Shoe-leather evangelization thrives in St. Bernard
Shoe-leather evangelization is not supposed to be a strong suit of Catholics, but the special circumstances of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish in Chalmette – nearly 11 years after Hurricane Katrina – prompted Father Lance Campo to launch an innovative, door-to-door campaign with the help of several Legion of Mary groups from around the country.
When Our Lady of Prompt Succor assumed the territory of four shuttered churches in devastated St. Bernard Parish after Katrina, the parish’s landscape had changed forever.
Cold, hard facts have been almost impossible to ascertain: How many parishioners does the new parish have? How many Catholics live in the expanded but less-populous territory? Do some Catholics even know Our Lady of Prompt Succor exists?
“We’ve only done about 2,000 homes, but we really don’t know how many Catholics are down here,” said Father Campo, pastor since 2013. “St. Bernard used to be about 80 percent Catholic. We figure it has to be at least 50 percent Catholic now. That’s why we’re doing this.”
Small effort ratcheted up
When the parish started the door-to-door campaign relying on its own parishioners and resources, the effort was targeted but slow, Father Campo said. That’s when he heard that the Legion of Mary, which specializes in door-to-door neighborhood visits, would be available to send in volunteers from around the country to expand the effort.
In one five-day period in April, the Legion of Mary reinforcements helped Our Lady of Prompt Succor visit 1,000 homes and make 732 face-to-face contacts. In simply meeting the people, the Catholic evangelists were able to hand out church brochures, rosaries and medals; invite people to Mass; and find out if they had any special needs, especially related to the sacraments, that the church could assist them with.
The response from the public, even in times when many might be afraid of opening their front doors, was amazing, Father Campo said.
“Actually, overall they were very welcoming,” said Father Campo, who accompanied the parishioners and Legion members who went out daily in pairs. “A few times we had people who were negative, or sometimes they were just busy. A couple of times I can recall people saying, ‘I’m just so happy to see you. I was just praying about something and I was feeling bad, and you came.’ A few people told us, ‘I’m going to come to Mass this weekend. I’ve been wanting to and this will give me the spark.’”
Father Campo said many people who were visited did, in fact, return to Mass, and the parish now has a list of people who need follow-up visits. The success of the effort was made possible, he said, by the influx of Legion members, who paid their own way to New Orleans and stayed in discounted hotel rooms, with meals provided by the parish.
“This is going to be a several-years project,” Father Campo said. “With these other people, we were able to cover six months’ worth of what we had done before on our own. It’s exciting because we’re meeting new people, and we’re trying to enliven the community.”
According to the 2012 U.S. census, there are 11,550 housing units and an estimated 24,546 people living in Arabi, Chalmette and Meraux, the geographical boundaries of the merged parish.
Our Lady of Prompt Succor now takes in the territories of the former St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Louise de Marillac in Arabi and Prince of Peace and St. Mark in Chalmette.
St. Clement of Rome parishioners Gay and George Hernandez, members and officers of the Legion of Mary Regina of Louisiana, talked to Cathy Longtin about re-establishing a praesidium (Legion chapter) at Our Lady of Prompt Succor to encourage Marian devotion.
When the small group formed, it began to discern ways to help Our Lady of Prompt Succor in its evangelization efforts, particularly the door-to-door census.
“We decided that since this would be such a large project that may span several years we would simply begin to have one Saturday a month in which we would visit homes,” Longtin said.
Outside support was vital
Getting the outside support of experienced Legion members to help with the census was invaluable, Longtin said. The Legion’s traditional term for the practice is Peregrinatio Pro Christo (PPC), which means “exile for Christ,” a way of living away from one’s homeland under Roman law.
A total of 33 parishioners and Legion members from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Indiana participated in the PPC.
Ivey Monahon, a resident of Aiken, South Carolina, was one of the most experienced, having devoted her life to making evangelization walks in Iceland, Ireland and Jamaica. When she went to Iceland for a year, she quit her job in Cleveland as a payroll clerk for a cabinet-making firm, but she got her job back when she returned.
“I was really a very shy person,” said Monahon, describing how her Legion of Mary ministry had changed her as a person. “I was in my parish’s Legion, and they asked me to be the secretary. If anybody would have asked me a question in those days, I would have fainted, I was so shy. But I can’t believe what the Lord and the Blessed Mother have done with my life.”
Monahon knew Longtin, who used to live in South Carolina, and she agreed to come to St. Bernard to help with the PPC.
“We were surprised by how many people were actually home and how many times there was more than one person at home,” Monahon said.
One evening as the sun was setting, the group still had a few houses left to visit on one street. A man was driving a golf cart with his father as a passenger, and he slowed down.
“We thought he was stopping for the stop sign,” Monahon said. “He just looked at us and he was smiling. He was wearing the miraculous medal we had given to everyone who would accept it.”
Quite often, Monahon said, the Legion couple would pray with people on their doorstep.
“We want to make the treasure of the church appealing to them,” she said. “We have the best product, after all, don’t we?”
Catholics really do this?
OLPS Legion member donna Roscher said several residents told her they were “so surprised to see Catholics coming door-to-door.”
Father Campo said the work will continue, he hopes with the help of the out-of-town Legion members who were able to teach his parishioners so much about how to conduct the campaign.
“Before they came, we were basically just doing the census and then we prayed the Our Father with the residents,” Father Campo said. “But they suggested that we have little gifts like rosaries and medals, which most people are very happy to receive, even children or people who are not Catholic. We had fliers on topics such as the Eucharist and how to return to the church. We were already keeping records, but they had these follow-up forms that are very helpful. It’s been great to meet the people.”