August 19, 2016

Evangelization Supplement

Door-to-door evangelization efforts involve ‘just letting people know they’re welcome’

Two Legion of Mary members, left, involved in a door-to-door evangelization effort at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis on July 27 listen to the prayer intentions of a woman living within the boundaries of the parish after providing her with material about the Catholic Church and St. Monica Parish. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Two Legion of Mary members, left, involved in a door-to-door evangelization effort at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis on July 27 listen to the prayer intentions of a woman living within the boundaries of the parish after providing her with material about the Catholic Church and St. Monica Parish. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

The woman stood on the front porch of the home, tracing the sign of the cross on the door as she prayed, “God bless this home, and all who dwell within it.”

Then she knocked and waited, praying a Hail Mary.

A man opened the door.

“Hi! I’m from St. Monica Catholic Church,” she said with a warm smile. “Our pastor, Father Todd [Goodson], just wanted to reach out to all of his neighbors to let them know they’re welcome there.”

And just like that, the woman evangelized.

She is a member of the Church-sanctioned apostolate Legion of Mary, a group whose goal, according to its website, is “to bring Mary to the world as the infallible means of winning the world to Jesus … through the visitation of homes and by other means.”

The Legion of Mary led a door-to-door evangelization effort at St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis during the week of July 23-30, and a focused effort on the first and third Sundays of the month at Annunciation Parish in Brazil starting in June.

This article looks at why door-to-door evangelization within parish boundaries is important, how these evangelization efforts work, the “surprising” experience of the participants and the positive results the efforts effected.

‘70 percent … would go to church if invited’

While giving a homily at Annunciation Church on April 4 to celebrate the parish’s 150th anniversary, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin noted a sobering fact.

“Statistics show in our state that 20 percent of Hoosiers belong to no faith,” he said. “How will the word of God reach them except through you? … The temptation is to sit back and let [the priest] do all the work. He’s not the only one in whom the Lord wants to take flesh. The Word of God wants to take flesh in you.”

Those words rang true with Father John Hollowell, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle. They reminded him of a study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that he read a year ago. The study showed that, in a poll of those not attending a church, about 70 percent indicated they would go to church if invited.

“A lot of time we wait for people to come into our churches,” notes Father Hollowell. “But put yourself in the shoes of someone not Christian. … The chances of them pursuing [going to Mass] on their own with no assistance is extremely low. But if they know they’re invited and welcome, we’re forming the Church by saying, ‘We’re here.’ ”

Father Todd Goodson, pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, agrees.

“[Door-to-door evangelization] is a great way to consistently remind those members of our community who are not in a church, or perhaps have fallen away from the faith, that we care about them and we love them,” he says.

The Legion of Mary provided an organized format for both of the parishes to begin their evangelization efforts.

Pilgrimage for Christ

Many parishes in central and southern Indiana have a Legion of Mary chapter, called a “praesidium.” They meet weekly to pray, and also perform some form of charitable outreach within their parish as decided upon by the members.

One form of outreach a praesidium can understake is called an “exploratio dominicalis,” which roughly translates to a “Sunday search for souls.” This format is what Annunciation Parish chose to implement in June, sending a few parishioners—including non-members of the Legion of Mary—into the local community in pairs for a few hours twice a month.

“I asked [the parish praesidium] if they would look into taking the lead in a parish door-to-door ministry,” explains Father Hollowell of the origins of the effort.

On May 15, members from other Legion of Mary praesidia with door-to-door evangelization experience offered a morning training for any Annunciation parishioner who wanted to learn how to do such ministry. Then, pairing an experienced person with an inexperienced person, the evangelists hit the streets, and have done so on the first and third Sunday of each month since early June.

The effort will continue for “as long as the weather is decent,” says Mark Meyers, a member of Annunciation Parish and vice president of the parish’s Legion of Mary praesidium.

He helped coordinate the door-to-door efforts at Annunciation and at St. Monica.

Unlike the twice monthly, ongoing effort at Annunciation, the event at St. Monica was a one-time event the Legion of Mary calls a “peregrinatio pro Christo,” or “pilgrimage for Christ,” a period of one or two weeks during which members from around the nation or even the world gather to evangelize in one area.

Meyers notes that Legion of Mary members from Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia and even Mexico participated in the weeklong effort at St. Monica.

“When members of our local chapter told me about having done this thing called a ‘peregrinatio,’ where they went door to door in a local parish in Muncie, I was immediately intrigued and invited them to come to St. Monica to do one here,” says Father Goodson.

‘I thought it’d be scary, but it wasn’t’

Father Goodson participated in the door-to-door effort in his parish.

“It was a great experience,” he says. “People are actually pretty friendly for the most part, and we gave out information at every home we visited.

“I was surprised at how receptive people were to hearing us, and taking some information from us. … It was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I would absolutely do it again. I really believe that in a digital communication age, face-to-face interaction is still the best.”

And a vast amount of knowledge about the Church is not necessary for door-to-door evangelization, says Father Goodson.

“I think it’s important to be able to be prayerful, more than to have a lot of knowledge,” he says. “I would often pray while the other person was speaking or vice-versa. Trust that God will guide you to the right people and give you what you need to be able to minister to them.”

Annunciation parishioner Miranda Goodale, 40, who had never participated in door-to-door evangelization, expresses reactions similar to Father Goodson’s.

“I thought it would be very scary,” she admits. “I thought I’d be grilled and really have to answer some tough questions and defend the faith. I thought it’d be intense.

“But it wasn’t. People are a lot more receptive than you’d expect. You’re just inviting them and letting them know they’re welcome. Most people are looking for that [invitation], or open to it.”

Goodale describes the steps of the door-to-door format she learned. It starts by introducing oneself, then letting the person know they’re welcome at the parish church; asking if they are a member of a faith community, and if they say they’re attending a Christian church, note that Catholics are also Christians as a point of commonality; and asking if they have any questions, offering to get back to them when unsure of the answer.

A packet of information about the parish and the Church, as well as sacramentals such as rosaries and miraculous medals, are offered, or left on the door of a home where no one answered.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” says Goodale. “For the most part, it takes just about five minutes. Most people listened in their doorway.”

‘Called to invite people to experience Christ’

The results of the efforts at Annunciation and St. Monica parishes were just as positive as the participants’ experience.

Father Hollowell says that in his parish’s first afternoon of evangelizing door to door, “I think they visited 15 houses, and out of that, six people required some sort of follow up, [such as saying] ‘I’d be interested in going to church if someone will go with me,’ or ‘I need a ride.’ One said he’d been wanting to reach out [to the Church] for many years, but had been too afraid.”

At St. Monica, more than 2,400 homes were visited during the week, with almost 1,600 interactions and 70 follow-up requests.

The faith communities and those who were evangelized were not the only ones who benefited from these Legion of Mary efforts.

Father Hollowell notes that the evangelists in his parish “came back rejoicing over what they’d seen. The people expressed to me real joy in what [their efforts] did for them and what they saw.”

Goodale says she grew from the experience.

“[I learned] that evangelization is for every Christian, every Catholic, it’s not just a Jehovah’s Witness or a non-Catholic thing,” she says. “We’re all called to spread the Gospel. This [Legion of Mary effort] is a more formal way to approach the rest of the world, but just in day-to-day life, we’re called to invite people to experience Christ. I think of every moment of the day, every interaction, as an opportunity to evangelize now.

“[Evangelization] grows the Church. But it really is a more formal way to make us realize that, after loving God, [it’s our responsibility] to spread that love, to spread the Good News of the Gospel.”
 

(For more information on the Legion of Mary, check with your parish to see if a praesidium exists. If not, log onto www.legionofmary.ie.)

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