On foot and online, lay Catholics share the good news
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by James Baca/DCR
With a Bible in hand and crucifix around her neck, Kathy Jablonski made her way around the rundown brick apartment building in south Denver May 20 with Frances Leonard.
Another rap on a door and Jablonski greeted the woman who answered.
“Peace of Christ be with you and in your home,” she told the woman. “We’re here from St. Louis Catholic Church. We’re just here to announce to you the good news.”
The two women take their faith door-to-door in the neighborhoods of Englewood during the liturgical season of Easter along with fellow members of the Neocatechumenal Way, or “the Way,” a Vatican approved, parish-based catechumenate that started in 1964.
Most will say they’re not interested and shut the door. This woman, who called herself Susan, invited Jablonski and Leonard inside.
“Jesus Christ is loving you just as you are. He hasn’t forgotten about you,” 40-year-old Jablonski continued.
“I need that right now. You have no idea,” Susan responded, wiping away the mascara running down her cheek. She said she was raised Catholic and attended St. Therese School in Aurora.
On the coffee table inside were Keystone Ice beer cans, Prince sang from the CD player and two bags stuffed with belongings sat by the door. Susan apologized because she was drinking—her husband was in jail, she lost her job, hasn’t seen her son in years and was packing to go live in a shelter.
“I’m all alone right now,” she told the women. “I wasn’t even supposed to be born—sometimes I feel like that.”
The two Catholic evangelists shared their conversion stories, read the Gospel to her and prayed the Our Father and Hail Mary hand-in-hand. They invited her to reconcile with the Church before giving her a hug.
“You’re suffering but Jesus Christ is right with you in your suffering and that’s what you have to understand,” Leonard said.
Catholic groups and individuals in the Denver Archdiocese are responding to Jesus’ call to help the needy and “go out and make disciples of all nations.” Some knock on doors. Others go on the Internet to take part in the fight against evil in an increasingly secularized world. All of them want to bring the peace, healing love and new life in Christ they’ve experienced to others.
These Catholic evangelists say it’s their mission.
Bethany Mangum, 38, of St. Mary Parish in Greeley, refers to Romans 10:14 when talking about why she works to evangelize atheists and Protestants online. Others cannot have Christ’s life in them if they have not heard his word, she said.
“I hope to plant the seed. I know if we witness, I know God will save,” Mangum said.
After her conversion from Presbyterianism, Mangum said she found peace and joy in the Church. Watching the Christian movie “Fireproof” further inspired her to evangelize. For six months, Mangum, who’s disabled, has dedicated four to five hours a day, seven days a week to engaging and responding to anti-God and hate-mongering blog posts and emails, she said.
“I feel this desperation in me to try to reach them,” she said.
Her method is simple—use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Bible and the apologetic website Catholic Answers to answer their cynicism.
“I always bring them back to God and forgiveness and the truth of the Catholic Church,” Mangum said.
She’s driven every day to see a glimmer of hope from her online conversations when people tell her they’ve prayed and returned to God, she said.
In all of its forms, Catholic evangelization is radically different from Protestant evangelization, said James Cavanagh, director of evangelization and catechesis for the archdiocese.
“The whole point of everything is to bring them into communion with Christ through the Eucharist and his body through the Church,” he said.
The Denver Archdiocese is working to respond to Pope Benedict XVI’s call for the new evangelization—the theme for this October’s Synod of Bishops—and the need to “re-propose” the Gospel to parts of world where people once fervent are now apathetic about the faith.
Studies by the Georgetown University-affiliated Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate point to the need for the new evangelization in the United States, where just 23 percent of Catholics report attending Mass once a week while 77 percent self-identify as proud to be Catholic.
The Community of the Beatitudes with St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Denver responded to the pope’s call to reinvigorate the faith in 2004, when they implemented the Systematic and Integral New Evangelization (SINE) program, founded by a priest in 1981 in Mexico.
With Deacon-Brother Anthony Ariniello, parishioner Silvia Gutierrez has helped coordinate 27 SINE communities, especially among Spanish-speakers.
It begins with door-to-door visits in the surrounding neighborhood followed by invitations to an open house where newcomers can participate in a retreat. Each retreat gives birth to small communities that meet weekly to be renewed in faith and formed by Church teaching, Brother Ariniello said.
Their evangelization efforts must be combined with joy, community and hospitality.
“They think that they don’t need to go to church, that personal beliefs suffice,” Gutierrez told the Denver Catholic Register about those they invite. “But in fact, they are lonely. When we speak of God’s love, they often come to tears.”
Members of the Way share the loneliness and suffering they’ve experienced—and the new life they’ve found in Christ—to those who answer their doors.
“Many years ago after my husband left, I had four children and my life was destroyed,” Leonard, 68, told a man at the door. “I wanted to die and I was drinking to try to fill that big pain in my heart. Then someone took the time to announce (Christ’s) love to me.”
In sharing their own life struggles, the members hope to tell them that they’re not alone: that out of love Christ died for them, rose from death and through baptism gives his spirit that death may no longer have power over them—both physical death and all the little existential “deaths” one experiences daily.
“Everybody responds whether immediately or later on, but they hear the word that they are loved and that’s critical,” Leonard explained. “It changes hearts. It changed mine.”