|Scores of Catholics across the region are joining a new initiative to renew and strengthen their faith after rocky years for their church.
Local parishes held their first sign-ups last Sunday for a three-year program just starting throughout the Boston Archdiocese, called ARISE: Together in Christ.
For organizers, the response was heartening. About 60 parishioners signed up at St. Mary's Church in Holliston, where 60 or so people already expressed interest. Forty more registered at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sherborn.
Altogether, roughly 160 parishes - more than half the archdiocese - have signed up for the program, said Mary Ann McLaughlin, who coordinates ARISE for the archdiocese. In this region, they range from Bellingham, Franklin and Plainville to Natick, Sudbury and Wayland to Dedham and Newton.
"There has been such an encouraging response to this program," said Marcia Terlaje, co-coordinator of the ARISE team at St. Cecilia's Parish in Ashland. "I think it speaks to the faith of the people who hold onto their faith in the church despite all that may go on around us."
The voluntary program is designed by RENEW International, a Catholic organization that is based in New Jersey and has a 27-year record of revitalizing parishes in more than 130 dioceses in the United States, says the Boston Archdiocese Web site.A survey conducted in the archdiocese a year ago found parishioners are seeking ways to better connect their faith with their daily lives and to talk about their faith, McLaughlin said.
"I think it helps people sort of get to the heart of their faith," she said of the new program.
Arise also is spurred in part by the challenges the church has faced recently, from sex abuse scandals to the consolidation of some parishes.
"The Archdiocese of Boston has been through some difficult times," said Roseann Furbush, an ARISE coordinator at St. Theresa's in Sherborn. "I really feel called to work within the church and helping to rebuild it and continue to see it grow as a community."
The ARISE program will train local parishioners and small group leaders who will lead participants in small groups that will, for the most part, meet in each other's homes, said Leo Racine, coordinator for St. Mary's in Holliston. Group members will pray, read and discuss scripture and talk about faith.
"The goal is to have people who are regular churchgoers deepen their faith, extend their span of relationships within their parish, as well as welcoming back with arms extended those who have drifted away," Terlaje said.
"This program is meant to welcome all those who want to come back. We acknowledge the fact that there has been a lot of pain recently, particularly in Boston, but we welcome them back, and we want them back," Terlaje said. "We have a lot of love to spread."
That's a message parishioners throughout the region echoed. "Everyone is welcome, active or inactive," Furbush said.
The program is divided into five six-week sessions over about three years. Local volunteers began gathering information on the program last winter.
"I have hopes that over the years, it's something people can come into," Racine said. "If they can't do it all, they can come when they can."
The archdiocese Web site says the program is aimed at "spiritual renewal" that enables people to deepen their faith, grow in community and reach out in service to others.
"For my wife and I, to be able to have our own faith kind of grow and be enhanced or whatever word you want to use, it helps us as individuals, but it also helps as parents," Racine said.
At St. Mary's in Holliston, Racine said organizers tried to recruit more than the people who are usually involved in church activities.
"We tried to get a little bit of the spectrum of people in the parish," he said. "I'm hoping that it's going to be a great thing for renewing and maybe reinvigorating."