Welcome back, Catholics: Major media campaign urges Catholics to return to their faith

Note to television viewers: Don’t touch that dial, especially during the commercials.

Beginning next month, central Arizona residents will experience an unprecedented wave of TV spots urging fallen away Catholics to return to the Church.

The Catholics Come Home campaign, a grand endeavor of the Catholic apostolate by the same name, will begin airing nearly 1,000 English and Spanish television commercials on local and cable networks.

The commercials, which begin on March 3 and run through the duration of Lent, detail the good works of the Catholic Church throughout history. They also offer real-life testimonials of local fallen away Catholics explaining what turned them away and what drew them back.

Each commercial leads viewers to the interactive Catholics Come Home Web site, found at www.catholicscomehome.org, where they can find answers to questions about Church teaching and how to study it. The site also offers an overview of the faith, with additional resources and books.

The Web site also addresses marriage issues, death and grieving, as well as the sacrament of reconciliation.

Visitors can find answers to questions about Church teaching that may have led them away.

Most fallen away Catholics don’t hate the Church, said Tom Peterson, who’s heading up the campaign. “They dislike what they think the Catholic Church teaches.”

Peterson, who grew up in Phoenix and holds Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in high esteem, felt led by the Holy Spirit to choose the Valley as a test market. He will evaluate the campaign’s impact through Web analysis, Mass attendance and parish feedback.

A lot of pro bono production, nearly $1 million from a private family foundation and a grant from the Catholic Community Foundation, helped put these ads on the air.

Those involved behind the scenes — including Peterson and several leaders from the diocese — are hopeful for its success.

“There is an incredible amount of Catholics who have received poor formation or who for other reasons have fallen away from the Church,” said Ryan Hanning, coordinator of adult evangelization for the diocese.

“The reason they left is they got swept up in this culture that tells them that their religion is not important, that Catholicism is not welcome here,” he added. “We need to increase our efforts to those adults who have fallen away.”

Paraphrasing Pope Benedict XVI, Hanning said that God calls the Church to place adult catechesis at the heart of its evangelization.

Some Catholics already want to “come home.” Hanning receives seven or eight phone calls a week from people wanting to return to the Church.

Catholics in the media

Test research showed that the Catholics Come Home ads created a positive impression of the Church after one viewing. Producers expect the average household to see the commercials 13 times.

One series of 30- and 60-second ads illustrates the history of the Church, its contribution to Western civilization and its compassionate service.

“The vast majority of our spots received an extremely high response, stating that they were positive, inspirational and thought-provoking,” Peterson said.

The television spots “really resonate with the overwhelming majority of people looking for some answers, in need of healing in their lives, reconciliation with God and the love and support of their Catholic family,” he said.

Peterson said it is his prayer that the campaign will motivate active Catholics to become stronger in their faith, help inactive churchgoers return to parish life and move non-Catholics to enter Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults programs.

Preparing the parishes

Hanning has spent recent months preparing pastors and parish staff on how best to welcome fallen-away or returning Catholics.

As part of that effort, the Phoenix Diocese launched a Web site connecting parishes with resources that parish leaders have found useful in their ministry.

It also outlines five themes priests and catechetical leaders identified as key to helping Catholics return to the faith: reconciliation, understanding the Mass, prayer, marriage and family life.

“Our hope is to provide useful and pertinent resources to help each parish form a response that fits,” Hanning said.

“During Lent and into the Easter season, we hope that every parish and every Catholic stands ready to welcome and receive those who return,” Hanning added.

Bishop Olmsted said it’s a blessing to be part of the initiative that if successful will expand to dioceses in Kentucky, Nebraska and Massachusetts for further implementation. Organizers hope to ultimately bring the campaign to national and international viewers.

“The TV ads will move our active Catholics to even greater gratitude for their faith,” the bishop said. “It will prompt the inactive ones to consider again the importance of the Catholic faith in their lives and that of their families.”