By Becky Aubut
FAIRHAVEN, Mass. — St. Mary’s Parish in Fairhaven has a large number of people listed on its parish register, but when it comes to those who actually attend Mass the number is significantly smaller.
The parish council has been trying to launch a type of program to reach out to those who have fallen away from the Church, and with encouragement from the parish’s pastor Father Martin Gomes, SS.CC., longtime parishioner Dot Cabral took the initiative, formed a small group, and is ready to launch on April 6 a free-to-attend, six-week program, “Awakening Faith” to help reconnect Catholics to their faith.
“Because I’ve been involved with the parish for awhile — I started in youth ministry years ago and I’ve stayed very active in the Church — I have seen that attendance is dwindling down,” said Cabral. “The pews are becoming empty. One of the missions that the parish council has been working on is trying to improve the attendance, and bring people back to the Church.”
According to its website (www.pemdc.org), “Awakening Faith: Reconnecting with Your Catholic Faith” is a small group process that helps inactive Catholics return to the Church. The group meets once a week for six weeks of conversation and socializing. The conversations are based on short, easy-to-read essays about Spirituality, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God’s mercy, the Mass, and the Church. The meetings foster reflection, prayer, and honest sharing in a setting of hospitality and acceptance. A small community is formed and over the six weeks becomes a bridge to the larger Church community.
“The world is so ugly,” said Cabral, “and I really feel it’s because people are losing their connection with God. We are so busy and get involved in other things, and Church just isn’t an important thing. I went through it with my children; you have baseball games or soccer games on Sunday morning, and sometimes you just get pulled away.
“Sometimes it could be other personal issues that pulled you away — but they’ll still say they’re Catholic. Then they get married, or they put their children into Faith Formation programs; you see so often they drop their children off but they don’t participate in the Mass. We’re hoping to spark their interest, and to see why they left the Church in the first place.”
Catholics need to evangelize their faith more, said Cabral, and reach out to those who may define themselves as Catholic, but don’t practice their faith.
“When a Catholic goes to a hospital,” said Cabral, “they will designate they’re a Catholic but they’re not actively practicing. Or maybe some Catholics are practicing but only come to church on a Sunday and then really don’t have any other connection with the Church, but are looking for deeper Spirituality and growth in their faith.”
Those are the people St. Mary’s wants to reconnect with during the Awakening Faith six-week sessions, she said.
Cabral’s small group researched multiple programs online, eventually settling on the Awakening Faith program because “it had what we wanted,” said Cabral, adding the program is easy to follow and not heavy on academic theology, but more focused on helping Catholics create their own Spiritual connection with their faith.
Each session will be 90 minutes, focusing on a different topic each week to explore different elements of the Catholic faith.
“It will give them a chance for conversation, for sharing; everything they say will be held in confidence, and done in a comfortable environment,” said Cabral. “It’s an opportunity for them to express how they feel and how they relate to the topics that are covered.”
Some people who have signed up have stated they will not be able to attend all six sessions due to other commitments, but Cabral invites them and anyone to “attend the sessions they can; some are better than nothing. Come to what you can and build with us; that’s what it’s all about.”
Booklets will be provided at no cost; and though St. Mary’s Parish is trying to create a Spiritual connection within its own parish community, “it’s open to anyone,” said Cabral. “It’s for anyone looking to deepen their Spirituality; the doors are open to them.”
“Hopefully it will build relationships with people,” said Cabral. “You really need to reach out to the community and the parish, and sometimes all it takes [is asking] would you like to be a part of this?”
Many parishes in the diocese seem to have the same group of active participants in parish events, and while that is a beautiful thing, Cabral wants to build up a larger community of active members.
“Building a community at the parish needs to happen — all parishes, not just ours,” she said. “We’re hoping it brings people closer together, to be more of a family community and to really build off of one another. I would love to see more parish things taking place, and bring everyone together to be involved. We need it. The world outside of the Church is so bad — between the bullying or what we hear on the news — that we need a place for people to be accepted and loved for who they are, and letting people know they are welcome here, that these doors are open to everybody.”
Awakening Faith at St. Mary’s Parish, 446 Main Street in Fairhaven will be held April 6–May 11, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the parish hall. If you have any questions, you can call the parish office at 508-992-7300 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no cost to attend the sessions. Please call the rectory to reserve your place, or simply attend the first session on April 6.