To a newcomer, it would be easy to feel lost in the crowd in a parish as large as St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Spring Hill. That is even more true today, with masks hiding welcoming smiles and social distancing keeping friendly gestures at arm’s length. But for Father David DeJulio, pastor, the parish is a family, and he wants everyone to know that they are a valuable and beloved member.
“My main purpose is to help new parishioners connect with the larger parish family and let them know they are supported in their faith,” said Father DeJulio, adding that as soon as they are safely able to do so, he plans to hold a reception to welcome new families and introduce them to the ministries of the parish as well as bring back the popular coffee and donuts after Mass. In the meantime, connections are formed an old-fashioned, but effective, way – by mail.
“Welcome to the parish!” begins the letter that each new parishioner receives from Father DeJulio. “On behalf of our vibrant and engaged parish family I wish to extend a warm welcome to you as you become acquainted with your new parish community.”
The letter goes on to emphasize that all individuals are part of the mystical body of Christ and that their unique gifts are needed to give life to the parish. He encourages everyone to introduce themselves after Mass so they may come to know one another more personally. And it doesn’t stop with Father DeJulio. Ushers attempt to personally greet everyone who comes in the door and fellow parishioners are welcoming, eager to share their love for the parish.
“Hospitality, in its most basic meaning is the reception and welcoming of strangers and guests. How can we, as a Church of Jesus Christ, not be hospitable?” said Christopher Berke, Director of Music Ministry. “Jesus commissioned us to go and spread the Gospel. Of course, all of us need ongoing catechesis, but it is to the one to whom God is a stranger that we need to be courageous, take the first step, and invite or teach by example the way of Christ. There should be no such thing as an inhospitable Church.”
Berke is the creative mind behind the parish’s welcome back video. After months of separation due to the quarantine, Berke wanted to create something light and fun to let the people know the parish was ready to welcome them back to their spiritual home and to public Masses. Lip-syncing to the theme song of “Welcome Back Kotter” the priests and the staff smiled, waved and sang along to the song’s refrain, “Welcome back! Welcome back! Welcome back!” interspersed with scenes from the parish and photos of past community events.
Since the start of the shut-down, the parish has helped connect parishioners to their livestream Masses on Facebook or YouTube. Now, those who are elderly or vulnerable and still unable to attend Mass in person, can participate online and are encouraged by being able to see familiar faces each week.
“They have been very appreciative! They keep saying they hope we keep doing this as they feel more connected if they can see their own church and see people they know,” said Mary Delach, parish secretary. “I think this whole COVID-19 has forced us to look at things in a new way, and I hope that some good is coming out of it in some of the changes we have been sort of forced to make!”