As we get ready as a worldwide Church for the beginning of the Year of Faith on Oct. 11, our media team is beginning a series of profiles on parishes that are succeeding in important aspects of the New Evangelization. These profiles will be covered in this column in "The Pilot," on "The Good Catholic Life" radio program and in videos from the parish visits posted at www.PilotNewMedia.com/parishprofiles.
This past Monday we visited St. Albert the Great parish, one of five Catholic parishes in Weymouth (Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Xavier and St. Jerome being the others). St. Albert Parish was established in 1950 and had its first Masses in a bowling alley before the current church was built. Despite its relatively young age, the church building is the oldest in town as all the others have either been rebuilt or significantly renovated since.
On Monday's "The Good Catholic Life," we interviewed the pastor, Father Paul Soper; the parish pastoral council chair, Patti Perkins; the pastoral associate, Betsy Clifford; and the parish secretary, Rita Garufi. Patti, Betsy and Rita told stories of how they became part of St. Albert the Great Parish. Each indicated that the warm welcome they received when they were visiting made a huge impact in their decision to become part of that parish family.
This joyful hospitality and welcome is evident in many ways. The church is open from early in the morning until late in the evening because, as Father Soper articulated, it is discouraging when one wants to come and pray to find a church door locked. When you come for Mass, if you are a newcomer (as I was on Monday), the parishioners give you a warm smile and some come over to welcome you. Many of us have had experiences in life of showing up at a gathering where we know no one and how great it is when someone comes to welcome us and introduce us to others. It seems appropriate that we, as Catholic brothers and sisters, do this well. At St. Albert's, in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter, there are talks in church and columns in the bulletin that focus on the importance of welcoming all those that will be returning to the church on Christmas and to ask for prayers for them now. At funeral liturgies, Betsy Clifford organizes a team of greeters at the parish to let visitors know that they are always welcome at St. Albert's to continue to pray for their deceased loved one and for other prayer requests. They share information with them about their bereavement group, which often helps to reintroduce some people back into parish community life.
After this past Monday morning's Mass, which was beautiful for its music and for the heartfelt prayers offered during the General Intercessions, there was a reception in the parish hall -- which takes place every day! The parishioners introduced me to their parish's famous lemon scones that attendees take turns baking. This is the type of gathering where everyone knows your name and in which acquaintances and fellow parishioners become friends.
One of the biggest outreach activities at St. Albert's is Ash Wednesday. They begin promoting their 24-hour Ash Wednesday service on Christmas Day. They let everyone know that people can come anytime from midnight to midnight for ashes, to receive God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to attend one of the various Masses scheduled throughout the day, to pray, to talk with counselors, and to learn about parish Lenten programs. They organize teams to provide greetings and information in English and Spanish throughout these hours. All those that come receive a nail which they are asked to keep in their pocket throughout the Lenten season so that they can return to the parish on Good Friday and participate in nailing it into the Cross, signifying how Christ took our sins upon himself in love for us.
I asked on the show how they develop these new ideas and the energy for implementing them well. They pointed to the focus of the pastoral council on outreach and also on the monthly all-parish discussion meetings where ideas get surfaced and leaders can invite individuals by name to get involved on a team to carry out the idea. Father Soper said that the open parish meetings have been great to discuss issues as large as pastoral planning and also very small ones that are important to particular parishioners. A recent idea that was put forward was to begin the Year of Faith this upcoming Thursday (Oct. 11) with a 40-hour devotion that lasts until Saturday morning. We concluded our conversation on the radio show with Patti Perkins issuing a general invitation to visit St. Albert's for the Year of Faith kickoff or at any other time.
I thank the great people at St. Albert's for welcoming this newcomer with joy this past Monday and for all they do to share their joy of living the Catholic faith throughout the year.
Scot Landry is Secretary for Catholic Media of the Archdiocese of Boston.