More than 60 people gathered for a day-long workshop which focused on starting a Catholic street evangelization program in Parishes across the Diocese of Venice.
The workshop, Basic Evangelization Training, was courtesy of St. Paul Street Evangelization, and took place Sept. 30, 2023, at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota. Featured were a presentation and practical advice, providing a strong foundation for the faithful to go out and invite others to an encounter with the Lord. Toward the end of the day the group went out for a “live lab” practice on Main Street in Sarasota.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane opened the workshop by celebrating Mass. The Bishop encouraged everyone to take what they are learning out to their Parishes and onto the street as a way to encourage others to share the Light of Christ.
“This a different approach to evangelization that deserves a look, because it is where the other Christian faiths have gone and been successful,” Bishop Dewane said. “We need to have people like you out there, showing God’s Mercy to others, showing that you care and will pray for them. This is powerful. This can make a difference.”
Adam Janke, from St. Paul Street Evangelization, led the workshop and helped the participants learn about how to share your faith in everyday life, with family, friends, fallen away Catholics, people you meet in the grocery store or anywhere.
The premise of St. Paul Street Evangelization is a relational ministry, where small groups, or pairs, of people go out and offer rosaries or Miraculous Medals to strangers. That simple offering then opens the door for a personal interaction. This can evolve into finding out that the person is a fallen away Catholic, of another faith, or might have questions about Catholicism.
“You let the Holy Spirit guide you – a two-minute conversation can change a life forever,” Janke said. “You do not need to be an expert on the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church; evangelization is different in different places. It can be on a street corner, in a restaurant, or during an interaction with family or friends. Offer to pray for them and see their reaction. Many will see this as a grace and a blessing. This is as much about listening and befriending and getting to know one another as it is about teaching people about the Catholic Church.”
Allaying the fears of those considering street evangelization, Janke stressed that it is easier than it first appears, and that when you start a conversation with a stranger by offering a rosary or to pray for them, the conversation will naturally flow from there to something positive.
One woman from Sarasota participated so that she could have a better way to share her faith with others, specifically family members who have strayed from the faith.
“It is so wonderful to have something like this,” she said. “Often it is hard to start that conversation because you fear confrontation, but today I learned that is not what will happen if I go the route of opening my own heart and faith to others through a simple gesture or kind word of mercy.”
In the live lab on Main Steet in downtown Sarasota, the participants split into small groups and met many different people from all socioeconomic levels, with as many affluent shoppers are homeless people among those encountered.
Diocesan Evangelization Director Jim Gontis said the street encounters were overwhelmingly positive with the homeless people being particularly grateful for the positive interaction.
“So many wanted us to pray for them and were appreciative of receiving the rosary or a Miraculous Medal. There were a few who ignored our efforts but that was rare. Even the most affluent of those we encountered asked us to pray for them or some family member who is ill,” Gontis said.
The day concluded by gathering by the Sarasota bayfront to recap the experience and to encourage the participants to continue in this effort by forming teams at their local Parishes.
Gontis said he and Janke would be reaching out to all who participated in the workshop to encourage further evangelization whether it be on the street or at the Parish or in the home.
“This was a wonderful first step in getting this program started in the Diocese,” Gontis said. “The initial number of participants, from many different Parishes from as far south as Naples all the way to Parrish, helps us know there is a demand for this type of outreach into the community.”
If you are interested in learning more about the St. Paul Street Evangelization program with the Diocese, please contact Jim Gontis at email@example.com.