How to welcome Christmas Catholics

Julie Filby

Every Christmas, churches fill beyond capacity with congregations made up of weekly Mass-goers, “Christmas Catholics,” Christians on-the-fence, lapsed Catholics, non-believers and everyone in between.

Infrequent Mass-goers don’t always know the words to prayers during Mass, some don’t realize preparing for the liturgy is generally best done in silence, and others are not accustomed to genuflecting, making the sign of the cross or other active parts of prayer.

Instead of approaching the scenario with an “us and them” mentality, regular pew sitters are encouraged to greet guests with warmth and courtesy, regardless of how many punches they may—or may not—have on their Mass card.

“At Christmas, one out of three people attending Mass will be coming for their once-a-year visit to church because of a tug on their heart to go back to the roots of their faith, or a sense of obligation,” said Irene Lindemer, director of communications at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial.

“What a great opportunity,” she added. “Maybe we’ll touch their hearts and they’ll realize how beautiful the faith is.”

Nearly all Americans, 95 percent, celebrate Christmas and of these, slightly more than half described the holiday as “strongly religious” for them, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, continuing an upward trend observed over 20 years. The poll found of the majority incorporating religion into their holiday celebration, 62 percent attended services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Lindemer and the parish staff began asking: How will we welcome these guests?

“Will we be upset that they took our parking place? Or that they are sitting in ‘our’ pew?” she said. “Do we feel superior because we are here every Sunday and they only come once a year?”

That’s not an uncommon response, said Msgr. Thomas Fryar, pastor at St. Thomas More Parish.

“We almost always react at first with why it shouldn’t happen that way,” he said, “as opposed to letting God’s grace and blessing take us to where we may not normally go.”

Maybe the “regulars” in a congregation should ask a different question, he continued, such as: What could be done differently so that these annual visitors come more often?

“We are responsible for the lives of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “What are we doing to let them know they really are welcome at the table of the Lord?”

This year, St. Thomas More Parish is launching an initiative dubbed “Making Room in the Inn” to welcome everyone that makes up the Christmas congregation. The campaign will include banners, posters, luminaries and carolers dressed as shepherds to greet people upon their arrival; outdoor greeters and parking attendants to help car and foot traffic navigate the active setting and find both a parking spot and a seat; everyone will receive a program and a gift; and a special invitation will be extended to guests to sit in the church to allow them to fully experience the liturgy.

At the most-attended Christmas Eve Mass, a 4 p.m. liturgy that draws 3,000 to the church that holds about 1,000, three live Masses, instead of video streams, will be celebrated: in the church, the neighboring parish hall (McCallin Hall) and the school gym.

“Rather than sitting in your ‘regular spot’ in the church, (we’re asking weekly parishioners to) sit in McCallin Hall or the school gym so our visitors can sit in the church,” suggested Lindemer, or to come to a different Mass that typically has seating such as Midnight Mass or early Christmas Day. “Imagine if each of us did something extra this Christmas at church, what a difference we could make.”

This type of hospitality isn’t unique to the Centennial parish, Msgr. Fryar said, but is offered at other parishes as well.

“Hopefully what we’re seeing is part of the reflection of what is in the hearts and minds of Catholics all over the world,” he said, “as we prepare to not only welcome our Lord and the celebration of this birth at Christmas but also as we prepare to welcome our brothers and sisters in the family of God.”

COMING UP: Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of Centro San Juan Diego, has been called to the Father’s House

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A happy, hardworking man dedicated to evangelization and to Hispanic immigrants: With these words, friends and coworkers remember Juan Carlos Reyes, who passed away March 20 after fighting a grave illness over the previous two months. He was 33.

Juan Carlos was born in Michoacán, Mex., on Dec. 28, 1985. He arrived to the United States at a young age, completed his secondary studies and later a bachelor’s degree in religious sciences thanks to an agreement between the Anáhuac University in Mexico City and Centro San Juan Diego. He was also a student at the Denver Catholic Biblical School under the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary.

As a teen, he joined a youth group at St. Anthony of Padua in Denver and attended Centro San Juan Diego for various classes and trainings for pastoral workers.

He began working at Centro San Juan Diego in 2012, was promoted to Director of the Family Services in 2015 and became director of the organization in March 2018. As director, he led important programs that sought care for immigrants and formation for pastoral workers. Juan Carlos was one of the initiators of the agreement between Centro San Juan Diego and Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP) in Mexico, making it possible for many immigrants to obtain a bachelor’s degree in their native language valid in the United States.

“To talk about Centro San Juan Diego is, in a sense, to talk about my own life. I would not be here if it were not for Centro San Juan Diego’s support. I saw in CSJD an active Church that reached out to me,” Juan Carlos told the Denver Catholic in October 2018. He was also a delegate for the V National Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas, this past September.

Besides working for the Archdiocese, Juan Carlos conducted a ministry with his brother titled Agua y Sangre” (Blood and Water), in which they commented on the daily Mass readings via YouTube, reaching up to 100,000 views daily.

One of his closest friends was Alfonso Lara, Director of Hispanic Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Denver. “Many of us witnessed how Juan Carlos grew and matured as a man, as a Christian, as a Catholic, as a leader,” he said. “His potential, spirit and commitment were always attractive. I always admired his youthfulness, dedication and love for people. He emerged from the Hispanic community and later served and poured out his heart to them.”

Luis Soto, Director of Parish Implementation and Hispanic Outreach for the Augustine Institute and former Director of Centro San Juan Diego, met Juan Carlos when he was 15 years old, and remembers him as a “dynamic, funny [young man] with many ideas and a great desire to serve. He was a member of a family that was committed to the faith. He was restless and had a great desire to learn in order to serve better. He would register for any program we started.”

Abram León, Lay Ecclesial Movement Specialist for the Archdiocese of Denver, remembers Juan Carlos as “a great human being” who “was proud to be a father.” Deacon Rubén Durán, the archdiocese’s Hispanic Family Ministry Specialist, also remembers him as “a man of God, of deep faith. He evangelized with words and actions.”

Juan Carlos was a loving husband to his wife of more than 10 years and a proud father of three sons.