Our parish has a clear sense of purpose. We are a parish for newcomers. This was an easy choice for us, being surrounded by refugees and immigrants. Perhaps we are not so unique if one considers that more than one in 10 people relocate each year, and that rate doubles for young adults.
This means that every year, another 15 percent of those living around your parish are newcomers. See how easy it can be for a parish to grow? Just look inside out.
Father Robert Zilliox, newly appointed pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine in Bowmansville, is excited for the opportunity to finally put into practice so many lessons that he learned from outstanding priests of this diocese.
The late Msgr. John Zeitler, of fond memory, taught him that when newcomers call to register at the shrine, the secretary should not just take down their address and send out a box of envelopes. Instead, she should warmly welcome them and suggest that the pastor would prefer to come to them, bless their home, and share information about how the parish can serve them.
During this visit, the pastor has the opportunity to get to know newcomers and let them know how valuable they are to the parish. Best of all, it happens on their home turf. Much can be learned by observing where people live. Is there someone at home with particular needs, such as mobility issues, a talented musician, or a child with special needs?
How people live is one window to their soul. A simple house blessing can become a heart-to-heart exchange, or even a time of reconciliation. There are plenty of home blessings that have been publicized, including one at www.evangelizebuffalo.org.
Clearly, not all pastors have the time to do this for every newcomer, so why not equip parish volunteers? What if just half of our parishes implemented this approach in some way?
In order to accomplish this in your own home parish, there are plenty of customizable, welcome brochures and cards available for free from various sources and online. These can be combined with a few items of information about your parish and the surrounding community to help welcome more newcomers.
Perhaps parishes can add a hand-made rosary from the ladies guild, or a Jubilee Year of Mercy medal, as a house-warming gift. Going to them can sound like an inside-out approach, but it works.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis assured us on July 28 in Poland, "A merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others. It is ready to embrace everyone." In the name of Jesus, a merciful parish is able to be "a place of refuge for those who are without a home or who have lost their home, able to build a home and a family. A merciful heart can share bread with the hungry and welcome refugees."
Does this sound a little inside out to you? What do you have to lose from trying it? Try looking at yourself from the outside in. You will see the wisdom in doing things inside out in your life.