Street evangelizers hit the sidewalk, bring the faith to St. Louis
Sherri Devany was on her way to work at the Arch when she was stopped just outside the Old Cathedral.
"Would you like a free rosary?"
Chip Awalt extended his hand, clutching a bright, plastic-beaded devotional. Devany, a Lutheran, grinned and obliged him.
"I've never owned a rosary before," she said. "This is awesome!"
On a cold, wet Halloween morning, half a dozen men stood at the entrance to the Arch grounds, handing out free rosaries and informational handouts on the Catholic Church, including a million-dollar bill featuring Pope Francis' mug. The men, from St. Louis and the Metro East, are part of St. Paul Street Evangelization, a national ministry dedicated to the age-old practice of face-to-face evangelization.
Awalt said his faith is energized through meeting new people and hearing their stories. "A lot of times, people think with evangelization, all you're talking about is Church teaching," he said. "But most of the time, I have found that it's about listening to people and their stories of where they're at. Evangelization in its essence is going to where that person is at and connecting with them."
For those who have drifted away from the Church, Awalt is gratified by the opportunity he has in reconnecting them with their faith. "Hopefully we can take them by the hand and lead them back to ... at least a place of peace," said the member of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Collinsville, Ill.
St. Paul Street Evangelization founder Steve Dawson drove from his home in Bloomington, Ind., to visit with the men that morning and offer some tips. He typically hits the road about once a month to visit chapters and was recently in Chicago and Lexington, Ky.
Dawson founded the ministry, which has more than 200 chapters in the United States and several other countries, in 2012 after his conversion to the Catholic faith a decade before that. The organization's board of advisers includes an impressive lineup, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Mich., Jeff Cavins, Marcus Grodi, Teresa Tomeo and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers.
Dawson's biggest piece of advice: Give people one good reason to consider the Catholic Church. Or for an active Catholic, one good reason to take their faith a step further. If he meets someone who has fallen away from the Church, he tells them why they should take their faith more seriously: their salvation depends on it. For someone who has no faith background, Dawson likes to ask people who are married if they are willing to give their spouse and/or children at hour each week. Similarly we must give time to God in order to develop a loving relationship.
"You can't get to heaven if you don't love God, and you can't love God if you don't give Him time," he said.
A man passing the group declined a rosary; he already had one. How do you handle situations like that, asked Jim Hooper, who coordinates the Belleville, Ill., chapter.
'I would say, 'Great! Do you know how to pray (it)?'" Dawson responded. "There's a huge temptation to be like, 'Oh, you go to church every week? That's awesome. Have a great day.' St. Francis was always striving for more, so let's help them get a little bit further."
Armed with a handful of rosaries and a stack of Pope Francis million dollar bills, Dawson stopped Paul Peng, a tourist from Chicago who was on his way to the Arch. Peng, originally from China, has no faith background and agreed to take a rosary. He got a chuckle out of the Pope Francis million dollar bill.
Peng, who was visiting with a friend who just got a job in St. Louis, said he never owned a rosary before. The men gave him an instructional brochure and sent him off with some prayers for his family and friends.
Jim Hooper shared similar stories of praying with people outside the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville. A woman who was going to visit her husband in long-term care at nearby HSHS St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville stopped at the cathedral to pray and encountered the evangelizers outside. "We held her hands and gave her some encouraging words," said Hooper. "She straightened up and was bolstered to go into the situation."
The same day, a handful of CDs the men had blew across the street. A nurse who was leaving the hospital picked them up and brought them over to the men. They discovered she had fallen away from the Church but never really considered why.
"She ended up keeping the CDs," said Hooper. "When the day is done, it's not really you talking, but God talking through you. You find yourself saying things that are from your own knowledge, but it starts to string together in a way that, this is not just coming from me."
St. Paul Street Evangelization
The North City chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization is hosting a fall kickoff meeting from 6-7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, at Most Holy Trinity Church, 3519 N. 14th St. in the Hyde Park neighborhood of north St. Louis. For more information, call Michael Kress at (314) 241-9165 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about St. Paul Street Evangelization, including other area chapters, visit www.streetevangelization.com.
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