August 19, 2016

Parish-connected teams embrace street evangelization

Seminarian Liam Hosty spends time on Aug. 10 before the grave of Father Joseph MacNally at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis. Hosty and other archdiocesan seminarians did various works of mercy, including praying for the dead, during their recent annual convocation. Father MacNally was Hosty’s boyhood pastor at St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Joan Caldwell, a member of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, and her pastor, Conventual Franciscan Father Mark Weaver, talk with a passer-by near the parish’s food pantry on July 27. The two are members of the parish’s chapter of the Bloomington-based St. Paul Street Evangelization. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Shy by nature, Joan Caldwell never thought she could talk about her Catholic faith to strangers on the street until she finally embraced one reality about her life:

“I am in love with Jesus, and I love to share my story of how his love has transformed my life.”

So during this past Easter season, she started browsing Youtube videos and found one on St. Paul Street Evangelization, a Bloomington-based national organization that has the mission, “To work with God for the conversion of the whole world to Jesus and his Church.”

Inspired, Caldwell shared her hope of starting a chapter in Terre Haute with Conventual Franciscan Father Mark Weaver, the pastor of St. Joseph University Parish, where she is a member.

“He was immediately excited by the idea,” Caldwell says. “He told me that 67 percent of Vigo County has no religious affiliation, and if we’re going to make a difference in evangelization, we need to reach out to the unchurched.”

After Father Mark preached on the subject one Sunday and called for volunteers, 12 people signed up for the Terre Haute chapter. And during the five times that the group has set up a table outside the parish’s food pantry, Caldwell has noticed a trend that makes her want to do even more.

“In our secular culture, people are yearning to talk about faith, but they don’t know to whom they can talk. We provide a safe place to talk about God.”

The experience has also deepened her faith and her connection with the other team members.

“We all keep trying,” she says. “We support each other. I am especially thrilled with the number of young adults on the team because Terre Haute is a college town. We plan to start reaching out to university students when school starts.”

Connecting with parishes throughout the archdiocese is one of the hopes of the founder of St. Paul Street Evangelization.

“We see ourselves building a bridge of trust between the community and the parish,” says Steve Dawson, a member of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington whose organization provides materials and training for street evangelization. “Ultimately, we want to plug the people we evangelize into the parishes.”

After learning about the organization by reading its posts on Facebook, Lesa Shackleford thought it would be great to get a chapter started in Richmond.

When she talked to her pastor, Father Kevin Morris of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, about finding someone to start a team, he responded, “Why not you?” Two months later, the reluctant Shackleford “found the courage” to lead the team, which began in July of 2015.

The Richmond team has evangelized at a local farmer’s market, a street festival and a gathering of college students.

“I was certain it would be hard, but it has never been hard,” Shackleford says. “That doesn’t mean that I always know the right thing to say, but I’ve found that once we entrust our efforts to the Holy Spirit, I feel full of peace and joy, and little or no fear.

“People who have approached are truly seeking to know God’s will for them. I hope they are inspired to seek and find a close relationship with God, and that they at least explore the possibility that the Catholic faith offers the fullest avenue for that relationship.

“I trust that even if passers-by never approach us or interact with us, they at least see our sign and our smiling and consistent presence, and raise their minds to God for even a moment that they might not have otherwise.” †

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