Betsy Kuzio and Eugene LaRoche, members of the evangelization team from Immaculate Conception Parish in Somerville, N.J., knock on the door of a residence in 2010. (CNS photo/Mary Ellen Zangara, The Catholic Spirit)
Growing up in the 1970s, many in
the Church urged me to care for the poor, work for justice, and love God. But I
don’t recall being told to “go and make disciples.” For whatever reasons,
efforts by Catholics to personally share the fullness of the Gospel seemed
absent, even when other faiths were hitting the streets and knocking on doors.
But thanks to the encouragement of
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of Providence, and
the work of dedicated members of the Legion of Mary, since 2010 six parishes within
the Diocese of Providence have held a “Day of Evangelization”an event that
includes prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and going door-to-door within parish
boundaries. In total, these days have resulted in the visitation of about 7,500
homes and conversations with some 3,500 people, with about 370 asking for
follow-up, such as requests for visiting the homebound, rides to Mass,
information on annulments, or how to have their children baptized.
“These door-to-door events grew in
a special way out of our Year of Evangelization,” said Bishop Tobin, referring
to an initiative in 2009 and 2010 in which he encouraged parishes to reach out
to their neighbors. “One important response was that parishes began going
door-to-door, which makes evangelization a personal event. You can have all
sorts of billboards, bumper stickers, and pamphlets to help evangelize, but as
helpful as all that can be, evangelization must be a personal encounter.”
Father Edward J. Wilson, Jr.,
pastor of Saints Rose and Clement Parish in Warwick, Rhode Island, echoed the
bishop’s words. In June, his parish held a Day of Evangelization using the
expertise and assistance of the Legion of Mary and a small army of parish
volunteers and others from across New England and as far away as Illinois. To
date, this was the largest such event in the diocese, with some 130 people
knocking on doors, dozens in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament (or at home),
and many more helping with daycare, the kitchen, or registration tables.
Father Wilson held the Day of
Evangelization because of its ability “to bring a personal invitation, to go
where our neighbors are and bring them the Good News of God’s love.” He also
noted that because of the group support, prayers, and blessings being offered,
such organized events help parishioners overcome their own fears.
“People want to evangelize and
invite their neighbors to know Christ, to receive him in the Eucharist,” said Father
Wilson. “And yet, they can be hesitant because they don’t want to be seen as
being pushy.” But with the Day of Evangelization, there is a communal aspect to
the personal invitation, said Father Wilson.
Saints Rose and Clement is my
parish. I was one of those who did the unthinkable: I visited strangers and
spoke about my Catholic faith. Like others that morning, I teamed up with a
more experienced visitor, prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, was commissioned
by my pastor, drove to a designated street, and began knocking on doors, saying
“Hi, we’re from Saints Rose and Clement Parish; Father Wilson has
asked us to say hello and see if there’s anything we might be able to help with
or anything we can pray for.”
This resulted in conversations with
at least 15 people who were intrigued that Catholics had come to their homes.
Some asked questions. Others aired concerns. Most took blessed religious medals
for their children. A few hinted at past unhappy events. Some admitted that
they stopped going to Mass after their confirmation or marriage but had been
thinking of returning. Several weren’t Catholic but were “happy the Catholics
are doing this,” as one woman, a Southern Baptist, put it. Having seen the
interest at our arrivalfrom the elderly, young families, and a group of teensI
can testify to the power of these very Christian acts: Go. Knock. Greet.
Listen. Listen some more. Offer a holy medal, an information packet, or a
prayer, right there and then. And if the opportunity comes, invite people to
“The immediate benefit is [for]
those who go door-to-door,” said Bishop Tobin, who was installed as the eighth bishop
of the Diocese of Providence in 2005. “They return invigorated and eager to
share the stories of what they’ve just experienced.” But the bishop cautioned
about the importance of remaining available to those who need additional
contact. “We can’t just knock on doors without committing to whatever follow-up
is necessary. That’s like casting seed on dry land; it’s offering the promise
but not tending and nurturing the growth.”
And indeed, following up is
stressed by the Legion of Mary. Visitation teams are asked to take notes on
where they went, with whom they spoke, and what the needs were of those they met.
Special teamseither the original visitors, the pastor, a deacon, or parish
staffcan then contact anyone who asked for more information, or who seemed
open to a return visit, or (if they gave their phone number) a telephone call.
Building such relationships takes
time. But they begin by first going and knocking. It is, after all, what incarnational
faiths should do. A great benefit of going two-by-two is that while one person
knocks, their partner prays for the grace to have a fruitful conversation.
These prayers echo with those being offered at the church before the Blessed
Sacrament, which connects the inner life of the Church with its mission in the
“I tell the participants that we
give what we have, our own conviction of our faith and love of our Lord,” says
Kathleen Kerin, a Day of Evangelization organizer with the Legion of Mary.
“That is what moves people to God. Arguments and discussions often get muddled
in pride and hurt. What is most beneficial and accepted is a humble invitation
to visit the church and talk to our Lord, who knows us and loves us and wants
us to come home. People are searching for meaning, for purpose. That’s why we
need to tell them about Christ.”
Days of Evangelization typically
begin in the early morning and include the Rosary, Mass, breakfast, a time of
preparation for those going two-by-two, Adoration, and prayer for those on the
streets. When the teams return, the day concludes with Benediction, lunch, and
sharing stories about the miracles that just took place. The events are
typically held rain or shine.
Edward Gallagher, also of the
Legion of Mary, helps coordinate Days of Evangelization with Kerin. He says
that he has never tired of seeing the transformation of ordinary Catholics as a
result of going door-to-door.
“Catholics need to know that they
can do this,” Gallagher said. “No experience is necessary. We simply allow the
Holy Spirit to use us because we cannot keep our love of Christ locked up at
home or in our parish walls. We must take back our streets and we must remember
all the while that Jesus and Mary have already prepared the way in advance. We
visit with love, gentleness, and joy.”
“It is truly the work of the Holy
Spirit,” said Kerin. “It's a bit like Pentecostthe fear of the disciples in
the face of the work to be done, then their great joy and courage after
receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. This transformation is reflected in each
Day of Evangelization.”
Gallagher adds that “those whom we
visit are just like those who visit: wounded in some way and in great need of
God’s mercy, love, and help.” For Gallagher, greeting people door-to-door is
“not an option” for Catholics. “If we don’t do this, who will?”
Father Wilson noted that such events are
“moments of transcendence” for parishes and that the work of evangelization is
an ongoing process, one requiring great patience and trust in the Holy Spirit.
“What I would tell pastors is to not be discouraged if, after holding a day of
door-to-door evangelization, there is not an immediate, noticeable increase in
Mass attendance or requests for confession,” Father Wilson said.
He notes, however, that he was touched when one person visited the church after
the Day of Evangelization to inquire about receiving the Sacrament of
Reconciliation, the first in years, as a result of being contacted that
morning. “The work of these events is in how they plant seeds,” Father
Wilson said. “What results may take time, but they are beautiful to see when
More parishes in the Diocese of
Providence are considering holding a Day of Evangelization and others,
including Saints Rose and Clement Parish, are planning to hold their second,
maybe making them regular occurrenceswhether on a large or small scale. Holy
Family Parish in Pawtucket, Rhode Island will be holding a Day of
Evangelization on Saturday, September 8.
While Bishop Tobin is delighted to
hear of the successful Days of Evangelization held to date, he recognizes that
not every parish can take on such large-scale initiatives. Still, he sees any
form of door-to-door evangelization taking on special graces, especially during
the upcoming Year of Faith.
“For so long, Catholicism in areas like New
England has been so deeply rooted in the cultureprosperous and institutionally
quite largeand this can lead to a certain complacency. Now, reading the signs
of the times, what we’re seeing begs for some kind of evangelization. Door-to-door
is not the only way to do this, but it is one of the most effective.”