As a former teacher, Sister M. Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, knows the power of words.
She likes to tell a story about a homeless man sitting on the street collecting the few coins passersby tossed on a cardboard plate in front of him. One day a lady wrote a message on the cardboard, causing people to drop more coins than the man had ever seen before. That cardboard said, "It's a beautiful day today, but I can't see it."
"Words are powerful in communicating a message," Sister Johnice said.
That understanding earned Sister Johnice the role of honorary chairperson for the 2015 Catholic Communications Campaign. The collection funds a variety of Catholic projects, including the Diocese of Buffalo's Office of Communications and coverage of this year's World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis.
In her day job as executive director of the Response to Love Center, Sister Johnice relies on the diocesan Office of Communications to tell the story of how the East Side social service institute is dedicated to helping poverty-stricken individuals and families by providing a variety of compassionate programs.
At the center copies of the Western New York Catholic newspaper are available for those who may have missed it at their parish.
"A lot of times people will look at the pictures that are in the Western New York Catholic paper because they can't read," she said. "So, if I see something like the bishop in the Holy Land or if I see the youth that were in our building sharing an Easter basket with someone, I can pick up that paper and say, 'Look, this is what's in our paper here,' making them attentive to what's in their surroundings. Many of our people can't read. Many of them can't write. So, they look a lot for pictures. A lot of times people do not pick up the Western New York Catholic paper, so we have it there in our hallway. They'll be able to pick up the paper and say, 'I never saw this.' They're people who have gone to church, but missed it somehow."
People wanting to strengthen their faith often see stories of confirmations, ordinations and even ads for fish frys, then seek out these events to witness or even participate.
"That communication is very important, so we can share the story with them," Sister Johnice said.
Television, once called a "vast wasteland," now is used to bring people back to the Church, and in some cases, bring the Mass right to the people. Daybreak TV, part of the diocesan Office of Communications, records a daily Mass that airs on cable access stations throughout the diocese.
Outside of the center, Sister Johnice delivers the Eucharist to the homebound, where she met a woman depressed because she was physically unable to attend Mass.
"She was so sad because she would go to Communion and she would go to daily Mass, but now arthritic, homebound and in a neighborhood where you can't get out, she didn't have that opportunity," Sister Johnice said. "So, when I visited her and took the Eucharist, I said, 'Have you ever turned on the TV? At noon the Mass is there. So she watches the Mass from St. Joseph Cathedral every single day. But, the joyous moment was when she turned on TV and saw the Christmas Mass with Bishop Malone (also recorded by Daybreak TV and aired nationally). For that reason she is just hooked on the TV. You think, an 85-year-old lady into media and communication? Yeah, that's what it does. It's so important."
Sister Johnice has seen the effectiveness of the recent Catholics Come Home commercial campaign that aired in January. "Evangomercials" showed testimonies of why lapsed Catholic had returned to the Church.
"People are attentive to that and you can see people coming back. People say, 'I saw that documentary, let's talk.' You'd be surprised how many people are coming back to the Church because they've sensed the welcome and sensed the joy," she said.
Many of the clients at the Response to Love Center come from different countries. Some do not speak English, many don't read, so electronic communications, such as television and radio, become important tools for them to remain close to the Church.
"A lot of the people who don't read will listen to the radio broadcast. We'll tell them, 'If you listen on this particular Sunday, we're going to have a speaker here.' So, they'll get up early in the morning and they like to listen to what's being said, whether it's the New Evangelization or it's the bishop giving a message," Sister Johnice said. "They like to listen. If they hear it, it sticks with them more and it radiates throughout the day. They can share what they heard on the radio. They say, 'Hey, did you hear what the bishop said today?'"
One man heard a Catholics Come Home spot and could immediately relate to the story of someone returning to the Church after being away for years. He told Sister Johnice, "When I heard that story, it reminded me of me and how I left the Church. Where is there a church nearby?"
"That person came to Church the following Sunday, sat with me and brought his daughter. He came back to the Church because of a radio announcement. That's the New Evangelization we talk about," she said. "I don't think we need to walk and preach and do the fire and brimstone, telling people you got to come back. We leave that up to God. If we can touch their heart through a communication, they'll come back because that's God's way of touching a life."
Sister Johnice uses all forms of communication herself, from the Response to Love website to old-fashioned flyers and intercom messages throughout her building, making sure that she maintains rapport with her human audience.
"I would like to say the Office of Communications does that so beautifully. When you read the stories, they are for the young, the old; listening to the radio or being a reader, you are really attending to what people have today. Your office shows that the Church is alive. Listen and read the Good News."
The Catholic Communication Campaign helps us to grow in faith, worship and witness. We ask you to be generous in the collection, which will take place in most parishes the weekend of June 13-14.