Church begins Advent campaign to win back lapsed

 For the first time, the many thousands of baptised Catholics who have left the Church are the focus of a national 'welcome back' campaign in England and Wales. The initiative: Come Home for Christmas', which began yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, is resourced by the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation (CASE). It aims to offer a seasonal welcome to Catholics who for different reasons no longer or rarely attend Mass. Its central message is 'Whatever your story or journey, the door is always open to you'. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, has sent his own message to those who are no longer active Catholics: "My dear friends, a warm welcome awaits you. At your own pace and in your own time, we'd be interested to hear your story and learn from your experiences. You are an important and much-loved member of the Body of Christ. Come.'' Enquirers can also receive a welcome message to their mobile phone from His Eminence by texting 'REACTIV8' to 81025. Pre-launch materials were sent to thousands of Catholics parishes, groups and individuals in September. CASE say that they have been struggling to keep up with the demand. Nearly 100,000 posters, leaflets and cards have been requested and distributed and the calls keep on coming in. Director of CASE, Mgr Keith Barltrop, said: "We've been absolutely inundated with enquiries and requests for more information and resources. It's been a privilege to witness the generosity of response from individuals, Catholic groups and communities. It's a clear confirmation that the Holy Spirit is at work. This Advent and Christmas the Catholic community looks set to be busy inviting non Church-going Catholics back." He added: "People lapse for all kinds of reasons and we want to communicate that we're not here to judge. We want to welcome you and listen to your story, however much time has passed since you last went to Church." Dean Meehan, a 45 year-old train conductor from Leeds, is one of people whose testimonies are featured in the campaign materials. He recently returned to Church after a twenty six year gap. He said: "I made a decision not to go to Church as a teenager. Years later, I was reading a novel called the 'Da Vinci Code' and decided to take a second look. The fact that I've realised that Jesus is my Saviour has made all the difference." A dedicated and multi-media website has been launched for potential 'returners' which aims to provide a safe and anonymous place for people to explore their own individual circumstances. The site includes welcome messages from the Bishops of England and Wales, video testimonies, articles describing obstacles, ways to come back, a 'Find A Church' facility, as well as free downloads including prayers and an offer of a 'Welcome Home' pack. Please see: Resources and downloads specifically for Catholic parishes and groups can be accessed from: These include: posters, invitation cards, outreach leaflets, a booklet containing ideas for parishes, prayer cards, a format for a welcome evening and much more. To order and for more information please email: Tel: 020 8458 3316.

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