By David Hartline
PHOENIX, Arizona, JULY 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- For many who have left the Catholic Church, there is often a great desire to come home. However, fear and guilt often lead many to put off the gnawing decision to return to the Church. Not knowing where to turn, many who were once faithful feel lost and ashamed.
Tom Peterson, founder of Catholicscomehome.org, has found television and the Internet to be just the place to reach out to those wishing to come back to the Church.
Earlier this year Peterson tested his methods and ideas using an advertising campaign geared toward the 3.5 million who live in the Diocese of Phoenix.
More than 6,000 people inquired and came back to the Church via the Catholicscomehome.org Web site, and many more came back to Catholicism by reporting directly to a parish near their home. One priest reported that 16 people came to him for confession after they saw the television ad.
“One of the biggest surprises for us was the amount of inquiries from those who are not Catholic,” said Peterson. “About one quarter of those expressing an interest in the Catholic Church are from those who have seen our commercials or visited our Web site and want to better understand the Catholic Church, or have actually made the decision to become Catholic.”
When sorting out what caused many to leave the Church, Peterson said “about 90% of those who left the Church can’t give a good reason.”
He also explained that many can’t express why they want to come back. Many simply say they felt something was missing.
“They often want to come home but don’t know how. They feel uncomfortable about coming back and don’t know what to do — when to sit and when to stand, and what to pray. We try to ease those fears and remind them of God’s desire to see them come home,” the director said.
Once they come back to Church, he added, they feel renewed. “They experience the Eucharist again and the power of confession. They feel their hunger for the truth has been met and a feeling of joy overcomes them.”
When asked why he thought his brief television commercials had such an impact, Peterson said: “Our commercials are a basic reminder of who we are, the Church Jesus founded, the Church that Jesus entrusted to Peter and every pope who followed him.
“We are the Church that gave the world the Bible. When we quickly explain these facts and use the Bible to do it, people really respond. They admit that either they never really knew this or simply forget.”
Peterson said he is often greeted with surprise as to how well Catholicscomehome.org has done. Several testimonies sent to his site show the impact it has had on viewers.
After seeing the commercials on Phoenix television, a visitor named Michael wrote, “It is highly effective and so very much needed at this time.”
Another from an Angela said, “I’ve been away from the Church for over 35 years and over the past 20 years I have become agnostic. […] For me to actually look this site up from a TV ad says a lot.”
For some the commercials brought a great sense of joy. David wrote, “I wanted to commend you on the commercial. Wow. That was really well done. I’m so proud to be Catholic!”
Even non-Catholics wrote into the Catholicscomehome.org Web site to praise their efforts. Jean said, “I am not Catholic, but I think your commercials are extremely well done, tasteful and persuading.”
Still another e-mailer, Deborah, was so impressed that she wrote, “I am interested in the Catholic Church. What do I have to do to convert?”
The project has even caught the attention of the Holy See. Recently, Peterson said, he discussed the initiative with Cardinal John Foley, prefect of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, and Archbishop Claudio Celli, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
While the results have surpassed his expectations, Peterson explains that this is only just the beginning. The group has plans to launch similar campaigns this winter in St. Louis, Lincoln, Colorado Springs, Sacramento, Atlanta and Fargo.
“We are ramping up to 2010,” he added, “when we hope to start a national advertising campaign starting with the 2010 Super Bowl.”
Peterson takes no credit for his success. He simply says: “The world needs Jesus. We need to remind others how much they are loved by Jesus and needed by our Church family.”
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On the Net:
Catholics Come Home: www.catholicscomehome.org