Holy Spirit parish has set up a structure to welcome those who wish to come home to the Church. Others may follow.
SINGAPORE – If an estranged member of your family decides to come home, the loving response would be to welcome him back, said Paulist Father James Moran. The Director of Landings International was giving an analogy of what Landings is all about, to a crowd of more than 50 at CANA The Catholic Centre on Nov 17.
"Likewise the Church," he said.
"This is to be the practice of the Church, to welcome people back to the light and the faith. When people want to return, we who act on behalf of the community of faith, just have to say, ‘Welcome’. That’s all they really long to hear."
Father James was in Singapore from Nov 16 to 25, at the invitation of the Landings team at Church of the Holy Spirit, the only parish where Landings is available at the moment.
He presented Landings at CANA, to the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI), and to the priests of
the archdiocese. He also conducted a two-day workshop at Holy Spirit parish for those interested to start Landings in their parish.
Father James said that Landings acts only as an alternate way to welcome "returning Catholics". There is nothing to stop a returning Catholic from seeking reconciliation with the Church through the sacrament of reconciliation without going through Landings.
Essentially, Landings recognises that there are Catholics who have left the Church for various reasons and now want to return, and may even acknowledge that they may have been hurt by the Church before.
Landings works like this: In parishes, six to eight active Catholics join together with two or three returning Catholics. Over 10 weeks, group members listen to one another share their faith stories and through an agenda that concentrates on church teaching. The emphasis is on compassionate and non-judgemental listening, and confidentiality. Those with particular personal problems can be referred to specialised professionals. The 10 weeks conclude with a weekend retreat with Mass.
Landings was set up by Father Jac Campbell in U.S.A.. The ministry celebrated 15 years of reconciliation in 2003. Father Jac died in 2005.
The coordinator of Landings at Holy Spirit parish, Tony See, had visited San Francisco last year and had gone to a Paulist church. "There, he saw a poster [of Landings] and the Holy Spirit said to him, ‘Get busy’," Father James said.
Mr See was attracted to the ministry as one way to help assimilate inactive Catholics back
into church, adding that the sharing method adopted by Landings "helps them identify God in the events in their life where they had missed an experience of God".
"They may be inactive Catholics but they are still Catholics. There is a need to reach out to people who have left the church, be it because of other distractions or because of disillusionment."
The parish has since completed two runs. While preparing for its pilot run this June, five Catholics had called SPI and the parish to enquire how they could ‘come back to the church’. Mr See recalled, "They were our first returning Catholics."
In the second run, about 50 people signed up. Participants – returning or otherwise – had?at some point, left the church before.
"This ministry is meant for returning Catholics just like them," he continued. The Church does not say, ‘wait to come back’ but must respond with an immediate, ‘Welcome’."
At the moment, reactions of priests are mixed.
Parish priest at St. Joseph Church (Bukit Timah), Father Edmund Chong agreed that Landings "opens the way for a returning Catholic". He added, "In the Catholic Church, there will always be provisions for different groups of people. God works in mysterious ways. Landings has its usefulness and its place at the heart of the Church."
On the other hand, Father Damian De Wind, assistant priest at Church of St. Teresa, said, "We don’t really need Landings. The Small Christian Communities (SCC) is more ideal. People in the neighbourhood would know who’s attending Masses and who isn’t. They will invite them back and then to the bigger community."
Arthur Goh, Associate Director of SPI, suggested Landings can work closely with SCCs. "Landings can be a source of support for SCCs to bring their folks to, and at the same time, serve the purpose of being a face
to the public that the Church is not above saying sorry [to welcome back returning Catholics]."
"It is ideal for Landings to be parish-based, as a representation of the parish community welcoming returning Catholics back."
Redemptorist Father Jacob Ong from the Novena Church expressed his enthusiasm for Landings when he attended the session at CANA and both workshops at the Holy Spirit parish. He is now looking to begin Landings at the Novena Church, saying, "Landings is a very gentle and graceful approach, at the level of experience, to draw people who have been away from the church and who don’t know how to, but want to come back."
Father James reminded that welcoming returning Catholics is not an end to itself. "There is the problem of community. Sometimes, the returning don’t acquaint themselves with the larger community and they can find themselves drifting again with no strong connections."
He takes comfort in knowing the priests in Singapore and the Landings team at Holy Spirit parish
are aware of this problem and are working towards integrating returning Catholics into the larger community. "Keep working at it. Keep it simple," he advised.
Geraldine, Eustaquio: Two who came home
GERALDINE INOUE IS one such Catholic who had "been away" from the church.
She said, "Spiritually, I have always felt like, life is busy with work and family, and so long as I don’t kill, or steal, I’m fine." But then she started to linger away from the church. For 20 years. Until she started to search and "thought it’s time I should be back".
When asked if it was difficult to ‘come back’, she replied, "It was very, very difficult. It’s difficult to go to church alone. And you want to be back but you just cannot find any spiritual meaning at Mass, the way I have been. I questioned myself a lot, if I’m doing the right thing, what does it all mean…"
Landings opened a door for her to return to the community though she admitted that "it wouldn’t work miracles immediately. Whoever’s back needs time to adapt. But I did find it very meaningful" and she continues to marvel at how she attended every session of the 10 weeks though she tried to find reasons not to.
Eustaquio Santimano who professed to have been inactive within church, found his faith strengthened through listening to others’ experiences of church.
"You realise others are in similar boats as you, questioning similar things and have similar issues," he said. "You feel very at home with Landings. There is nobody there to point fingers at you when you share."
Mr Santimano drew an analogy to explain himself. "I was like an old vintage car left in a garage when I started. Then I came to Landings to see how I can make it run for a longer time. After Landings, it can now go a longer distance."
"But I have to keep maintaining it," he finished. "Or it’ll go back to its old ways." - By Joyce Gan, TheCatholicNews