This past Saturday, our first outing occurred appropriately on the Feast of St. Mark (4/25/15). Mr. Martin Hanley and I participated in the morning Mass where we heard Jesus speak the Great Commission in Mark’s Gospel: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature (Mk. 16:15).”
We went forth from St. Paul Catholic Church and reassembled downtown at the Palafox Market. Martin’s wife Emily and their young son Nathaniel joined us. Later, my wife Becky and our young children Theresa, Faustina, and Francisco all popped in too. The Palafox Market has an incredible family atmosphere and we fit right in, except of course for our sandwich board reading: “Catholic Truth. Got Questions? Free Literature. Need Prayer? Find True Joy!”
I admit, I had felt some nerves during the previous 24 hours, some fear to be exact, but I learned a long time ago that courage is not the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and choosing to do the thing anyway. Usually once you take action the fear lifts. This held true, because as soon as we set up our sandwich board and handed out the first free Rosary, I experienced the kind of deep peace that can only come from the Holy Spirit. Throughout our entire time there, it was very clear to me that God was active and working through us.
One of the first reactions we received was a man who asked if we were anti-Catholic. The man turned out to be a practicing Catholic himself who assumed we were probably anti-Catholic because he had never come across Catholics reaching out like this. Yet, all we were doing was smiling, trying to make eye contact with people, offering free resources when we connected with someone, and seeking conversation as appropriate.
We had about a dozen copies of “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis, which includes a full-color picture of him smiling and waving on the cover. The picture was extremely effective in attracting people as the texts were all gone in about ten minutes. I ended up in a lengthy conversation with one man who took a copy. He identified himself as an Assembly of God Pentecostalist. We talked about history, authority, Scripture, absolute truth, salvation, God’s love for us, etc. It was a very engaging and enjoyable conversation all around. He left with the Pope Francis book, a Rosary, a pamphlet on how to pray it, a talk by John Martignoni on “One Church,” a talk by Dr. Scott Hahn on his conversion to Catholicism, a business card with my name on it, and a promise that he would follow up with me. Please pray that he will.
Another encounter that stands out to me was a group of teenage girls that were passing sort of aimlessly in front of us. I offered the Rosary and they each ended up taking one, along with the instructional pamphlet. An older sister (or possibly a mom) to one of the girls approached with a big grin and asked the girls what they were doing. We introduced ourselves and she passed us her business card – a local realtor. Martin was quick to give her a St. Paul business card in return. She happily took it, explained that she had just recently moved to Pensacola, and she seemed quite genuine in saying that she will “check it out.” Please pray that she will.
Perhaps there were a few odd looks and some snickers directed our way (Rejoice! Matthew 5:11-12), but overall, we were exceedingly well-received. Most commonly, people seemed intrigued by our presence there. I believe that as often as we “go out” like this, God will use our efforts to impact others in the greatest way possible – deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.
St. Paul Street Evangelization is one great way to live both the St. Paul parish mission (Love God, Serve Others, Make Disciples) and the Diocesan vision (The Church Fully Alive!).
Please let us know if you would like to get involved.
Written by Jim Havens, Pastoral Associate @ St. Paul Catholic Church