By Andrea Kirk Assaf
ROME, 4 MAY 2010 (ZENIT)
It began with a single conversion, a moment in which a soul
opened itself to the mercy and grace of God. From there, the
Holy Spirit, working through that soul and its particular
God-given talents, has multiplied and ricocheted this message of
conversion around the world through an apostolate in the New
Evangelization, bringing hundreds of thousands of fallen-away
Catholics, and even non-Catholics, home to Rome.
The soul in question is that of Tom Peterson, an American former
advertising executive, who has put his expertise and experience
at the service of the Church through the creation of the
Catholics Come Home ad campaign and Web site.
ZENIT spoke about the past, present and future of the campaign
with the founder and president during his recent visit to Rome
to address a conference on “Church Communications: Identity and
Dialogue” at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.
ZENIT: How did the Holy Spirit inspire you to begin this
Peterson: I went on a retreat 13 years ago that changed my life,
and in front of the Eucharist I got to know the God of the
universe. I had known him before but, through the distraction of
the secular world, I started focusing on business and acquiring
more stuff. Through God’s mercy and grace he invited me on this
retreat, I said yes and my whole life changed.
So I had a profound experience in front of the Eucharist, like a
Saul to Paul conversion. I had never missed Mass before that,
but I didn’t pay much attention, I would think about work, maybe
what was for lunch, I’d race out of the parking lot, and very
much lived in the grey area, a secular world Monday through
Saturday, and then go to church for an hour on Sunday.
I was living a very lukewarm life. And as I grew in my faith, I
realized how much more I had to learn.
ZENIT: Was there a slow process of change after that or did
things begin to happen rapidly?
Peterson: Obviously the Good Shepherd is always looking for us,
he is always leading us, so things happened both before the
retreat and after. But things started speeding up after the
retreat, when I said “OK Lord, I want to do your will, what do
you want from me?” The first desire was to get close to the
sacraments, with frequent confession, frequent Eucharist, start
reading the Bible. I started going to daily Mass, and I begged
God to serve. A few months later I had two dreams: one was about
a little baby who was being put in a suitcase and smothered by a
pillow, and I kept removing the arm holding the pillow and
blessing the baby with the sign of the cross; in the second
dream I was producing some sort of Catholic evangelization ad.
Both dreams actually became true: Virtue Media, our pro-life
apostolate, was born after that evening, and God called me into
this, to protect babies and families for the sanctity of life by
producing television commercials that air nationwide and in many
cases worldwide, which help pregnant girls and post-abortive
families and teach about the sanctity of life. It is called
The second dream was fulfilled when the Diocese of Phoenix
called me back in 1997, and they said “the Holy Father Pope John
Paul II, for the New Evangelization, would like to invite
inactive Catholics back home to the Church for the Jubilee,
would you help us?” I said of course, that’s the fulfillment of
my dream, and that is the calling I had on my retreat, to use
the talents that God had given me, not for my own benefit but
for the Church.
So I said yes, of course, and we did a very simplistic version
of Catholics Come Home back in 1997. We aired it for 2.5 weeks
in the Diocese of Phoenix, and miraculously 3,000 people came
back to the Church. I figured out how much we had invested and
said, “Hey, it is only $10 a soul. This is an incredible return
and investment.” That was a one-time program and years later now
we resurrected it, and created it as a full time lay apostolate,
faithful to the magisterium of the Church. We’ve got excellent
boards of advisors, we’ve got many clergy, we’ve got business
advisors, we have lay theologians, noted Catholic authors,
speakers who give us advice and make sure that our commercials
have sound teachings.
So we aired the commercials again, under the new form where
there are film commercials like “Epic” showing the universality
of the Church all over the world, commercials like “Movie” that
call folks to a deeper relationship with Jesus and talk about
his divine mercy, testimonial ads of people who have left the
Church for various reasons and have come home, and now
miraculously the results are even more grace-filled. We’ve aired
in 12 archdioceses and dioceses around the United States
Chicago, Seattle, back in Phoenix again
and while we are still working with the dioceses to calculate
final statistics, it appears that as many as 200,000 people have
come back to the faith or converted, which is a huge blessing,
and the average diocese, based on the initial statistics, has
grown as much as 11%.
ZENIT: You collect all the statistics on returning or new
Catholics influenced by the ads through the dioceses?
Peterson: The dioceses do it, and sometimes they employ
statisticians to make sure all their analysis is correct. They
look at the census data, usually from October Mass counts, and
they compare it with the post Catholics Come Home initiative
Mass counts, then they look at the difference, after factoring
out anything that may affect the numbers. So in Phoenix it was a
12% increase; in Corpus Christi, 17.5% in Spanish and in
English. So far the average appears to be about 11% percent
around the United States, and as many as 200,000 people.
Amazingly, we are getting testimonials from around the country
showing that not only are inactive Catholics coming back to the
faith, but as a surprise to us, non-Catholics, Protestants and
so forth, are converting to the faith after seeing the ads,
going on the Web site, and being touched by the Holy Spirit. A
young man named Harrison was enrolled in a Protestant
university, but he just did not feel he was deep enough in his
faith, when he came upon the Catholics Come Home Web site and
said “This is exactly what I have been looking for.” A year
later he converted to Catholicism, and now he is enrolled in Ave
Maria Catholic University in Florida.
Another amazing story was from a man named Adrian from Colorado.
He was born Catholic but not raised in the faith. He left his
faith and became an atheist, his wife and children were atheists
too. When he came across the Catholics Come Home Web site he saw
the “Epic” ad that shows the history, beauty, spirituality and
accomplishments of the Church and it made sense to him. When he
heard the line “We are Catholic, welcome home," he said “I felt
like the Holy Spirit touched me, I had to know more." A year
later he came home to the Catholic Church with his wife and
children and they were received this Easter 2010. He said, “I
used to talk people out of the Church, now I am teaching people
about the Catholic faith and bringing them back to the Church.”
ZENIT: How does an atheist know where to look for Catholics Come
Peterson: We tried to find out because we have aired in Colorado
but we don’t think we aired in his particular community, so
obviously through the work of the Holy Spirit while he was
surfing the Internet or while he was at a restaurant when the
commercial came on TV. We have yet to find out how exactly he
stumbled upon it, maybe he Googled a key word that brought up
our site. We are not really sure, but obviously it was a work of
the Holy Spirit and not a direct work of ours, because he found
us as opposed to us advertising the message to him.
ZENIT: Do you air on secular television as well?
Peterson: All the time, in fact most times that is where we air.
Our statistics are showing that as many as a million people from
80 different foreign countries have seen the ads through the Web
site, some in the Middle East. Usually we expect people from
Italy or Ireland to find us because at least they are known to
be Catholic countries, but when people from Qatar or other not
traditionally Catholic countries find us, it seems miraculous.
So that is how the Internet works, as a viral message going out
into the world where a friend or family member may have seen or
heard about something in an e-mail and they perhaps spread it
that way, or through various Internet search engines, or through
Facebook, social media, or blogs, people stumble upon us.
But the vast majority of people who hear this message of hope
and redemption in Jesus’ love for them see it on secular
television. We normally air the ads for six weeks in a given
diocese, very heavily so the average person will see the ads two
or three times a day; we have about 25 different ads, various
testimonials, we have the “Movie” ad, we have “Epic” in
different lengths and different languages. Typically, in either
late Advent leading to the New Year or in Lent we air these ads
heavily in the given diocese. Ninety-eight percent of the people
in the television area see the ads two or three times a day and
by the time the campaign is over there is a lot of buzz about it
in the secular media, there are a lot of discussions going on in
beauty parlors and bars, at work places, everyone has pretty
much seen the ads and are talking about them. Protestants,
Catholics, former Catholics, Muslims, Jewish people, secular
media … it opens positive dialogue.
Amazingly our focus groups and dial tests before we aired the
ads, showed that people often came into the survey group having
a negative impression about Catholicism or the Catholic Church,
whether they were Protestants, former Catholic, even practicing
Catholics, and people with no faith … but after they saw the
commercials one time, 76% of the people surveyed in the focus
groups said: “I think it is a very positive message, I like it
very much." There were strong approval ratings, and the
Hollywood firm that specializes in testing for movie trailers
and product introductions told us “You’ve got a hit, you’ve got
the tiger by the tail, so launch it." We asked another follow up
question, which is probably more important: Now that you’ve seen
these ads, would you consider coming back to the Church?
if they were fallen away Catholics; and if they were
non-Catholics, Protestants, or perhaps agnostics: Would you
consider looking into the Catholic faith? Miraculously 53% of
both groups said, yes, I’d consider it.
So what we are learning is that communicating in a professional
manner, using our God-given gifts, and our first fruits, much in
the same way secular advertisers put out a message, we can do
God’s work of the New Evangelization that Pope John Paul II so
eloquently spoke about. He calls us laity through the encyclical
"Christi Fidelis Laici" to live and serve the Church in our lay
occupations. When we combine knowledge and experience and the
talents God gave us in the secular world with faith and prayer
and guidance by the Holy Spirit, miraculous fruits are born,
like this apostolate and its results.
Interview With Campaign Founder Tom
By Andrea Kirk Assaf
ROME, 5 MAY 2010 (ZENIT)
When God chooses a
methodology to bring fallen away Catholics back to the
Church, he can certainly choose to spread the success
from one country to another.
That seems to be his plan with a campaign started by Tom
Peterson, an American former advertising executive, who
has put his expertise and experience at the service of
the Church through the creation of the Catholics Come
Home ad campaign and Web site.
ZENIT spoke about the future of the campaign with the
founder and president during his recent visit to Rome to
address a conference on “Church Communications: Identity
and Dialogue” at the Pontifical University of the Holy
Part 1 of this interview was published Monday.
ZENIT: What kind of good fruit has been born from this
particular trip to Rome, during which you’ve been
inundated by interview requests and have been networking
with so many international Church communicators? Do you
feel that now perhaps your initiative has taken on a new
role of showing in a very simple and emotional way the
positive face of the Church in the midst of all the
negative connotations and publicity out there today?
Peterson: Holy Scripture, in the words of Jesus, is
called the “Good News." In our faith journey, our loving
Father in heaven, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have given
us good news. But the secular world wants to tell us a
different story, the evil one wants to get us depressed,
he wants us to focus on negativity, he wants us to not
see the light at the end of the tunnel, to live in
darkness. What I think I’ve learned on this trip is that
there is much good news to share, and while the secular
press, the media, and the evil forces of our world want
to bring us down by focusing on people who are not
living Christ-like lives, we, as the body of Christ, as
baptized Catholics, must share the good news with the
world. When we do, miracles happen, and hearts change.
There is a saying, “The longest distance in the world is
the 18 inches between somebody’s mind and somebody’s
heart." When I came to this conference I was a bit
humbled because there were professors from all over the
— brilliant minds of academia. I felt led to come
here with a message that is very simple: “God loves
you." And to communicate that, there are creative ways
in which we can touch people in the general public with
that very simple message. We should imitate Jesus who
went out of the temple to go where the people are. And
where are they? They are watching television, using the
Internet; through the modern means of mass
communication, we can bring this gospel, this good news
of Jesus to a world that is in need of hope and healing.
When we do, we see great fruit!
Amazingly, people have approached me from countries like
Spain and Germany and others around the world and have
said: We would love this in our community, would you
bring this to our country? And I am very blessed and
humbled by the fact they would like to see this in their
native languages, in Portuguese, in Spanish, in French,
Italian, and so forth, and we would love to serve their
needs. Obviously we have a small staff, and a limited
amount of ability, but God will provide if it is his
will for us to expand, and what we have learned in the
United States is a great template for us to now modify
culturally so it falls on more fertile soil, record the
voiceovers in the native tongues, in the native language
of that community, replace some of our scenes that are
more U.S. specific, and replace them with things that
are more appealing to each country.
For example, the good folks in Australia would want us
to show St. Mary MacKillop, their new patron saint, and
the image of Pope John Paul II holding a koala bear etc…
images that Australians would embrace and say “That’s my
Church family. So there are scenes we can modify, so the
message falls on more fertile soil in various local
ZENIT: What is the future of Catholics Come Home?
Peterson: We have just updated our Web site as of
December, so that it’s more interactive, more sincere.
We have utilized web 2.0 technology, made the navigation
more friendly, we have more teachings on the key moral
and social issues of our day that people are looking
for, such as information on infertility, contraception
teachings, teachings on abortion and life, teachings on
marriage and family, on annulments. As a result of the
Web site enhancements in December, our traffic has gone
up, so people are spending now as much as six minutes or
more on the site, viewing more than four pages, so it is
about triple of what it was the month before.
What we are doing is taking the same strategy and same
technology of catholicscomehome.org and we are going to
do the same with www.catolicosregresen.org, so that
everything we have in Spanish and its different dialects
is more appropriate for each country. As an example, in
the United States in our “Epic” ad we have taken out a
few scenes and put in an Ash Wednesday scene and a scene
of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Spanish-language
testimonials talk about how Our Lady is constantly
calling us home to her Son. They use terms like
“familia” in the voice over in the testimonials. One
Hispanic gentleman talks about how he was with a
professional baseball team and they work on Sunday, and
how he used that as his excuse to miss Mass.
Our commercials in English, Spanish, and Polish aired in
— our Polish language “Epic” ad also aired on
PolSat in Chicago with the blessing of Cardinal George
in the Archdiocese of Chicago. We learned that millions
of people in Poland saw the Catholics Come Home ads in
Polish during Advent and the Christmas holidays, since
the PolSat signal was transmitted to Poland via
satellite. One of my friends who is Polish and from my
parish was visiting family in Poland and saw these ads
on secular television there. So the Holy Spirit took us
international before we even planned on it! This was a
side benefit, it was a gift from God.
ZENIT: What have you learned from embarking on this holy
Peterson: The main thing I have learned is that there is
this beautiful hidden world out there that exists. As
Catholics we are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit
through the holy sacraments of baptism and confirmation,
we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but too often the
secular world lures us away. God has a purpose and a
plan for all our lives. We have a unique function in the
body of Christ. When we say “yes” to God and in doing
his will in leading a sacramental life, the scales fall
from our eyes, much like they did with St. Paul, and
this new hidden world comes to life. It is full of color
and adventure and peace and joy. What we have been
missing by leading lives as “part-time” Catholics
becomes very apparent to us
— we can now see why others have joy. If we just
take a step toward God and turn to him like the prodigal
son, the loving Father-God comes running to us, and
showers us with his graces.
So I encourage everybody to say “yes” to God, to partake
of the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation, to start
reading the Bible, to beg God to allow us closer to him.
God will honor that prayer, and you will have an
adventure, you will have a purpose and a calling in
life, and discover a new world of hope and peace with
On the Net:
Catholics Come Home: catholicscomehome.org