'O Come All Ye Faithful': Catholics Get Ready To Welcome Back Thousands Of Lapsed For Christmas


‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is likely to become the most favoured carol in Catholic parishes up and down the country this Christmas. Why? Because for the first time in England and Wales, hundreds of thousands of lapsed Catholics are to be the focus of a national ‘welcome back’ campaign.

The initiative, resourced by the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation (CASE), is called ‘Come Home For Christmas’ and aims to offer a seasonal welcome to Catholics who for different reasons no longer or rarely attend Mass. The campaign begins on the first Sunday of Advent which falls on 2 December 2007, the first day in the Church’s new liturgical year. Its central message is ‘Whatever your story or journey, the door is always open to you’.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, has sent his own message of warm welcome to the non Church-going Catholic population: “My dear friends, a warm welcome awaits you. At your own pace and in your own time, we'd be interested to hear your story and learn from your experiences. You are an important and much-loved member of the Body of Christ. Come.'' Enquirers can also receive a welcome message to their mobile phone from His Eminence by texting ‘REACTIV8’ to 81025.

Pre-launch materials were sent to thousands of Catholics parishes, groups and individuals in September in a bid to get people mobilised early. Such has been the reception of these initial materials that members of the CASE staff are struggling to keep up with the ever increasing demand. Nearly 100,000 posters, leaflets and cards have been requested and distributed and the calls keep on coming in. The CASE office has been posting out the equivalent of a thousand materials a day.

Director of CASE, Mgr Keith Barltrop, said: “We’ve been absolutely inundated with enquiries and requests for more information and resources. It’s been a privilege to witness the generosity of response from individuals, Catholic groups and communities. It’s a clear confirmation that the Holy Spirit is at work. This Advent and Christmas the Catholic community looks set to be busy inviting non Church-going Catholics back.” He added: “People lapse for all kinds of reasons and we want to communicate that we’re not here to judge. We want to welcome you and listen to your story, however much time has passed since you last went to Church.”

Dean Meehan, a 45 year-old train conductor from Leeds, is one of people whose testimonies are featured in the campaign materials. He recently returned to Church after a twenty six year gap. He said: “I made a decision not to go to Church as a teenager. Years later, I was reading a novel called the ‘Da Vinci Code’ and decided to take a second look. The fact that I’ve realised that Jesus is my Saviour has made all the difference.”

A dedicated and multi-media website has been launched for potential ‘returners’ which aims to provide a safe and anonymous place for people to explore their own individual circumstances. The micro-site includes welcome messages from the Bishops of England and Wales, video testimonies, articles describing obstacles, ways to come back, a ‘Find A Church’ facility, as well as free downloads including prayers and an offer of a ‘Welcome Home’ pack. Please see:

The reality of a large number of non Church-going Catholics is not a new part of Catholic culture. There have always been a significant number of Catholics who rarely attend Church. Traditionally, only a proportion of the baptised will regularly participate in their local parish community. This initiative is therefore trying to address and positively respond to a long-standing part of Catholic culture.