August 23, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
As the Year of Faith approaches, Catholic evangelist takes cues from 40 Days for Life
PORTLAND, OREGON —- Modern pro-life activism is respectful, honest, engaging, and non-confrontational. Why not? When the truth is on your side, you don’t need to show off. No wonder that Catholics involved in pro-life activism sometimes ask: Why don’t we have something like this for Catholic evangelization?
Enter St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE), and just in time for the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI. By design, SPSE evangelists do not shout condemnations from a soapbox. In this noisy world of ours, only the quiet approaches are loud enough.
“We find a high pedestrian traffic area, where lots of people walk by,” said Steve Dawson, founder of SPSE. “We set up, we start praying the rosary, and we’ll just sit there, and pray at first. Generally, people will start coming right away, at least within a half-hour. But if it’s slow, and people are coming close enough and looking, we’ll offer them a rosary. If they stop, and start talking to us, that’s great.”
Dawson, who for several years was on the leadership team for a Michigan chapter of 40 Days for Life, now works with a team of about 20 Catholics, including a few priests available for sidewalk confessions. From this experience, Dawson said the key when engaging people on the street is to listen to their objections rather than throw a stock argument at them.
“What we’re doing is speaking to people about the faith, we’re meeting them where they’re at. People are asking questions, people are asking for prayers. We’re bringing people back into the faith who have fallen away, we’re having good conversations with Protestants about misconceptions that they have about the faith.”
SPSE has won praise, for various reasons, from Catholic bloggers Elizabeth Scalia, Brandon Vogt, and recent convert Leah Libresco. Libresco, who blogs at Unequally Yoked, made waves this summer in a much-publicized conversion from atheism. (Full disclosure: Dawson’s comments are excerpted from an extended interview that Libresco posted to her blog.)
SPSE’s main chapter is located in Portland, Oregon, but its influence already stretches across the country. Not yet four months old, affiliate chapters have already begun evangelizing in Detroit, MI and Glens Falls, NY; other chapters in 15 locations are just getting started in California, Ohio, Connecticut, Missouri, Colorado, and even the United Kingdom and Canada, among others.
It’s true that SPSE has a head start on the Year of Faith, which doesn’t start until October 11th, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Imagine how SPSE will do when the Year of Faith gets started.