How welcoming are you? I recently spoke with a gentleman who walked into a local non-denominational church for the first time. He said before he left, he had shaken hands with every person in attendance. Catholic convert Tim Staples tells a similar story of people fighting over him years ago in a Baptist church, inviting him into their homes when he was new and searching.
Circumstances are a little different in a Catholic Church. We are accustomed to seeing strangers in our churches, travelers passing through, people in town for a sporting event, and so forth. Occasionally however, non-Catholics who have a curiosity or have developed interest in Catholicism may gather enough courage to step into a Catholic Church for the first time. How do we seek out these folks and make them feel welcome?
Our parish is small so strangers generally stand out. Picking experienced Catholics out among strangers is not difficult. They come in, genuflect, enter the pew and kneel in prayer. Those unfamiliar to the church may seem a bit bewildered and unsure of themselves when they enter. I try to seek these people out and at least give them a friendly smile. We should never pass an opportunity to engage someone who may be seeking spiritual guidance. If those they meet seem indifferent or unfriendly, they may flee and never return.
I know of situations where a person has approached a Catholic priest for help, only to be told to come back another time because he was too busy at present. While priests are often pressed for time, turning a stranger away should never happen. One never knows what prompted that person to seek conversation. Even if responsibilities prohibit immediate counsel, one can never be too busy to show concern and obtain contact information.
Catholics should always be personable. One can never go wrong making eye contact with strangers, giving them a friendly hello. If we truly see Christ in others, we would never pass them by without a greeting. That stranger may have taken years to make that move to visit the Catholic Church. Who knows what situation may have pushed him or her in the door? Bringing one person into the Catholic faith could spawn generations to follow. One happenstance encounter could mean a thousand souls gained or lost. Never pass up an opportunity to evangelize.