MERCER COUNTY —
The Lenten season is a time of reflection for the faithful.
For Catholics who have turned away from their faith, last Sunday was a time for them to renew it, with the help of a group of Shenango Valley priests who were led by the Rev. Donald W. Trautman, bishop of the Erie Diocese.
The “Welcome Home” service, held under the auspices of the international Catholic apostolate “Catholics Come Home,” attracted about 30 people who received a simple message: Regardless of their past wrongs, they are loved.
“One thing we have in common is the fact that we are sinners,” Bishop Trautman said. “But what kind of sinners are we? Saved sinners.”
The good news of the scripture is that Jesus Christ takes away the sin of the world, he said.
The entire Diocese of Erie has been participating in the “Catholics Come Home” initiative, said the Rev. Mark Hoffman, of the Church of the Beloved Disciple in Pine Township.
The outreach has involved spots on cable television within the 13 counties of the diocese to reach out to Catholics, he said.
Each parish also has its own outreach. Beloved has made telephone calls or sent letters to “families on the roster who we haven’t seen in a long time,” he noted.
“It’s been a great response. We have encouraged them to come home.”
The parish has also encouraged its regular members to reach out to their neighbors who are Catholic, but not attending church.
The local Knights of Columbus Council 3658 in Pine, next to Beloved, has put up billboards on routes 208 and 173 to invite Catholics “home.”
Ed and April Laughlin, of Port St. Lucy, Fla. will be guest speakers for a parish mission at 7 p.m. March 27, 28 and 29. The event will include a Eucharistic adoration and social time.
“It’s been a nice process,” Hoffman said. “Five new families joined just last week alone. We’re anxious to meet any Catholic families in the Grove City area, which is where we serve.”
People are as recyclable as plastics, Bishop Trautman said.
Much like plastics, metal and other garbage, we can be reused and reborn into “useful, new products. Even sinners can become saints.”
And it’s the church’s job not only to minister to the faithful who fill the pews each week, but also to reach out to the unfaithful and the unchurched and those who have turned away from Catholicism, Bishop Trautman said.
He called on the faithful to follow Christ’s example and to “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
“I will never take back my love,” God’s teachings say, Bishop Trautman said. “Nothing you can do can make God stop loving you.”
Resentment of past wrongs, pent-up hurt feelings and never-forgotten grudges need to be released and forgotten, Bishop Trautman said.
These feelings can “cut deeply in the hearts of people,” he said.
“Guilt has the potential of sapping our strength and causing paralysis of our spirit,” Bishop Trautman said.
Once suffered, injustices “are not to be remembered,” he said.
“What about us? Will we go to our graves without saying, ‘I forgive you?’ ”
Christ calls for a “spiritual amnesia” to taken place once someone is forgiven, he said.
“Christ demands a magnamity of heart, a big-heartedness,” to offer forgiveness. Once rendered, people need to “mark these accounts paid and not present them again and again,” he said. “Bearing grudges gets us nowhere.”
“Like Jesus, the church must be a friend to sinners,” he said. “The church is not a museum for saints. It’s a hospital for sinners.”
Part of that treatment was offered last Sunday, when those who attended could make confessions to a priest or be counseled by them, along with several lay leaders from Shenango Valley Catholic parishes, in an effort to lead lost or forgotten Catholics “home.”
Hoffman also opens up his office for those wishing to speak with him personally, he added.
Catholics who have stop attending church have often attributed it to misunderstandings and simply getting “out of the habit,” he said.
Information from the Rev. Mark Hoffman was gathered by Felicia A. Petro, Allied News staff writer.