CINCINNATI-- The Franciscan friars of Cincinnati have initiated a national outreach on the Internet inviting and helping people to return to the Catholic Church. The name of the web site, www.OnceCatholic.org, is based on the saying, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic." Easter is a time when many inactive Catholics visit a Catholic Church. But others stay away.

Once Catholic Online

Read the stories of lapsed Catholics on the OnceCatholic.org website.

A national survey by the U.S. Catholic bishops finds that Catholics most often leave their Church over dissatisfaction in at least one of several areas including marriage issues, poor parish relationships, offense by a Church authority, belief differences or even simply moving and never reconnecting with a parish. The new OnceCatholic.org web site offers an online discussion area for each of these topics, as well as educational materials from St. Anthony Messenger Press and a searchable listing of local "Come Home" programs around the United States.

St. Anthony Messenger Press is a publishing service of the Franciscan friars of St. John the Baptist (O.F.M), the same province that is sponsoring OnceCatholic.org.

The goal of the site, according to Fr. Greg Friedman, O.F.M., one of the Franciscan friars behind the effort, is, "to offer people a welcoming place to stop in on their quest for spirituality, with the hope of eventually re-connecting them with a local Catholic parish." Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., another project initiator, links the outreach to the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Franciscan founder. "We're doing what Francis did--but with new technology. Many people haven't lost their faith but are looking for a new way to relate to God, a way that makes sense to them as adults."

Each of the discussion areas is staffed by a team of pastoral ministers, called "companions," who specialize in that area of outreach. This team consists of women and men, priests and laity, drawn from different regions of the United States. As traffic to the web site grows, the list of companions will grow, too. "The Internet is providing a new way for people to minister to each other," says John Bookser Feister, editor of the site.

"We're able to reach out to people everywhere, and we're able to recruit staff who can work from anywhere connected to the world wide web."

The companions use screen names while online to protect confidentiality. "Special care was taken to be sure everyone's privacy would be protected, both the public and the companions," says Father McCloskey. Visitors have the option of posting their question anonymously in a public discussion area or seeking a personal answer via e-mail.

Inspirational and welcoming content on the site is updated daily. "We know that people expect the Web sites to stay fresh," comments editor Feister. "We will achieve that with fresh input from visitors, a daily reflection and weekly welcome messages from our editorial staff at St. Anthony Messenger. We also expect our listing of local programs to grow dramatically as word spreads about this site." For those seeking more in-depth information about Catholic beliefs, the site is linked to a search engine at AmericanCatholic.org, St. Anthony Messenger Press's popular, five-year-old Web site.

OnceCatholic.org has received the enthusiastic endorsement of Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, as well as several other Catholic bishops.
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