In his Mission Appeal Homily on behalf of the wonderful "Voluntas Dei" institute of Catholic seminarians in India, Father James Burns briefly mentioned the parish churches of India that are packed for Mass on Sundays.
Many of us are aware of the very high rates of Mass attendance by Catholics in the Kerala region of India, as well as the large numbers of priestly and religious vocations there. Until recently, it was not unusual to have nearly 100% of the parish present at every Sunday Mass and, if a parishioner did not show up, the congregation would go to his or her home afterwards to see if they were ill. As recently as 20 years ago, it was estimated that 1 out of every 50 adult Catholic men in India was a priest or religious brother. (By that reckoning, my Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis would have nearly 4,000 priests and brothers, which is, well, a few more than we currently have...)
Do the Catholics of Kerala have a secret that we don't know about? Not really. In fact, these astounding statistics, sadly, are in decline much like those in the United States over the past 40 years, due especially to secularizing tendencies and a steady decline in the size of Indian Catholic families.
Nevertheless, there is a salutary custom that we should discover, or rediscover: the home visit. Indian Catholics report to me that nearly every Catholic family could expect a weekly visit by their parish priest. If he did not visit their particular home each week, he would visit a neighboring family, and the nearby families would also gather at that home for an evening of prayer, catechesis, and informal hospitality.
Consider the impact this has had on vocations! Even here in the United States, I can often tell the difference between families who have had priests visit their homes and those who have not. There is a relaxed yet respectful tone, the children are confident and attentive in the priest's presence, the parents find it natural to steer the conversation toward topics that will be interesting and spiritually beneficial to their sons and daughters.
It can be a challenge for parish priests to make regular home visits. But it can also be an enormous blessing. Just ask the Catholics of India.
[To listen to Father Burns' Homily, click www.transfigurationmn.org/worship/Audio.Homily.htm.]