By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
SOUTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — It was a Sunday when even faithful Catholics could have stayed away from Mass because of the series of nasty snow squalls that moved their way through Southeastern New England on November 2.
Instead, the faithful showed up along with the many guests invited by parishioners to “Come home to the Church.”
Pastor, Father Rodney E. Thibault, the parish council and the parishioners of St. Mary’s Parish in South Dartmouth sponsored a weekend for the second year in a row, when they invited Catholics who have strayed from the faith and the Church for any number of reasons.
“Last year, we dedicated a weekend in November as a welcome home weekend,” explained Father Thibault. “Invitations were inserted into the bulletin and parishioners were encouraged to give the invitations to family, neighbors and friends whom they know no longer practice their faith. It was successful. I know of 13 people who came home with certainty because they met with me personally. There are others because I see new faces.
“We must realize as a Church that we have alienated and hurt people for many reasons. A priest could have been less than pastoral in his approach with regards to a delicate pastoral situation; a parishioner might have been less than welcoming or judgmental of a fellow parishioner and the list goes on.
“What is important is that we are all sinners and are in need of the accepting mercy of the Father.
“The approach this year, although the same, is to dedicate the month of November to remembering those who have died as well as those who have experienced a Spiritual death and no longer are with us physically by choice. At St. Mary’s we are using the month of November and we hope that those who have left us will come home to once again be a part of a Christian community that embraces, loves and welcomes them.”
Father Thibault said that despite the weather, all weekend Masses were well-attended.
“The main thrust of the weekend was to welcome those who feel estranged from the Church,” said Beni Costa-Reedy, parish director of Faith Formation and a member of the parish council. “We invited all of those parishioners who sit in the pews each week to invite someone who has distanced themselves for whatever reason to come back to their Church family.”
Costa-Reedy added that it’s important for estranged Catholics to receive a welcome back from lay people. “We need to do what Pope Francis has been preaching: welcome people wherever they may be and make them feel loved by God and the parish community.
“Most people want to know why we are still church-goers and they are often surprised by the answers given. We are everyday people like themselves who have for some reason stayed connected or found a new connection in our lives and they want a piece.”
Kathy Marzilli Miraglia, another parish council member, told The Anchor, “The event last year was so successful, that we decided that we would do it again this year. This idea of welcome is not just for one Sunday of the year but meant to be practiced all year, every day. Father Rodney has told us that the number of new parishioners is up. This may be the result of our efforts and the meaningful and inspiring sermons and leadership of Father Rodney.
“The day went very well despite the weather. New visitors came and what I hope they saw were young people engaged as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and lectors, children who were given a blessing at the end of Mass, and a place to be Spiritually nourished. After each Mass, people were invited back to the parish hall for breakfast where we had a chance to chat with those we knew and to chat with others we did not know.”
The parish council and parishioners took the challenge to heart for the last two years and the results have been uplifting. “I am personally committed to our parish and pastor of two years because he has an energetic and enthusiastic way of expressing himself and Pope Francis’ message of ‘We are a forgiving Church: warm and welcoming. Try us!’” said council member Patricia Furrey. “I feel the Holy Spirit moving Father Rodney and the Spirit moving me to help reach out to new, old and former parishioners — come home!
“Despite the unexpected snow, St. Mary’s had an excellent parish turnout! I think word is out now that our pastor is someone to listen to.”
In his homily for All Souls’ Day, Father Thibault spoke about mourning the death of a loved one, how the earthly bond with that person is broken, and we are overcome with sadness. “However, what about those who are Spiritually dead?” he asked. “We each have family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc., who no longer practice their faith, for whatever reason, and since we love them we should be sad that they no longer contribute to building up the Body of Christ. We are the mouthpieces of God and we are called to bring them out of the tomb, just as Jesus called Lazarus forward, so that they can be untied by that which shackles them thereby living with purpose — the call of the disciple.”
Father Thibault told The Anchor, “Recently, during a meeting with his priests, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., reminded us that we must be in mission mode and that is exactly what we are doing at St. Mary’s in South Dartmouth: Living and experiencing missionary zeal and love of the Gospel. The theme continues throughout the month that all are welcome and I encourage worshippers to remember that during the month of November.”
Father Thibault’s homily for November 2 can be found on the parish website at wwww.stmarysdartmouth.org under “Sunday readings and homilies.”