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Many people become Catholic at the Easter Vigil Mass. Many more will be returning to their Catholic roots, if a new media apostolate called Catholics Come Home is successful.
BY TIM DRAKE REGISTER SENIOR WRITER
GILBERT, Ariz. — Dee Tamminen knows a thing or two about
Catholics who come back only at Easter and Christmas.
She also knows about those fallen-away Catholics who decide
that they won’t come back at all. She used to be one.
Tamminen’s father died in 1966 when she was 8.
“I took my anger out at God,” said Tamminen. “I was confused
with what I was doing [in church] and why I was there. The first opportunity I
had to not go to church, I didn’t.”
Tamminen started walking away from the Church at the age of
16 and didn’t return until her late 20s. Her return came about through her
husband and a Virginia pastor who took an interest in the couple.
“God kept putting people into my life to bring me back,”
said Tamminen, who now helps build children’s faith through her work at St.
Anne Little Flower Montessori School in Gilbert, Ariz.
This Easter, as catechumens enter the Church and many
non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics grace the doors of churches, a
Catholic non-profit media apostolate is taking advantage of the opportunity to
call those who have fallen away back home.
Roswell, Ga.-based Catholics Come Home has produced a
professional television campaign and website to speak to those who have been
inactive in their faith.
According to the recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that number is
The survey found that 28% of Americans have given up the
religion they were born in and turned to another faith tradition or none at
all. Among Catholics, the survey showed that one in 10 has left the faith they
were brought up in.
That’s who Tom Peterson, Catholics Come Home founder and president,
hopes to reach with their media campaign. From March 3-23, the organization is
airing its television commercials in two test markets — Phoenix, Ariz. and
Lexington, Ky. Peterson hopes to recreate the success he had with a similar
campaign in Phoenix 10 years ago.
After experiencing his own powerful reversion in the
Catholic faith, Peterson used his advertising skills and experience to create a
three-week ad campaign that aired in Phoenix in January 1999.
“That campaign brought at least 3,000 people back to the
Catholic Church,” said Ryan Hanning, coordinator of the Office of Adult
Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix.
“We calculated it out and figured that God was bringing
people back to the Church at the cost of about $10 per soul,” said Peterson.
After that, Peterson started VirtueMedia.org, a nonprofit
organization devoted to developing pro-life television ads. About two years
ago, Peterson revisited his earlier success, realizing that bringing people
home to the Church and re-catechizing them would help to create individuals who
uphold the sanctity of life. So, Peterson approached the Diocese of Phoenix
This time, the ad campaign is part of a much larger effort.
In addition to the television commercials and testimonials, which have been
making their way across the Internet, CatholicsComeHome.org has also created an
extensive website that offers resources such as a parish-finder, commonly asked
questions, and a host who welcomes visitors to the site and helps guide them
through the online resources.
They’ve also received assistance from high-profile
Catholics, such as renowned speakers and authors Matthew Kelly and Patrick
Madrid. Madrid helped write the website’s content, and Kelly has made available
his book Rediscovering Catholicism, which CatholicsComeHome.org is giving away
free to fallen-away Catholic website visitors.
The apostolate has also received endorsements from bishops.
“The videos are excellent,” said Diocese of Colorado Springs
Bishop Michael Sheridan. “I really liked the ‘live’ intro to the site.”
“I am deeply grateful to Catholics Come Home for the
projects they have undertaken in support of the Church and of virtuous living,”
said Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix.
The ads — one which is known as “Epic” and covers the
history, beauty and spiritual richness of the Catholic faith, and another known
as “Movie,” has people viewing movies of their own lives and tells them that
with Christ they can rewrite the ending to their life’s “movie” — will air 950
times on television stations in Phoenix and 367 times on stations in Lexington,
including two at prime time during the television program “American Idol.”
According to demographic market data obtained by the Diocese
of Phoenix, organizers expect that 99% of households will view the commercials
about 14 times.
Prior to finalizing the commercials, the organization ran
extensive focus groups and dial-testing — a sophisticated system used by movie
producers and political pollsters, which uses electronic dials to measure
emotional appeal — in Cincinnati and Phoenix to obtain feedback on the
The response, says Peterson, was overwhelmingly positive,
even among non-Catholics.
“Seventy-eight percent of viewers had an extremely positive
impression of the ads,” said Peterson. “Nearly 50% had a much more favorable
impression of the Catholic Church after viewing the ads only once. About half
of the people who were not attending church or were not Catholic said they were
likely to consider visiting the site, attending church or coming back.”
At the Local Level
The Diocese of Phoenix has prepared priests and parishes to
handle inquiries from those who may desire to return to the Church. Hanning’s
office has spent the last six months working with parish leadership, catechetical
leaders, and pastors in ensuring that the local church can deal with any
In preparation, Hanning’s office did a survey of the
available research that looks at why people leave the Church.
“What we found is that the vast majority don’t leave over
doctrinal or marriage issues,” said Hanning. “They just fall away. They live in
a society that tells them their faith isn’t important in their life.”
To help welcome them back, or prepare those who have never
been Catholic, parishes throughout the Diocese of Phoenix are making materials,
classes, and talks available during, and after, the ad campaign.
“Parishes are making available resources from organizations
such as Catholic Lighthouse Media and Our Sunday Visitor,” explained Hanning.
“Several dozen parishes are offering six-week, eight-week, and 10-week series
between Easter and Pentecost for folks who might be returning to church.
Hanning said that there has already been great excitement
and buzz about the campaign, as the commercials have been circulated by
“The website went live the first Friday of Lent,” said
Hanning. “We’ve already had e-mails from as far away as the Philippines and
Hanning estimates that there are between 250,000 and 400,000
inactive Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix who could respond to the campaign.
Yet, he’s excited not only about what the campaign might do for those who are
away from the Church, but also what it could do for those already in the pews.
“It’s an opportunity to catechize those who are active,”
said Hanning. “One viewer said after seeing the Epic commercial, ‘It’s nice to
be proud to be Catholic again.’”
After airing in the Dioceses of Phoenix and Lexington,
CatholicsComeHome.org plans to take these powerful Catholic messages nationwide,
with the support of fellow Catholics.
Said Peterson: “Imagine how our culture could be positively
impacted by seeing these powerful Catholic commercials during popular network
programs and even the Super Bowl.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Catholics Come Home, Inc.
560 W. Crossville Road, Suite 101
Roswell, GA 30075
678-585-7886 ext. 6