Catholic evangelization goes to the sporting masses
It was a night game, and thousands upon thousands of fans of the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys walked down Girod Street to congregate at Champions Square before the Superdome doors opened. Along the way, many passed a lone table filled with blessed rosaries, medals and pamphlets about the Catholic faith. Phillip Bellini and Trevor Huster, two Catholic directors of religious education for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, stood by, ever ready to answer questions anybody might have.
Bellini and Huster are members of the recently formed New Orleans chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization, a nonprofit Catholic evangelization organization founded in Detroit in May 2012 to take the faith to the streets. This grassroots movement is now in 35 states, Washington, D.C., Australia, Canada and the Philippines.
“The apostles went out two by two,” Bellini said. “We’re a duo, and other people are invited to join us.”
“I felt the same about taking our faith to the streets, like the Holy Father wants us to do,” Huster said. “Instead of meeting about it, I said, ‘Let’s just do it.’ I was getting tired of talking about it.”
They have been reaching varied audiences all over town since September. So far, Bellini and Huster have set up shop in City Park, St. Louis Cathedral, the Cochon de Lait fair at St. Edward the Confessor (where Huster is director of religious education) and the Nov. 10 Saints game at the urging of Msgr. Christopher Nalty, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish Uptown where Bellini is director of religious education.
At each venue, Bellini and Huster have received mostly positive responses, with Catholics, lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics alike asking more moral than dogmatic questions.
“It’s that living of the Catholic life that people are struggling with,” Huster said. “Most of the time, people come up and ask for rosaries and ask questions like: how to pray the rosary or how to pray in general; if they can wear the rosary; can they get ashes on Ash Wednesday if they are not Catholic. What does the church teach on contraception?”
Bellini said several Catholics who had left the church learned that they misunderstood some of the teachings just by asking him a question or two. Others just aren’t getting the Catholic message at all.
“We want to get rid of the misconceptions of the Catholic Church,” Bellini said. “Most people hate us due to the misconceptions. Some people have asked us to pray for them.”
No matter what people vocalize, Bellini and Huster are open to discussion, but the goal of St. Paul Evangelization is “not to win arguments but to share the love of Jesus Christ with the hurting culture that is seeking truth,” the website said.
Affirmation at cathedral
The most positive response they’ve received thus far was in front of St. Louis Cathedral, where they were situated between a crystal ball reader and a palm reader.
“We have the truth and have to offer an alternative,” Bellini said. “As people walked by, they saw the connection. One lady stopped by and said it was about time we (Catholics) started doing this. Others stopped and said, ‘I didn’t know Catholics evangelized like this. ... A couple of people scoffed at us, but we just pray for them.”
Huster cited Pope Paul VI as saying the primary mission of the church is to evangelize. He thinks it is a great way to bring people into a relationship with God.
“Even more than food, people need God in their lives,” Huster said. “The most important thing I can give to someone is my own witness of what God has done for me in my life and to bring Christ to them.”
“The present Holy Father wants us to take the Gospel to the streets because the culture is starving for God. We want to have a Catholic presence in the street,” Bellini said. “Here, we were going out to people. We know the faith and the truth and are proud to be Catholic.”
Non-catechists who want to join shouldn’t fear not knowing everything about the faith because St. Paul’s Street Evangelization has online training and certification, and Bellini will start an apologetics course to train others in faith.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of people to do it, so we can be in a lot of places reaching out,” Bellini said.
Look out for the ministry soon on Mandeville’s lakefront.