The popularity of Pope Francis: Could it be a clue to winning back lapsed Catholics?

Categories: Guest Views

The Holy Father’s compassion and action toward those on the margin may be a model for how we too might draw people back to the church

February 28, 2014, edition
By Doug Scott

Search the phrase “lapsed Catholic” with your computer and you’ll generate a lot of hits.

There are Wikipedia definitions and websites by and about lapsed Catholics. Countless articles written from every possible angle offer their perspective on the “fallen away.”

11bpopeIf you look far enough down the list, you’ll come across some very interesting forums. Numerous blogs tackle the issue head-on, often from the perspective of lapsed or “recovering” Catholics, making for fascinating reading.

Curiously, the thread running through many of the more recent blogs and articles from inactive Catholics is the admiration they have for Pope Francis. References like “Hey, how about Pope Francis?! He’s actually making me think about coming back to the church” appear quite frequently.

If you read enough blog posts you’ll quickly see why people feel an affinity for him. His compassion and action toward those on the margins are Christ-like and refreshing.

Just in time

This growing interest in the pope couldn’t have come at a better time.

It’s no secret that it has been extremely difficult for the church and for church people to persuade back the growing number of falling away Catholics.

People have their own reasons for becoming inactive. That means we need to relate to people personally if we have any hope of convincing them to become active again.

That makes it hard, almost impossible, to bring back fallen away believers en masse. Personal appeals can be difficult, too. It’s just plain hard to know what to say or do that will actually change someone’s mind.

But if we take to heart what the bloggers are writing we certainly can attract some absent Catholics back to the church.

Connection idea

Inspired by their positive reaction to Pope Francis’ humble serving, perhaps we need to make our appeal to rejoin church life by first standing with our fallen away friends in a soup kitchen or a jail.

Put another way, maybe we connect with our lost neighbors through acts of authentic Christian love and service, together, and leave the words for later (if at all).

The pope’s now famous interview with Father Antonio Spadaro in August 2013 promotes the sense of solidarity that lies at the heart of this approach.

It was in this interview that the Pope said:

“I can clearly see that what the church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful. It needs to be by their side. I see the church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom up.”

So if restoring people to the church through healing is the objective of our winning back strategy and serving others is the means to this end, what do you say to your fallen away friend or family member to get them to come back to the church?

Nothing.

Invite them instead to join you for a few hours helping at the local food shelf. Afterwards take them out for a cup of Fair Trade coffee and discuss how wonderful it is that they and so many other people in the world, including our pope, are willing to be Christ to those in need.

Squeeze their hand and thank them for caring.

One outing together could lead to a second, a third, and maybe to a concert or a speaker at church. Who knows how the Spirit might work!

Down the road, you could even be surprised to see who is sitting next to you at Mass.

Doug Scott is a member of St. Louis Bertrand Parish in Foreston.