Welcoming new and returning
Catholics at Easter

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, baptizes a new member of the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City April 3, 2021. Each year at Easter, thousands of Catholics come into full communion with the church. (CNS photo/Jerry L. Mennenga)

Every year at Easter, the Catholic Church welcomes thousands of new Catholics into full communion. Adults and young people are baptized, and many also receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and confirmation at Easter Vigil Masses in parishes around the country. I have always considered our brothers’ and sisters’ welcoming at this Mass a great source of joy and hope.

Easter is also an opportunity to welcome returning Catholics into our parishes. Each of them has a personal story behind their drifting; their reasons can be wounds, disappointments, disagreements, misunderstandings, the list goes on.

My father drifted apart from the Catholic faith for many years. Though his journey back home took awhile, he encountered God’s mercy and forgiveness through a priest who welcomed him back with open arms, like the father who ran to encounter and welcome his prodigal son from him (Lk 15:11-32).

Our family also supported him in his journey. And as my father says, it takes more courage to return than to walk away.

Someone once told me that returning can be a very lonely experience. However, it does not have to be that way. The Paulist Fathers’ Landings program helps parishes in the United States and abroad accompany returning Catholics on their journeys back to the faith in a welcoming and nonjudgmental way.

Last year, because of the pandemic, the ministry launched a virtual Landings program where I was part of the welcoming team; the opportunity to be a missionary disciple was inspiring and revealing.

Listening to testimonials of people who returned and are now helping others allowed me to see how volunteers committed to this ministry channel miracles in the lives of many.

In his 2021 Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis reminded us about the risen Lord’s message to his disciples, encouraging them to go to Galilee and start a new life.

“It is always possible to begin anew because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures. From the rubble of our hearts and each one of us knows the rubble of our hearts God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history. He never ceases to go ahead of us: in the cross of suffering, desolation and death, and in the glory of a life that rises again, a history that changes, a hope that is reborn,” Pope Francis said.

The pope goes on to say, “In this Galilee, we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats.”

This Easter season, we all are invited again to meet the risen Lord wherever we are in our journey of faith and the trials of our lives.

If you feel called in your hearts, keep in your prayers those entering the Church and those gathering up the courage to return to the faith.

And this Easter, may we all be disciples on our way to Galilee to encounter Christ, and may we meet those on the peripheries of life and walk with them in their joys and sufferings, sharing with them the endless love of our risen Lord.

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Norma Montenegro Flynn is a freelance Catholic journalist and a program coordinator for Landings International.

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