By RENEE WEBB
The Diocese of Sioux City has launched an evangelization campaign called #whyistaycatholic (Why I Stay Catholic) to offer encouragement to those who are disheartened by ongoing abuse scandals.
According to Father Shane Deman, the idea came up as a collaborative effort from the chancery staff to strengthen the faith of the laity in the diocese.
“These efforts are intended to bolster the faith of those who may be considering leaving the church in the face of the scandals, but also to better equip the faithful with the reasons for why one stays in the church,” he said. “The scandals in which we are living are very difficult, but they also give us an opportunity to deepen our faith and recommit ourselves to radical holiness.”
Deacon David Lopez, chancellor and director of deacon formation, echoed the sentiments of Father Deman stating that #whyistaycatholic is an effort to support parishioners in the midst of all the negativity in the news and in the church since this summer.
“We hope it will help people, who might be wavering in their faith or their commitment to living as fully as possible as a disciple of our Lord, or perhaps might just need to hear a positive word at this time, to remind them that they are not alone, and that there are profound truths in our faith and in our church that these scandals do not change,” said the deacon.
Father Deman has taken the lead in this campaign, gaining much assistance from ministries staff at the chancery along with the communications office.
The #whyistaycatholic campaign was recently launched with the mailing of a magazine in late November to Catholic households in the Diocese of Sioux City that contains several articles on catechetical topics.
“There are also several testimonials from Catholics across the diocese with reasons as to why they appreciate their Catholic faith and why they are not leaving the church during this difficult time,” said Father Deman.
As the diocesan director of communications, Susan O’Brien has been involved in this team effort.
“As clergy sexual misconduct and parish closings create feelings of betrayal and mistrust, the diocese understands that people are struggling at times to keep the faith in our Catholic Church,” noted O’Brien, who added the magazine was printed half in English and half in Spanish.
She explained the magazine is one aspect of the year-long effort that will focus heavily on the use of social media. The diocese is also presently creating a stewardship program as part of the campaign.
“The other campaigns related to #whyistaycatholic will include #whywegive for our gifts of treasure and #whywebelieve will be part of a youth ministry program that we are working on for our parishes,” O’Brien said.
Fred Shellabarger, director of evangelization and discipleship, and his staff will be heavily involved in the social media portion of the campaign. #whyistaycatholic, he noted, sets out to answer the questions: With all the scandal in the Church, what can I do moving forward? Why do I stay in the Church? Why be Catholic?
“Pointing to some of the principal doctrinal reasons as well as the personal testimony and witness of faithful Catholics in our own diocese, we are answering those very questions through #whyIstaycatholic,” Shellabarger said. “It’s important to encourage the faithful in these times, and to also, as Scripture tells us, provide an answer to those who ask us why we are Catholic. We must remain rooted in the church, and in turn, fully united with Christ.”
Now is the time, he stressed, to remain all the more committed, to draw closer to Christ.
“Yes, the church is in need of renewal,” Shellabarger acknowledged. “But, we cannot affect that renewal from the outside.”
Deacon Lopez reminded parishioners that Jesus never promised it would be easy to be his disciples. Rather, Jesus, promised the faithful they would be reviled and laughed at for their fidelity as he was.
“He also promised, as St. Paul says, that nothing can separate us from his love, unless we will it,” said the deacon. “If we remain faithful and prayerful and holy, we can help the church recover from all these scandals and corruption. It’s hard not to be affected in our faith by the natural and righteous disgust we feel for the terrible things a few bad leaders have done, but I keep reminding myself that Christ has not done these things, and he calls all of us to follow him, and him alone.”
Diocesan organizers of the campaign said parishes and schools are welcome to use the campaign logo and offer their own adult faith formation programs to help strengthen the faith of their parishioners.
“Our hope is that the faithful of our diocese better appreciate the richness and beauty of their Catholic faith, not wanting to throw it away because of the scandal caused by a few sinners in the church,” Father Deman said.
Find information about #whyistaycatholic at scdiocese.org.