May 9, 2014

Parishes share the faith through unusual evangelization efforts

Members of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis knocked on the doors of nearly 500 homes in the neighborhood last fall, inviting people to visit the church and learn more about the Catholic faith. (Submitted photo)

Members of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis knocked on the doors of nearly 500 homes in the neighborhood last fall, inviting people to visit the church and learn more about the Catholic faith. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The surprises keep coming as parishes and Catholics across the archdiocese try to share their faith with people in central and southern Indiana.

Consider what happened after members of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis spent a weekend last fall knocking on the doors of nearly 500 homes in the neighborhood, inviting people to visit the church.

“A lot of people were surprised we did it,” says Deacon Oscar Morales, who led the effort. “Some said, ‘That’s the first time a Catholic visited me.’ They were happy to see us even if they weren’t Catholic.”

Still, the best surprise and the biggest payoff came months later—on the evening of Good Friday—when parish members participated in the Way of the Cross through the streets of the neighborhood.

“We noticed the people were familiar with us, and they feel friendly toward us,” Deacon Morales recalls with a huge smile. “They knew we were from St. Anthony’s. We got about 500 people going with the Way of the Cross. It felt great.”

Cathy Andrews had the same feeling after arranging for former fashion model and longtime Catholic Leah Darrow to share her story of faith and modesty at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford—the heart of Lawrence County where only about 3 percent of the population is Catholic, and where faith can be a “point of contention instead of connection.”

“The response we got from the entire community was phenomenal,” says Andrews, the parish’s administrator of religious education. “Half the audience was Catholic, and half was from different faith communities. We got all kinds of phone calls from people [in other churches] telling us, ‘This is great. We need more of this.’ This certainly helps in reaching out to other faiths and the community.”

Gayle Schrank has brought a few people to the Catholic faith with the help of the rosary—the gift she gives to residents at Lincoln Hills Nursing Home in New Albany.

“I go three Wednesdays a month to take Communion to the Catholics there,” says Schrank, pastoral associate for parish ministry at St. Mary Parish in Navilleton. “We say the rosary first. I give everyone a rosary. People will say, ‘I’m not Catholic,’ but I tell them, ‘You don’t have to be Catholic to pray the rosary.’ I talk about Mary and how important she is. People open their hearts to what I am doing.”

One worker at the nursing home has entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program.

“She was someone who brought people to the activity center for the rosary,” Schrank says. “One week, she came up to me and said, ‘While you were praying the rosary, it brought tears to my eyes. I knew then I wanted to be Catholic.’

“Another girl—she is Baptist—comes up to me every week and gives me prayer requests. She remembered being a little girl and having neighbors who were Catholic. She was so intrigued by our faith that I asked her, ‘Have you ever thought about becoming Catholic?’ She said, ‘Can you do that?’ I’ve started bringing her information. She’s interested.”

Her interactions with residents and staff members have uplifted Schrank and deepened her faith.

“It makes me have so much more love for the Catholic Church.”

Schrank’s efforts at evangelizing reflect Pope Francis’ call to all Catholics to share their faith with all people.

For Deacon Morales, that call comes down to a simple approach: “Do something.”

Sometimes, it leads to something more.

Inspired by the neighborhood’s reaction to the Way of the Cross and the invitation to visit St. Anthony Church, Deacon Morales will lead another door-to-door effort on May 31 and June 1 to promote three initiatives of the parish: the parish festival in June, the availability of help from the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the “Saints in the Street” program in October where parish members will clean the streets of the neighborhood.

“I am excited about this,” says Deacon Morales. “The main thing for us as Catholics is to do what Pope Francis tells us to do—that’s evangelizing.”

That approach has also guided a project developed by the faith formation commission at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford. Every month, the commission members prepare a postcard for all Catholics in Lawrence County, a postcard that educates Catholics about some aspect of their faith.

“We felt we needed something to educate our folks if they were challenged by Protestants in our community who, for instance, don’t understand the Mass, our devotion to Mary or the concept of confessing sins to a priest,” says Andrews, the parish’s administrator of religious education.

The approach has been received so well that Catholics have shared the cards with people from other faith traditions.

“They’ve found their way into a lot of settings, including fitness centers and hair salons,” Andrews says. “Because there are so many misunderstandings about our Catholic beliefs, people tend to stay away from attending our Mass or even associating with Catholics. It has opened avenues of communication. People will say, ‘Well, OK, that makes sense.’ ”

The cards have even made a difference in work settings.

“In my own situation in working with persons from Protestant backgrounds, I am questioned frequently about things like purgatory, and even put down,” Andrews says. “When you can provide information that is accessible and easily understandable, it improves relationships and creates a connection that is like a welcome sign and not a point of contention.”

Whether it’s through faith-based postcards, the praying of the rosary, knocks on a door, a talk by a former fashion model or any other creative or traditional approach to evangelization, the important point is to share the faith, according to Deacon Morales.

“This is what we should be doing,” he says. “I think it is good for us as Catholics.” †

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