January 27, 2012

Historic parish plans outreach to Super Bowl visitors

This image is an artist’s rendering of the Super Bowl Village at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis, which is also the location of St. John the Evangelist Church. (Image courtesy of 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee)

This image is an artist’s rendering of the Super Bowl Village at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis, which is also the location of St. John the Evangelist Church. (Image courtesy of 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee)

By Sean Gallagher

History will be made when more than 100,000 visitors from around the world are expected to come to Indianapolis for 10 days of activities leading to Super Bowl XLVI, which will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 5.

And a historic church will be right in the middle of it all.

St. John the Evangelist Parish, which was founded 175 years ago when Indianapolis was a small town on the edge of the American frontier, will be in the middle of the Super Bowl Village that will host many events at the Indiana Convention Center across the street from the parish and on the streets surrounding it.

Tens of thousands of pedestrians will walk by the church on the streets that will largely be closed to vehicular traffic during the 10 days leading up to the Super Bowl.

There will even be a zip line on which riders can zoom for 800 feet from a starting height of 95 feet. The line ends in front of St. John Church.

When the riders put their feet back down on solid ground, they will see a sign in front of the parish’s 140-year-old church that reads, “If you thought the zip line was a thrill, … come in and spend some time with Jesus!”

Such a sign shows that Father Rick Nagel, St. John’s administrator, and his parishioners see the Super Bowl as a tremendous opportunity to evangelize.

“You can run and hide or you can just jump in,” said Father Nagel, who plans to ride the zip line. “We’ve decided to jump in and do some outreach. (Related story: Faith is at heart of events at St. John Parish in days leading up to Super Bowl)

“Our biggest goal is to give people a great sense of the Catholic Church. … If we can be welcoming and let people know that there is so much good and many good young people engaged in the Church, we’ll have had a good 10 days.”

To do that outreach, approximately 70 tour guides called “St. John evangelists” have been trained not only to explain the history, beautiful architecture and other aspects of the church, but also to explain how they embody the Catholic faith.

They have already been put to work in large events in recent months, such as the Future Farmers of America Convention, the 2011 Big 10 Football Championship and the National Catholic Youth Conference.

Several priests will also hear confessions in the church for 28 hours during the 10 days. An “Ask a Catholic” booth will be set up in the church’s narthex in which visitors can get answers to their questions about the Catholic faith.

On the evening of Feb. 3, Chris Godfrey, who played for the 1987 Super Bowl champion New York Giants, will speak at St. John on the topic, “Catholic Touchdowns for Life Eternal.” His presentation will take place during a holy hour for vocations.

Other holy hours will take place daily, except on Sunday, from Jan. 27 through Feb. 4.

And on the weekend of the Super Bowl, additional Masses will be celebrated to accommodate the large number of Catholic visitors to Indianapolis. (See article below for more details.)

St. John parishioner Joseph Maguire, 56, who works for a law firm in downtown Indianapolis, is a St. John evangelist who stood on the steps of the church during the Big 10 Football Championship.

“We encouraged them to come in and take a look at our church,” he said. “Anyone that we can get inside is amazed by the beauty of the church. They take pictures. Then we can direct them to other people who are leading the tours.”

Erica Heinekamp is one of many young adults serving as a St. John evangelist. She thinks the beauty of her parish’s historic church is one of its most important assets.

“Human beings are naturally attracted to beauty—there’s no way around it,” she said. “I think the physical beauty of St. John’s Church is one of its greatest testimonies because it points to a greater meaning of that space—one that invites people to know themselves at a deeper level.

“By giving personalized tours of this space, I definitely think that we can give them insight to a deeper meaning of our beautiful space, one that is an invitation to get to know the Catholic faith even better on their own.”

Because of traffic and parking restrictions, Heinekamp said she will be parking in a lot near Indianapolis International Airport on the west side of the city and taking a shuttle bus downtown.

But the inconvenience isn’t keeping her from reaching out to Super Bowl visitors.

“We could just close up shop for a few weeks because travel is difficult, and it’s a hassle to journey anywhere downtown,” Heinekamp said. “But, instead, we are facing the reality of a great crowd coming into our city and walking past our church every day. Why not let them see what we have to offer?”

St. John parishioner A.J. Fricke, 28, sees his parish’s church every day as he works in an engineering firm in a nearby high-rise building. He said being trained as a St. John evangelist has helped him grow in his own faith.

“That was one of our goals when we established this program, that it would have a transforming effect on the parishioners of St. John as well,” Fricke said. “It’s allowed me to brush up on some of the Church’s teachings, and also learn a lot more about St. John’s Church and its history.”

He is looking forward to sharing that faith and history with Super Bowl visitors.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity to show the young people are active and thriving in the Catholic Church,” Fricke said. “I think that there’s a lot of energy and spirit within the young adult college student ministry [that is based in the parish]. And now we want to share that with others.”

Father Nagel is excited that his parish is taking seriously Blessed John Paul II’s call to “open wide the doors to Christ.” And he said that this is happening in a literal way at the parish when it opens wide the large front doors of its church to the thousands of visitors who will walk past it.

“The new evangelization is alive and well here in the heart of our city,” Father Nagel said.

(For more information on St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, including its outreach activities in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, log on to www.stjohnsindy.org. More information can also be found on the parish’s Facebook page and on Twitter. To view a video about the “St. John evangelists,” log on to www.blackstonefilms.org.)

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