It’s not your imagination – the pews at Mass on Sunday are starting to fill out.

Mass attendance for the Diocese of San Bernadino is up 12% this year, according to the Office of Pastoral Planning. The data is based on attendance reports collected annually from each of the diocese’s 93 parishes.

For the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2023, there were an average of 160,574 people at Mass on a typical Sunday in the Diocese, compared with an average of 142,451 people reported the previous year.

“There has been a noticeable increase in Mass attendance in most of the parishes here in the High Desert,” said Father Canice Nwizu, who serves as Vicar Forane for the High Desert Vicariate, as well as Pastor of Christ the Good Shepherd in Adelanto. Fr. Nwizu believes the increase is partly due to young people returning to in-person religious education and sacramental preparation.

“In most of the parishes, it is compulsory for students to attend Sunday Mass as part of the requirement for qualification for the sacrament. Since the students do not drive, it becomes the responsibility of the parents to bring them to church. This singular fact has brought so many parents back to church,” Father Nwizu said.

Of course, attending Mass weekly is a requirement for all Catholics, as Father Ian Hollick of Saint Martha in Murrieta pointed out when asked why he thought more people were beginning to come back. “You add that to the current state of world, inflation, and potential WWIII and it makes sense that people start turning back to God as they think on death and their eternal destiny,” Father Hollick added. “The Spirit is drawing back people to the Church always.”

Father Mark Kotlarczyk is Vicar Forane for the Low Desert Vicariate and Pastor of Saint Mary of the Valley in Yucca Valley. “I believe that [the] increase in attendance is due to new members moving into the area, seeking a nearby Catholic church, returning to church after a long absence, and confidence to return,” Father Kotlarczyk said. He added, however, that the difference between pre-pandemic and today is still noticeable.

When churches were closed during the pandemic, pastors had no way of knowing how many of their parishioners would choose to return once the world began to open again. While the Diocese is not yet back to pre-COVID Mass attendance (when an average of over 200,000 people would attend on a typical Sunday), the positive trend is encouraging parish leaders that many are beginning to find their way back.

Fr. Mike Onwuemelie, Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Hemet, said he has noticed increased mass attendance at his parish. “Not only mass attendance,” said Father Onwuemelie, “more people are joining pious associations…like the charismatic group, the daily rosary group, and more. We have also started a number of new pious groups…at the request of our parishioners.”

Kelly Campbell is a parishioner of Saint Martha in Murrieta and volunteers to run the parish’s “Blessed is She” women’s apostolate. Like Father Onwuemelie, Campbell has noticed an increased fervor for the faith in the women she interacts with at the parish.

“Community and fellowship are essential in our Church to continue seeing growth in Mass attendance, especially for women,” Campbell said.

The Blessed is She group at St. Martha’s recently completed their fall Bible Study, A Biblical Walkthrough of the Mass, by Dr. Edward Sri. “So far, this has been our most popular study, and we’re already being asked when we will offer it again,” Campbell said.

“What we’ve noticed is that many of the women are coming back to the Church, reverts to our faith, and some are even brand new to Catholicism. These women are ‘on fire’ for our beautiful faith and leaving this study with a deeper love and understanding of the Mass that they can then share with others.”

From the Inland Catholic Byte