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Editorial: This Easter, go out of your way to make new — and returning — Catholics feel welcome

Father Gregory Yacyshyn baptizes catechumen Susan Zabiela in 2012 at the Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. The U.S. Church welcomes thousands of new Catholics at Easter Vigil Masses. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

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After two years of pandemic uncertainty, things are beginning to get back to normal at the Vatican this Holy Week and Easter. Both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday Masses will be held outdoors in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since 2019, and Good Friday’s nighttime Way of the Cross is back at the Colosseum.

Stateside, too, these holiest days of the year are scheduled to be celebrated by and large without any significant restrictions, and general dispensations for the weekly Mass obligation are a thing of the past (though, as always, you are dispensed if not feeling well).

As the Church prepares to celebrate these most welcome milestones, we should consider doing so with an ever-increased attitude of hospitality. St. Paul instructs the Romans to “Welcome one another … as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God,” and that should be our mission (15:7). In 2016, a Pew Research Center study showed that 79% of people looking for a new religious congregation valued a warm welcome — only second to good preaching (83%). While these promptings should remind us that an attitude of welcome should always be a primary consideration of Catholic parishes, warm hospitality is especially relevant at Christmas and Easter — and especially this year.

After two Easters with either delayed or scaled-back sacraments of initiation, thousands of new Catholics are expected to be welcomed into the Church this Easter at dioceses around the country. As always, their stories are hopeful and inspiring. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, 300 new Catholics are scheduled to enter the Church, including 59-year-old Bobby Sanson, who, after being drawn to Mass, was assisted by two friends who explained the liturgy to him. In Bowling Green, Kentucky, a man decided to enter the Church because of the witness of his wife’s strong Catholic devotion following the area’s terrible tornadoes in December. In the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, more than 1,600 individuals are expected to join the Church at the Easter Vigil; almost 250 of them are young people. Lauren Gallegos, 30, was inspired to join the Church by the example of her Catholic grandmother and after helping her younger sister attend Catholic school. “I am so excited about being able to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. It is so very sacred and moving,” Gallegos said.

The start of one’s faith journey is an exciting and blessed time, and each one of us should go out of our way to make these new Catholics feel welcomed and supported in the Church. The journey of these neophytes is just beginning, and their faith will need to continue to be nurtured over time. A kind word, a smile and note of congratulations — all of these things can go a long way to making someone feel seen and welcomed as he or she embarks upon this lifelong journey of discipleship.

And as we welcome and celebrate the new faces, let’s also pay special attention to the faces that might not be new, but that we might not have seen in recent months. We are familiar with the polls that say church attendance has not yet returned to pre-pandemic numbers — but we also don’t need polls to tell us this. We can see for ourselves that the pews are not as full or that the Mass schedule remains pared down. We probably even know families or individuals who, for one reason or another, have decided not to return to Mass — or who have simply drifted away, believing to be out of sight and out of mind. That’s where we can come in. Bishops, priests and deacons have an important role to play in encouraging the faithful to come back to Mass, but so do the laity. We are perfectly able to send a text message or, even better, pick up the phone and let our fellow Catholics know that they are missed. We can, without judgment or censure, invite them back to the pews or discuss how we might help them feel more comfortable returning.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are part of a family of believers. This Easter, let’s remember the importance of hospitality — of welcoming one another as Christ welcomes each of us. And let’s do our part to bring our loved ones home.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

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