in some way through the Church.”
The bishops acknowledged that some people have drifted away because of the pressures of life.
“Why not join us again?” the ads ask. “We need each other. We need your help in carrying on the mission of Jesus. Only with you, can we be all that Jesus calls us to be as his Church. You have a God-given gift which you alone can bring to the Church. We need that gift.”
The campaign comes at a crucial time for the Church in Australia, just a month away from welcoming Benedict XVI here for World Youth Day.
And the Church Down Under can probably benefit from a little marketing. The Australian episcopal conference’s Pastoral Projects Office conducted a national count in May 2006, which showed that the total number of people at Mass on a typical weekend was 708,600, or about 14% of the census Catholic population. That low number was already down a bit from 2001’s count of 15%.
Meanwhile, the 2006 Australian Census, released Friday, showed that Catholics remain the largest religious group in the country. There were more than 5 million Catholics in Australia, making up 25.8% of the total population.
The weekend’s advertising campaign encouraged people to connect with the Church again simply by going along to Mass, talking to a priest or calling a special hotline on where trained staff would help put people in touch with a local Church community.
As a follow up, in parishes across the nation next Sunday, Catholics will receive a pastoral letter from the bishops, encouraging them to make their parish a place of true welcome for people who respond to the invitation to return.
The bishops are offering resources as well. Two programs from the national evangelization office are available. The first is called Reconnect and is a six week parish program for people wishing to return to the practice of their faith. The second resource is called Rewired and is a similar program aimed at encouraging young people to engage in the life of the Church.