Supplied with Rosaries, Miraculous Medals and trust in the Holy Spirit, Catholics fresh off a street evangelization training in Lancaster went into the square – literally – to share the Good News in the Red Rose City on Oct. 23.
Amid the bustle of cars rounding the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Penn Square, more than 20 parishioners greeted perfect strangers walking through the business district on a brisk autumn day.
With friendly greetings and outstretched hands, they offered sacramentals, prayers and invitations to Mass to anyone who passed by – some on their way to the Fulton Theatre or convention center, others carrying toddlers or food as they made their way home.
“This is my first time doing street evangelization,” said Sharon Egan, after a five-minute conversation with a young couple, including a chat about the significance of the Miraculous Medal.
Egan’s first encounter a few minutes earlier had been with a person who declined her efforts, but it didn’t discourage her.
“It’s wonderful to trust in the Holy Spirit and try to step out of the way to let Him work through me. What I’m doing here is not about me; it’s about Him,” said Egan, a member of Holy Infant Parish in Manchester.
A minute later, two women eagerly gestured for Egan’s attention, requesting to receive the last two Rosaries she was carrying before they were hurried along by the crosswalk’s signal to proceed.
Across the corner, Karen Wingard of St. John the Baptist Parish in New Freedom was busy evangelizing, too.
New to the Diocese from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where she and her husband regularly prayed outside of Planned Parenthood, Wingard said she enjoys “evangelizing people as they’re coming down the street, so they know they are loved.”
“Sometimes you get rejection, and that’s ok. Other times, you get people who will come up to you and ask for a Rosary before you even say anything,” she said. “You begin expecting that God is going to do something, and it’s exciting. When you pray for someone, it gives you greater confidence to share, and talk about God’s plan for them.”
Listening and Inviting, Not Shouting and Condemning
The outreach in Penn Square was an hour-long “live lab,” a culmination of a daylong training by St. Paul Street Evangelization that sent parishioners into the streets to proclaim the Gospel
Based in Michigan, St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) is a grassroots organization dedicated to responding to the mandate of Jesus to preach the Gospel by taking the Catholic faith to the streets. Its training sessions give Catholics the resources they need to engage people, offer prayer and answer questions about the faith.
SPSE Chief Operating Officer Adam Janke joined Brian Lee, National Director of Teams, in presenting the local workshop at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lancaster. Nearly 50 Catholics from various parishes attended, and learned the basics of evangelization, conversation starters and tips for sharing testimony. Through a series of short presentations, Janke and Lee offered practical tips and personal anecdotes as they spoke of the call to evangelize.
“According to Pope St. Paul VI, the ‘Church exists in order to evangelize. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.’ St. Paul Street Evangelization has taken a direct approach to evangelization that leads to relational ministry. It works because the work of saving souls is God’s work, not ours. We only make ourselves available to share the Good News,” Janke explained in an interview with The Catholic Witness.
Still, there are methods to it, and that’s why SPSE offered the workshop before sending participants into the city square.
“Pope Francis highlighted the importance of training in Evangelii Gaudium,” Janke noted. The pope said, “Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love…Of course, all of us are called to mature in our work as evangelizers. We want to have better training, a deepening love and a clearer witness to the Gospel.”
“With that in mind, the workshop itself is simple and orients people to the Catholic Church’s understanding of the work of evangelization, what it entails, and how to proceed in the modern world,” Janke explained. “Our training focuses on direct evangelization. We teach evangelization basics, the spirituality of the evangelist, conversation starters, sharing your testimony, sharing the Gospel, simple apologetics, praying with others, making invitations to the faith, and more.”
Acknowledging that the term “street evangelization” often conjures up images of people waving Bibles and shouting about Hell to those who pass by, Janke underscored that this type of proselytizing should not be confused with how Catholics are called to evangelize.
“We use a motto of ‘listen, befriend, proclaim, and invite,’ Janke said. “Our evangelists try to be very warm and friendly on the street, smiling, keeping a good sense of humor, and meeting people where they are at by listening to each person.”
The parishioners who opted to put the workshop lessons into practice by participating in the street evangelization session took SPSE’s motto to heart. They approached people with, “Would you like a free Rosary?” and “Can I pray for you today?” – inviting and non-threatening conversation starters that often yielded positive responses.
“All Christians can spread the Gospel through street ministry. Each of us has a story of how God’s grace has worked in our lives that another person needs to hear,” Janke said. “Yes, doing street ministry will give you a good dose of rejection therapy, but as our evangelists saw on Saturday, just one hour with 20-plus evangelists led to hundreds of seeds being planted, dozens of positive stories, and at least a few people making a decision to look deeper into the Catholic Church or return to Mass, including one gentleman who became convinced that there is only one true God. That was just one hour!”
The St. Paul Street Evangelization Workshop was sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, which hopes to bring additional SPSE trainings to other parts of the Diocese in the future.
Janke said because the training focuses on the basics of evangelization, participants often find it to be useful in their daily encounters with family, friends and co-workers.
“Our hope is that the workshop equips participants with the tools to become great evangelists in the circumstances of their everyday life, as well as being equipped to work with an apostolate like ours out on the street. Participants will also be equipped with our resources and materials to take back to their parishes and share them there,” he said.
Sharon Egan said she hopes her street evangelization efforts that day will be the first of many.
“The training showed the importance of befriending those you meet, to ask questions that get people talking about themselves, instead of talking at them. It’s about planting the seed,” she said.
“As the trainers told us before we went out to the square, the Holy Spirit had already prepared the people we were going to go meet. We don’t have to do any work for that; He is preparing them to hear the message,” she said.
Karen Wingard is excited for the potential of the ministry in the Diocese.
“I love that we as Catholics are going out on the streets to share the Gospel. It’s what we should be doing, but often we don’t support for it,” she said. “Being here today, I’m excited to see the ministry growing.”
For more information about St. Paul Street Evangelization, visit www.streetevangelization.com.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness