Tuesday, July 23, 2024

St. Paul Street Evangelization Training Equips Parishioners to Share their Faith during Bloomsburg Festival

Parishioners in the St. Paul Street Evangelization workshop at St. Columba Parish in Bloomsburg had the perfect opportunity to put their training into practice in the streets of the Columbia County town on April 27.

Minutes after being sent forth from four hours of training, and with Rosaries and Miraculous Medals in their hands, parishioners dispersed onto Main and Market Streets in Bloomsburg, which was bustling that afternoon with the annual Renaissance Jamboree – an outdoor street fair that attracts thousands with food, crafts, vendors and entertainment.

In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote: “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.” (120)

The St. Paul Street Evangelization training in Bloomsburg emphasized that papal message, putting evangelization into action in a simple yet profound way.

The training was hosted by St. Columba Parish in conjunction with the Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization. The program was presented by St. Paul Street Evangelization, a grassroots organization dedicated to responding to Jesus’ mandate 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 prayers and answer questions about the faith.

In the training session at St. Columba, Catholics from several parishes in the Diocese learned the basics of evangelization, conversation starters and tips for sharing testimony. Through a series of short sessions, presenters from St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) offered practical tips and personal anecdotes as they spoke of the call to evangelize. The workshop was the first of two SPSE trainings in the Diocese in consecutive weeks, with a second one at St. Joseph Parish in Danville on May 4.

Acknowledging that the term “street evangelization” can conjure up images of people waving Bibles and shouting about repentance, Adam Janke of SPSE 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.

“Prayer is performative speech. As such, we are called as Christians to pray blessings over our brothers and sisters,” Janke said in the training session.

Prayerful and Inviting

The outreach during Bloomsburg’s annual street fair was the culmination of the training, and sent parishioners into the streets in groups of two and three to proclaim the Gospel with an inviting and prayerful approach.

Parishioners approached people with, “Can I pray for you today?” or “May I offer you a Rosary or Miraculous Medal?” The inviting and non-threatening conversation starters often yielded positive responses and led to connections, witness and prayer.

Gail, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Danville, and Pam, from Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Harrisburg, formed a team of two as they greeted passersby and engaged them in brief conversation.

I really love my faith. It’s such a force for good in my life, no matter what is going on, good or bad. It is my anchor,” Gail said of her reason for participating in the training. “I just want to share the message with people that, no matter what you’re going through, God is with you and God loves you.”

Pam told The Witness that she’s felt a tug to share her faith since making a Cursillo, and considered the SPSE training to be the perfect opportunity.

“I see all the anger and hurt in the world today, and the spiritual warfare that’s going on. I just want to help share a message of light and peace,” she said.

Deacon Gregory Amarante, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Life and Evangelization, also attended the training, and said he was pleased to have Janke back in the Diocese to lead the efforts.

“As he says, ‘street evangelization is the easiest form of evangelization.’ I don’t think people realize that,” said Deacon Amarante, who will lead the training on May 4 in Danville. “At first, I was intimidated. How would I be perceived? What if I say the wrong thing? What might people say to me? But, when I focused on the simple principles of the training, I saw how easy it was to offer someone a gift with no strings attached, especially the gift of prayer. Some people rejected both offers, and that’s fine. I still prayed for them in my heart. Some didn’t want the gifts, but they did want prayer. One family declined the Miraculous Medal but agreed to have us pray for them. Later, the father of the family sought me out and asked for the medal, which I happily gave to him. I considered that a positive sign of the fruits of our simple prayer. You remember those moments and their impact. They remind us to continue praying for those we met.”

Deacon Amarante told The Witness he was very pleased with the turnout and the participants’ eagerness to form another evangelization team in the Diocese, as well as to put their skills to work during Danville’s Spring Fling street fair.

Walking through streets of Bloomsburg and observing the small teams of parishioners, Janke told The Witness that evangelizing is part of our call as Catholics.

“We have a baptismal call and have received the graces at Baptism and Confirmation to go and spread the Catholic faith. In fact, the Catechism says that to share the faith is necessary for salvation. Of course, that looks different for everyone – for some it’s street ministry like we’re doing here today – but all of us in our own lives have that call as laity,” he said.

Their efforts didn’t end with the conclusion of the street fair. Janke encouraged participants to join local SPSE teams in the Diocese and volunteer during their opportunities for evangelization. People who are interested in joining a local team or want more information about training can visit www.evangelizationschool.com.

“We’re seeing increasing amounts of fruit through this work,” said Janke, who has been with St. Paul Street Evangelization from the start of its formation a decade ago.

“People see how broken and unstable this world is, and they’re responding to the Gospel and coming to the Church because the world is getting scarier and more tumultuous. There is depression, instability, addiction; we’re scared and unhappy and we’re looking for answers,” he said. “The Church gives us what we’re hungering for.”

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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