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Seeking out the ‘lost sheep’

St. Mark deacon tries ‘VOW’ to encourage parents, children’s attendance at Sunday

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Deacon John Lorenzo talks to St. Mark Church's religious education parents about the faith formation of their children.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Deacon John Lorenzo talks to St. Mark Church's religious education parents about the faith formation of their children.

SOUTHWEST RANCHES | Deacon John Lorenzo would like to see all the lost sheep at St. Mark Church return to Sunday Mass and the Eucharist.

“Only about 15 percent of the 6,000 registered Catholic families in the parish attend Mass regularly,” he said. “That’s 85 percent who have fallen away from the Church. This is not just a parish problem but a Church-wide problem.”

So Deacon Lorenzo came up with an idea, with the approval of St. Mark’s pastor, Father Jaime Acevedo, to bring families back to church. He put together a pilot program, Catholic Faith Formation: Your Children’s Spiritual Life, for parents of the 650 religious education students at St. Mark Church. He asked parents to attend one of the mandatory meetings in December where he stressed the importance of going to Sunday Mass.

“In the flyers that we passed around, we called the meetings mandatory in order to get the parents to show up,” he said. “About half of the students’ parents came to the meetings.”

Each of those meetings started after parents dropped off their children at one of the church’s three weekly religious education classes. Deacon Lorenzo said that most children do not attend Sunday Mass regularly or at all, resulting in fallen away Catholics when the children become adults. Even among Catholic school students, attendance at Mass is less than 50 percent, he said.

The government passed laws mandating the schooling of children to a certain age, Deacon Lorenzo noted. This is done for the benefit of the children. But when it comes to the spiritual formation of children, the responsibility is shared between the parents and the Church. Without the cooperation of parents, the children’s spiritual lives will suffer.



“I’m asking you to make a commitment by signing the VOW card with your child’s name on the back that each one of you were given when you entered this meeting,” said Deacon Lorenzo. “It’s a three-part pledge with the intention of having all the lost sheep in our parish return to Sunday Mass and the Eucharist.”

Vow #1 is attending Sunday Mass and receiving the Eucharist. Obviously, children cannot do this without their parents, so it’s a way of keeping the whole family close to the church. Also, without parental understanding of the need for their children to be close to God, the future generation of adults will be as unchurched as the current generation.

“We are taught that it’s a serious sin to miss Mass on Sunday. However, people nowadays don’t think it’s a serious sin. These are good people. They misinterpret God’s laws,” Deacon Lorenzo said.

Parent Lesley Gray talks to Deacon John Lorenzo at the conclusion of one of the mandatory meetings for parents of religious education students.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Parent Lesley Gray talks to Deacon John Lorenzo at the conclusion of one of the mandatory meetings for parents of religious education students.

VOW #3 is praying 10 Hail Marys every day. VOW #2 is going before the Blessed Sacrament when possible. Deacon Lorenzo started Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, a prayer group that began with 32 people in 2009 and has grown to 6,500 people today.

The parents of 299 religious education students showed up for the meetings, and of those, the parents of 261 students said yes to the vow. The remaining 38 were uncommitted.

Deacon Lorenzo asked those uncommitted parents to keep the VOW card. Perhaps one day they will change their mind and return the card to their child’s religious education teacher.

Ironically, parents who don’t take their children to church have their children baptized as soon as possible after birth, the deacon noted.

“It’s something we do automatically,” he said. “God instills in us that supernatural desire to have our children become children of God. Then parents go bonkers preparing their children for first Communion. Unfortunately, many parents don’t prepare their children for confirmation. What happens? Do these kids stop learning? This time in their lives is the beginning of learning to love their neighbor and live in this difficult world.”



Deacon Lorenzo reminded parents of the importance of God’s fourth commandment, “honor your father and your mother.” Here, he said, we find God’s ultimate wisdom. God is giving parents authority over their children.

“Since this authority comes with great responsibility, decisions made by parents must be made with what’s best for the children in the eyes of God, not in the eyes of the world,” he said.

In the third commandment, God says, “keep holy the Sabbath Day.” According to Deacon Lorenzo, God’s children must be given a place of worship where they can experience holiness, a place that is different from all the others in their lives.

“That place of worship is your parish church,” he said. “Jesus tells us that unless you eat my body and drink my blood you have no life in you. This becomes possible in the Eucharist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass. My dear parents, help put Jesus Christ into your children’s lives and when you’re not with them, he will take care of them for you. And when your children become parents, they will do the same for their children.”

Deacon Lorenzo said that if parents would take their children to church, Mass attendance would double.

“We have a lost generation of Catholics,” he said. “This program is not a slap on the wrist. It’s a hug. We’re saying come join us and feel at home in the Church. Something must be done to stop the exodus of Catholics from the Church.”

Religious education parent Lesley Gray spent several minutes talking to Deacon Lorenzo after his address.

“Jesus spoke through the deacon,” she said. “If you plant the seeds of God’s word, it grows with the example of parents. This was a wonderful discussion. I wish he would do this more often. It was very inspirational.”

Deacon Lorenzo said he is also planning a program for adults who have fallen away from the Church. He will send a letter to registered parishioners telling anyone who doesn’t go to Church that all their brothers and sisters in the Church are praying for them to come back.

Donna Villavisanis, St. Mark's director of religious education, addresses the parents of children enrolled in the program.

Photographer: MARLENE QUARONI | FC

Donna Villavisanis, St. Mark's director of religious education, addresses the parents of children enrolled in the program.

Comments from readers

Charles - 01/09/2019 09:44 PM
I would like to comment on what Deacon Lorenzo is doing. First, God bless him for his efforts. But in order to understand the reason of why so many of our brethren are not coming to the Church anymore, one thing should be done first. Why not have a meeting with the parents themselves and ask why they don't come to Church anymore? I am aware that there's serious reasons for why many Catholics especially parents fall away; not just the scandals, but maybe there are other areas that should looked at. First, let me suggest to study true Catholic history. How many even study much of the Church's history on their own? Our faith is historical and that history of the Church needs to be looked at even before modern man. Scandals are nothing new, there have always been attacks on the Church before. Does our current generation of CAtholics understand 'faith and reason' and is that taught to our future generations? If for instance, when we teach children and adults to attend Mass, are we telling them to participate spiritually or participate and perform things that cause distraction to others? Are we as adults and today learning what the papal encyclicals teach about faith, family and marriage/children, the Catholic Mass,science, economics, psychology, philosophy, arts and literature, academia, politics and the final judgement from a Catholic perspective and how modern man has affected what we learn? To conclude I will suggest this to bring back our brethren and their children. If we love Jesus, then with His grace can we please look to how saints helped rebuild societies, the Liturgy,marriages, family and help win souls to eternal salvation?

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