Parish invites people home

A Christmas invitation saw Mass numbers surge in Wexford’s cathedral

Fr Billy Swan

‘Come Home for Christmas’ was an invitation by St Aidan’s parish in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford to all her members to reconnect with the gift of faith for the Christmas season. With thousands of people returning home from abroad and other parts of the country to be with their families, the idea emerged to build on this spirit of return to one’s family and extend the invitation to people to participate again in the faith family of our parish. In our homilies during Advent, the priests of the parish connected this invitation to return home to St John’s Gospel where Jesus invited us to “make your home in me as I make my home in you”. (John 15:4) Also to the message of St Paul who reminds us that “for us our homeland is in Heaven and from Heaven comes the Saviour we are waiting for”. (Phil. 3:20) Therefore, the idea of coming home is in reality a coming home to God and being in God is being at home. In God we are at home to our true selves and to others.

The initiative also built on the good will of the people towards Pope Francis and the warmth of his teaching to those who are alienated from the Church. In his words the Church is called to be “a merciful mother who understands” and who “never closes the door of her home to her children”. (General Audience September 18, 2013) The idea of ‘coming home for Christmas’ was also born of an increasing conviction that people are looking for some home to connect with in a secular world marked by alienation and loneliness. We felt that there was a new openness among people to hear the Gospel message again. Thanks to the ‘Francis effect’ that is strongly felt at the grassroots level of parish, we sensed that the time was ripe to engage people again on the gift of faith and its importance. I think the Pope has given priests and indeed the whole Church a confidence to preach the Gospel again with fresh conviction. We considered it an ideal time to do this at Christmas when God’s desire to love and save us is stirred in many hearts and when the Spirit moves people to return to Church in response to our deepest spiritual instincts. This invitation to ‘Come home for Christmas’ (pictured) was printed on several thousand cards with some quotes from Pope Francis and the times of Confessions, Masses and other services in the parish over the Christmas period. The key aspect of the idea was the involvement of the regular worshippers who each received these cards and were encouraged to give them personally to family members, neighbours and friends. Through the initiative, we were all reminded of our call to be ambassadors for Christ and people of mission.

The fruit of the idea was seen with the numbers who attended our Christmas services. We considered the crowds at all Masses to be greater than in many years with a steady demand also for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

As people return abroad and as the Christmas period ends, it is too early to say if the ‘Come home for Christmas’ appeal will have a lasting effect but the initial signs are good. It was a simple idea that did not involve too much work or expense and we would recommend it to every parish as a means of missionary outreach.

We continue to pray that the thousands of people who heard the word of God here and beyond at Christmas will accept that word of invitation from the Lord to ‘come home’ and that the seed of that word may bear fruit in time. Here by the fireside in the family of our parishes where we listen to the word and break the bread, may that fire of Christ’s love lead his people to the fullness of faith in him.

Fr Billy Swan is Curate at St Aidan’s Cathedral.