“If God made human beings because God loved stories, then creation is a success. For humankind is addicted to stories. No matter our mood, in reverie or expectation, panic or peace, we can found stringing together incidents, unfolding episodes. We turn our pain into narratives so we can bear it; we turn our ecstasy into narrative so we can prolong it...we tell our stories to live.”
These words speak volumes about a program being launched at St. Elizabeth Catholic church. The program, called Landings, offers a safe harbour or landing place for returning Catholics to explore their faith and their future with the Church.
A central component of the program is the opportunity for those involved to relate how God has been part of their life and what led them to leave the Church. Through their telling of as little or as much of their faith journey as they feel comfortable, the community is given a look at what provoked them to leave the Church and what drew them back.
According to the parish's program co-ordinator, Diane O'Gorman, there are a couple of motivations for instituting the Landings program in the churches in Ottawa. One is the sense of alienation felt by many former church regulars. Some of these individuals may attend the mass periodically (like Easter and Christmas), while others may have stopped attending entirely.
Second is the disappointing participation by Catholic children at the Sunday masses. Many children, when asked, indicate their parents do not bring them even though they themselves want to go. During preparation of the children at St. Elizabeth school for sacraments, Pastor Dan Dubroy hopes to reach out to the parents to encourage them to nurture the faith in their homes and come back to the Church with their children.
In either case, the individuals may feel a sense of loss, a faith hunger or are looking for answers to some questions in their life. Landings offers an opportunity to address the alienation and deal with it in a gentle and non-threatening manner.
Over a period of ten weeks, a group of six to eight active Catholics gather together to welcome two or three returning Catholics to share and explore faith together. The program is designed to help these inactive Catholics to take another look at the Church.
For the returning Catholic, Landings offers a supportive community within which to ask questions, discuss issues and deal with difficulties. It gives him or her an opportunity to be with Catholics who are trying to live their faith. It offers a safe and supportive environment to come to terms with recent changes within the Church and themselves.
The program is not without benefit for the active Catholic members of the team either. They have an opportunity to participate in the Church's evangelization mission by opening their hearts to those who have been away. They also can share their time and faith in a way that allows them to grow and learn from the spiritual journeys of one another.
According to O'Gorman, the parish had one Landings group last year which included six active Catholics and one returning person. “The team was very positive about the experience,” she indicated. “We have an even bigger team ready for this year.” She said the program was tested and developed for two years by laity, vowed religious and clergy before being introduced in the United States. After involving over forty thousand people in that country and elsewhere, it was brought to the Ottawa area two years ago.
O'Gorman encourages anyone interested in the program, either as an active Catholic or someone who may be considering a return to the Church, to get in touch with her at 722-4857. For the returning Catholics, she will arrange a meeting with Fr. Dubroy to ensure the program is right for them. The team hopes to begin meeting in January.