“We are here for you,” Deacon Mike Bellinder explains as he makes eye contact with those seated around a large wooden table.

Looking back at him are men and women of different ages and backgrounds in a small, private room at The Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Redlands. They’ve joined Catholics Returning Home, a program designed to welcome back those who’ve lost connection to the Church.

The Catholics Returning Home program was specifically chosen for its success at parishes like St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Beaumont and St. Anthony in Upland.

Inspired, the team at Holy Name laid out a six week curriculum hoping to reach and teach those who want a way back. Lay minister Tim Corcoran wasn’t sure what kind of turnout they would get.

“We concluded early on if we got one person to come back to the Church it was a success. Instead we only lost one person. We had a core group of 21 people that attended. Everyone was invested, everyone was involved, everyone wanted to be here.”

Popular among them, Corcoran’s take on the famous Ted Talks, the online oratories that cover just about every subject under the sun. Here, lay ministers did a spiritual version called Jesus Talks.

Topics included the pros and cons of Catholic guilt, bringing family back to the Church, and marriage annulment. The latter is important to those like Eileen McGuire of Mentone whose first marriage ended in divorce.

“I tried at that time to seek an annulment. [My ex-husband] didn’t want to, though, so I gave up. I was told I couldn’t receive Communion.”

While most in the Redlands group had cut ties with the Church, some said they never had the connection in the first place.

While growing up, Taryn Tracey says her family expected good morals but Mass wasn’t a priority. She was given a choice; Catechism or dance class. Dance won the day but she now has different priorities.

Tracey says this program was a first step towards becoming a confirmed Catholic and she is enrolling in Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (R.C.I.A.) classes at Holy Name.

McGuire, too, has found her place; attending Mass and parish retreats. She’s even considering the annulment process again. McGuire says she’s “excited to go forward” and after 20 years away considers herself a practicing Catholic again.

“God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are definitely in my life. I’m very, very happy. I feel like I’m home. The people I connected with are wonderful.”

Full story at Inland Catholic Byte.