Story by S.L. Hansen
PLATTSMOUTH (SNR) - Friendly Catholics armed with rosaries and pamphlets are now a regular presence at the farmers market in Plattsmouth every Saturday.
They are the Saint Paul Street Evangelization team from Plattsmouth’s Church of the Holy Spirit. Father Loras Grell, pastor, decided to launch a chapter of the national apostolate out of his parish last fall. After talking to his friend Wayne Ringer of St. Mary Parish in Denton, who spearheaded Saint Paul Street Evangelization efforts in Lincoln, Father Grell approached parishioners in Plattsmouth with the idea.
“We did it a couple times last fall,” Father Grell reported, “and we started about the second week of June with the farmers market.”
He recruited members of the Legion of Mary as the first members of the team.
“It seems to fit very well in their charism,” he said.
Sherry LeBlanc, president of the parish’s Legion, agreed.
“That’s part of legionary work, to evangelize,” she said. “One of the girls in our group said we need to take Jesus to the streets,” referencing a sentiment often spoken by Pope Francis.
Four of the legionaries are regulars at the farmers market, and two others pitch in when the team sets up at other special events in Plattsmouth.
While the price of an actual booth at the farmers market was too high for the parish budget, Father Grell worked with the Plattsmouth Main Street Association (which organizes the market) to choose a place just across the street for the evangelists to stand.
“I spoke personally to executive director Charles Jones, who helped me decide our location,” Father Grell said. “Other board members are supportive, as is the head of the farmer’s market.”
“We’re on a busy corner where there is a lot of traffic, and people drive slow right there, and they see that sign that is very Catholic,” Mrs. LeBlanc said. “Even if the people don’t come up to us, they at least know we’re there.”
As far as street evangelization goes, Saint Paul Street Evangelization is one of the easiest apostolates to start with. The national Saint Paul Street Evangelization organization provides everything a team needs, except the people. The ‘starter packet’ includes a small A-frame sign, rosaries, crucifix medals and numerous pamphlets that cover a range of topics that might interest passers-by.
“Those pamphlets really take care of any questions if we don’t know the answer,” said Mrs. LeBlanc.
Mrs. LeBlanc said that while the concept of street evangelization can sound intimidating, the reality she has experienced is that it’s really nothing controversial – or even confrontational.
The ladies set up the sign and pray together, keeping an eye out for anybody who is approaching them with a question or comment.
“We haven’t run into any bad situations,” she assured. “There was only one man who really wanted to argue, but he was nice, too…. Most everybody we run into are happy we are there, especially with the way things are in the world.”
Father Grell said that this outreach is an important statement in Plattsmouth.
“I want people to know there is an opportunity to know the Lord better,” he said. “If we don’t have this kind of outreach, it’s almost like we’re hiding our candle under a bushel basket…We’re saying, ‘we’re here, we’re kind, we’re friendly, we want to welcome you.’”
Generally speaking, the opportunity to speak with somebody who comes up to the team is a rewarding experience for both parties. Father Grell recalled a little girl destined for the parish school’s incoming kindergarten class who chose a rosary in her favorite color. The following Sunday, he saw the whole family at Mass.
“Whenever you see a family come to Mass intact, it’s almost a miracle,” he exclaimed.
Recently, Father Grell was with the team when a local gentleman approached them.
“He told us his mother prayed the Rosary every day, but he apparently doesn’t practice the faith,” Father Grell recalled. “We gave him a medal, and he attached it to his motorcycle somehow.”
It’s gratifying to think that all the rosaries this man’s mother prayed may have led to his open attitude about the Saint Paul Street Evangelization team.
“It shows that great faith can be passed on,” Father Grell said.
Mrs. LeBlanc’s favorite memory from the fledgling ministry is a visit from the pastor of a Protestant church in town.
“He was a Catholic but he kind of got in trouble when he was a youngster. He fell away from the Catholic Church but he never fell away from God,” she recalled.
The man shared stories from his faith journey with the group. The pleasant conversation proved that this minister still shared many of the same beliefs as Catholics.
When the conversation segued into the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of same-sex “marriage,” the Saint Paul Street Evangelists gave him a pamphlet on homosexuality.
“I thought it would be helpful for him to look things up in the Bible about it,” Mrs. LeBlanc said. “We’re hoping he comes around again.”
Regardless of whether or not a visitor is Catholic and whether or not a visitor practices their faith, they are sure to be greeted with a welcome smile from the street evangelists, and to walk away with something to encourage them in their relationship with Christ.
Mrs. LeBlanc hopes that more Catholics will join Saint Paul Street Evangelization teams.
“We need to start doing something instead of just going to Church on Sunday,” she stressed. “This is something very simple and easy to do.”
For more information on Saint Paul Street Evangelization, visit www.StreetEvangelization.com.