There's nothing like a personal invitation to welcome back inactive Catholics, according to parish leaders.

"Everybody knows someone that is an inactive Catholic, someone who has left the Church," said Ann Marie Carswell, coordinator of the new Landings program for inactive and returning Catholics at Mater Christi parish in Albany.

Knowing those people and bringing them back into the fold "really does come from the parishioners," she said.

Catholics may fall away for a variety of reasons, Mrs. Carswell continued. Some have theological differences with the Catholic Church or trauma from sexual abuse scandals. Others allow sports schedules or the desire to sleep in on Sunday to interfere with church attendance. It often falls to active parishioners to discover an individual's complaints and help the parish address them.

Mater Christi has already received a few inquiries about its upcoming Landings program, thanks to word-of-mouth, mailings to parishioners and fliers in local businesses and on pews during Christmas Masses.

The parish has created an evangelization team to offer more adult learning.

What's working
As the diocesan "Amazing God" evangelization initiative continues its second year, some parishes have had results from efforts like "come home" programs; passing out books and CDs on the faith; or signs, fliers and ads in local newspapers.

Presentations on interesting topics help: for example, Annunciation parish in Ilion and Our Lady Queen of Apostles parish in Frankfort offered mini-retreats on the meaning of Christmas as part of a "come home" program, said Deacon Jim Bower, pastoral associate at the parishes.

About 30 people attended each week. A similar program will be offered during Lent.

In Saratoga County, St. Mary's in Crescent, Corpus Christi in Round Lake and St. Peter's in Saratoga distributed thousands of copies of the book and CD "Rediscover Catholicism" by Matthew Kelly at Christmas. Leaders report a boost in Mass attendance; one person listened to the CD in the car and decided to return to Corpus Christi.

"People are reading the book," confirmed Rev. Joseph Cebula, pastor of St. Mary's. He's seen many new faces at Mass: "If it's just the Spirit moving them or the book helped, who knows? It doesn't matter, really."

The parishes are offering follow-up discussions; Corpus Christi and St. Peter's are also showing Rev. Robert Barron's "Catholicism" TV series (see"> to parish groups and continuing their Landings programs, which attracted a handful of participants last year.

Our Lady of Grace parish in Ballston Lake will soon start the fourth semester of its program, Inviting Catholics Home. Previous sessions attracted up to eight participants: "They just came right off the street," said Dorothy Sokol, parish life director, crediting ads and signs.

On the other hand, the parish's last session had no attendance. "Maybe they're not really ready yet," Mrs. Sokol said, "but they know that the Church will welcome them. Different things are going to work for different people."

Leaders at St. Mary's parish in Oneonta will start a Landings session during Lent. A woman who hasn't attended Mass in 40 years is among the registrants.

"A big part of it is going to be someone to listen and not be judgmental," noted Janice Hinkley, outreach coordinator at St. Mary's.

Ms. Hinkley has noticed a few dozen new faces at Mass since the parish started advertising Landings. "Times are bad [and] people need someone to turn to. I think people realize St. Mary's is a church that cares."

The evangelization committee at St. Joseph's parish in Scotia will use the "Catholicism" series and "Rediscover Catholicism" book during Lent. People responded to welcome letters from the pastoral council and pastor left in pews at Christmas - and also to ads for the parish's Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program.

Our survey said
Results from a survey distributed to Christmas Mass-goers and faith formation students at St. Joseph's are being analyzed. The survey asked what keeps inactive Catholics away and how the Church can fix that.

"If it's something we can change, we want to change it," said Deacon Stephen Lape of St. Joseph's.

He said the most important evangelists are active parishioners: Greeters should be welcoming and the people in the pews should follow suit.

Baptisms, weddings and funerals, he added, are opportunities to attract new members: "That's an opening for us to be non-judgmental, to have open arms, to connect with them individually. If people feel like you're sincere, I think they will" return to the Church.