To change how we think is difficult. To change how a community thinks is even more difficult. A priest from Pusan wanted to invite back to the parish community those who had left the Church but soon found he had to first change the views of his parishioners toward the non-practicing Catholics. He started to do so last year in September, and within three months 703 of them returned as practicing Catholics. (In Korea, only those who have been away from the sacraments for three years or more are considered "fallen away".)
Having a parish of about 6,200 Catholics, he decided to start with 1,200 who were alienated from the Church for one reason or another. In educating his parishioners for the campaign, he did away with all the negative terms that have been used to describe non-practicing Catholics, replacing them with language from the world of marketing, such as "The first concern is the satisfaction of the customer" --the commercial provider being well aware that when goods are of poor quality, prices high or employees rude, and customer service shoddy or non-existent, customers will stop coming.
The customers, in this case, are the Christians, non-practicing and fallen away Christians whose faith life is weak for any number of reasons: liturgy is boring, sermons uninteresting, too frequent money collections, the Church shows little interest in them. If we don't treat them with kindness, says the pastor, if the community is not satisfying their expectations, how can we expect them to continue going to church? It's a question the pastor repeatedly asks. Some of these parishioners even went to nearby Protestant Churches to find out how they care for their members, making what they learned a benchmark of how they were to deal with their own Christians.
Why did they leave the Church? The pastor says, if we want to be honest, it is our fault, the fault of the Church as a community. This was the change in thinking the pastor in his sermons and education programs kept repeating. He was instilling a "my fault spirituality," which focuses not on those who stopped going to church but on the community they left. This was a revolutionary change in thinking for most of his parishioners. He was creating an atmosphere of good will that would make the return of those who had left the Church easier.
The good will was evident in every detail of a carefully thought-out program that would make the transition back to the Church less intimidating. Prayer and education sessions were scheduled in the different areas of the parish, and a day for confession was selected--all preparations being conscientiously followed, including the following:
-All parish personnel and finances were made available to the program.
-Carefully thought out preparations were made to implement the program.
-Taking an active interest in the program was everyone's concern.
-A firm commitment by the pastor to the goals of the program.
The results? Church attendance increased, collections doubled, and the parish is now an example to the rest of the Korean Catholic Church of how programs with difficult goals can be successful when there is a fully committed community working together to achieve those goals.