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Catholics Returning Home to St. Anthonys
St. Anthony’s next Catholics Returning Home session starts Jan. 7. - photo by HIME ROMERO
The banner in front of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca reads: “Come home for Christmas… and stay!”

The outreach message is directed to non-practicing and/or inactive Catholics, inviting them to return to their faith home and become involved and active members of the Catholic faith family again. It is also an invitation for them to take part in the parish-based program called Catholics Returning Home – also called Catholics, Come Home in other parishes throughout the country – a program offered in a non-threatening, support-group format that includes information about the church today and the changes that have occurred since Vatican II.

The program at St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca enters its fourth year with a new six-week schedule starting on Jan. 7. Class sessions are held every Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sign-ups are now under way at the church office, 505 East North St., or by calling (209) 823-7197. There is no sign-up fee. Class facilitators at this upcoming class are parishioners Deacon Harvey Parolari and Richard Gruber.

Class size is not limited. “We never had so many that we couldn’t take them all. If we get 12 to 15 people, we think that’s a good response,” Gruber said.

That number is about the size of the classes that have been offered in previous years.

There are two sessions held during the year, so those who miss the Christmas session can always sign up for the one offered around Easter. There’s a reason for the timing: Christmas and Easter are the times “when you catch the people who only come to church a couple times a year,” Gruber said.

 If success is based on numbers, the Returning Home program at St. Anthony of Padua has been successful. Many of those who have graduated from the program are now actively involved in the parish as members of the choir and as volunteers in a number of ministries such as Sister Ann Venita’s Ministry of Caring and the church’s 24-hour Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

“A lot of them get involved in parish activities almost immediately. It seems like they have renewed enthusiasm for their faith; they want to be involved,” Gruber noted.

“We’re just giving them the opportunity to see the Catholic Church again in a different light. And it’s been very good. Everybody so far that we have worked with in the class seems to be happy with the information that we’ve given them,” said Parolari in an interview prior to the start of the program held last year after Easter.

Tom Peterson, founder and president of a public relations media firm which has launched a web site called and a television media blitz from the Sacramento TV stations, is one of the more prominent graduates of the program. Gruber said Peterson has been contracted by the Diocese of Sacramento “to do this television blitz of advertisements inviting Catholics to come home.”

Gruber happily noted that since the Sacramento television stations “reach our area, we’re hoping to benefit somewhat from their (Sacramento Diocese) media bliz. The ads direct (people) to his web site, and when the person goes to his web site a zip code directs them to their parish.”

Peterson’s web site is just one of many similar web sites set up by other dioceses and parishes throughout the country offering this program that are readily available by a simple Internet search using, for example.

Not all parishes in the Diocese of Stockton have a Catholics Returning Home or Catholics, Come Home program. It’s offered at Presentation Parish in Stockton and St. Joseph’s Parish on Oakdale Road in Modesto; “those are the only ones I know,” Gruber said.

The program offered at St. Anthony of Padua is open not only to its parishioners but also to anybody from other parishes.

“All are invited. We have a number from St. Patrick’s Church in Ripon which also serves Escalon and Farmington,” Gruber said.

Each of the six sessions will discuss different topics which are both informational and formational, he said. These topics include: “Stories of Faith from Catholics Returning Home” presented in both video and personal sharing, “The Church Today: Changes Since Vatican II,” “Explanation and walk-through of the Mass” plus questions and answers, an “Explanation of Reconcilition/Confession,” and “The Creed: What Catholics Believe.” Each topic is followed by a question-and-answer period.

One Returning Catholics web site offers the following scripture reading from Luke: 15: 4-7 to explain what the program is all about: “Who among you if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the wasteland and follows the lost one until he finds it? I tell you there will be likewise more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.”