Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

Leaders of St. Dominic’s Emmaus sessions include, from left, Hans Gonzaleg, Dominican Father Augustine Hilander, Erika Herrera, Dominican Father Michael Hurley and Paul Berens. Not pictured is Gary Price.

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Emmaus: A ‘gateway’ to belief for non-practicing Catholics
August 22nd, 2016
By Christina Gray

St. Dominic Parish in San Francisco is on a mission to bring “lapsed Catholics” and those outside the faith into a friendly, no-holds-barred conversation with the church through a new outreach program called Emmaus.

Emmaus is a series of four evening drop-in sessions facilitated by lay members of the church from Aug. 4-25. It offers Catholics estranged from their faith, the “unchurched” and the simply curious opportunity to learn why Catholics believe the things they do and to ask questions in an open, confidential environment.

For some, it could be a “gateway to belief,” said St. Dominic pastor Dominican Father Michael Hurley.

“We wanted to find a way to reach out to people without impediments or prerequisites and meet them where they are,” Father Hurley told Catholic San Francisco after a group meeting Aug. 11.

Participants at that session included an atheist who wanted to learn more about her Catholic boyfriend’s faith, a mid-life professional seeking “something bigger than myself,” and a self-described spiritual dabbler.

People who identify themselves as “not affiliated” with any church or religion are a fast-rising “denomination,” Father Hurley said. Within that group, he said, non-practicing Catholics make up a significant number.

These are not the same people who would seek out Landings, a parish ministry for Catholics who have had a negative experience with the church. More often, Catholics simply “go adrift” in a secular culture or because their childhood religious education failed to translate in adulthood, Father Hurley said.

After discussing the goals of Emmaus earlier this year with a team of four parishioners who would become session leaders, Father Hurley urged Massgoers to invite friends and family members. “We all know someone who is not practicing their faith,” he said.

The Christian principles of “spirituality,” “conscience,” “forgiveness” and “prayer” are the cornerstones of Emmaus. The presentation is light on theology and church teaching and meant less to persuade than to invite inquiry of any kind.

“Are tarot cards immoral or illegal in the Catholic Church?” asked a man who said he uses them to cultivate his intuition.

Dominican Father Augustine Hilander, the clerical liaison for Emmaus, replied that the church view would be that tarot cards can’t explain the mystery of the soul.

“Tarot cards work in the opposite direction, which says all the mystery is in the card,” he said. “We say it’s not in the card, but in the person.”

The parish plans to repeat the Emmaus series several times although no dates have been set. For more information, email

From August 25, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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