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Parishes work to welcome God's people

Deacon Don Clausen, left, greets Riley Marr after Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Omaha. Several parishes in the Archdiocese of Omaha are finding ways to be welcoming. Photo by Lisa Schulte

The Catholic Voice

With nearly 8,500 people coming in and out of the doors of Omaha's St. Vincent de Paul Church during weekend Masses, it could be easy for someone to feel lost in the shuffle.

But parish leaders don't want that to happen and are working hard to make sure that everyone who comes to the West Omaha parish feels welcome.

'In a large parish, we're trying to have that small parish mentality," said Wendy Everson, coordinator of ministries for the parish.

Volunteers are assigned to greet people before and after Mass, and the priests and clergy of the parish shake hands with people as they exit the church.

'If we're going to be who we are as Catholic Christians, building relationships, building community is very important and we welcome everyone. We're a family and no one should be a stranger here," Everson said.

Hospitality might not be one of the first things people associate with the Catholic Church, but it should be, said Father Dave Belt, pastor at Sacred Heart/St. Mary Parish in Norfolk. Hospitality is what being Catholic is all about, he said.

'The basic understanding of the word "˜catholic' is that it is universal and inclusive, and if we are truly going to be a Catholic church, then we have to be inclusive," he said.

Having a welcoming spirit is something all Catholics should strive for because that's how Jesus lived, Father Belt said.

'Jesus taught that lesson when he washed his disciples' feet. The first thing he did was welcome them by washing off the dirt and grime of the journey," he said.

The church has been stressing hospitality ever since the Second Vatican Council, Father Belt said. Before then, the Mass lent itself to more private prayer and people went to Mass to build their personal relationship with God, he said. Since then, things have changed.

'The documents of Vatican II all across the board talk about the importance of community and recognizing that we are the people of God," he said.

The Gathering Rite of the Mass, he said, is designed to take individuals coming from all walks of life and to make them one. Everything done during that time is to bring unity to the congregation, he said.

To make the 8,300-member parish in Norfolk feel smaller, people are invited to say hello to those sitting in the pews around them before the Mass begins.

'It's a diverse community of all ages and all ethnic backgrounds," Father Belt said. 'That personal contact is so important."

Parish leaders at St. Vincent de Paul understand that, which is why they make the effort to connect with people one-on-one, especially new members of the parish, Everson said.

All new parishioners are invited to attend an orientation night to learn more about the parish and to meet other new members. The goal is to have them meet people who they will then recognize at Mass, Everson said. New members also receive phone calls from parish volunteers welcoming them to the parish.

'Hospitality needs to happen inside and outside of the church," Everson said. 'A building is just a building. It's the people and how we are with each other. That's what church is about."

The Catholic Voice

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