Disconnected or no-religion Catholics – an opportunity

Disconnected or no religion Catholics

Food for Faith podcast producer Fr John O’Connor is about to tackle a new opportunity presented by disconnected or no-religion Catholics.

He’s starting by taking a sabbatical and collecting food for his faith.

After more than a decade of providing written and audio reflections for the popular Food for Faith podcast, the Christchurch priest (pictured) will ‘take a breather’ and hopes to return, having further cemented a new kind of outreach.

Although he’s been able to study during the 38 years since his ordination, O’Connor says he’s never taken a sabbatical of more than a month or two.

This time, Bishop Michael Gielan has offered him five months to study in Italy.


The basis for O’Connor’s outreach is the 2018 census data.

This data shows that many who call themselves Catholic in New Zealand are not regularly connected with their parishes or Catholic schools, and many others have drifted to the point where on the census they say they have “no religion”.

O’Connor says he’s met many disconnected and ‘non-practising’ Catholics when they request sacraments for their children or as they bury their parents or grandparents.

During a conversation with them, he discoverd they want to reconnect with the Church.

But some see themselves to be too distant to return easily, or say Catholic Christian life has not been presented to them in a life-giving way.

However, O’Connor’s Food for Faith ministry reinforces the need for a concerted effort to encourage Catholics to return to the faith.

New wine-skins

During his sabbatical, O’Connor says he will work on ways to present the Catholic faith in a new, relevant, digestible and attractive way.

He has a test group for his ideas in the world’s smallest diocese.

In that diocese, there are usually 1,000 people at Mass on Sundays.

During the past 20 years, an average of 350 people have taken a week’s faith-centred vacation together.

They know O’Connor well as, 12 years ago, they invited him to serve as their vacation chaplain.

O’Connor says the community focuses on the centrality of Christ.

Moreover, it steers clear of the moralism and legalism that many Catholics experience as the prime focus of their faith.

“As my local ministry in New Zealand allows, I have tried to be with them as often as possible for their annual August gathering.

Excited for the future

O’Connor told CathNews that, while he is away, the frequent reflections, daily Lectio and weekly Homily Studio will continue.

He plans to return to NZ in September, ready to use some of the methods he experiences in Italy to reach out to those who might be open to greater maturity of Catholic faith.

“I am convinced more than ever that this Food For Faith mission, associated retreats and seminars have the capacity to rekindle the faith of many who may feel as though they are distant” he says.

“I’m excited about where all this can go in the future” he said.

Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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