CASTLE ROCK. A group of lay Catholics in Castle Rock and Parker are taking to the streets — literally — to debunk the stereotype that “Catholics don’t evangelize.”
For the past few months, a group of about seven parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi and Ave Maria Parish in Parker have been visiting public places where people tend to congregate in order to offer free rosaries and strike up conversations with passers-by about the Catholic faith. Most recently, the group was present at the Castle Rock Starlighting on Nov. 18. They have also been a regular presence at O’Brien Park in Parker.
They are members of the Castle Rock — Parker chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization — a national movement that was founded in 2012 and currently has about 300 chapters nationwide. The Castle Rock-Parker chapter was started by St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Solomon Carrico several years ago.
“When I became Catholic, I wanted to share my faith with everyone,” he said. “But I’m an introvert, and never considered myself evangelical. I heard an interview with (St. Paul Street Evangelization founder and president) Steve Dawson on the radio, and it caught my ear.”
Carrico said that the approach of St. Paul Street Evangelization attracted him because it is non-aggressive and non-confrontational.
“We end up listening to people’s stories a lot,” he said. “We haven’t gotten into any arguments so far.”
Each chapter uses the same basic methodology: setting up a table in a public area with a lot of foot traffic, offering rosaries, books and pamphlets to passers-by. Carrico said that one of the group’s main goals is simply to inform people of the location and Mass schedule of the nearest Catholic parish and encourage people to attend, especially during Advent.
“In Parker, we met a young family — the wife was pregnant, and it seemed like they were trying to connect with the (local Catholic community),” Carrico said. “They told us, ‘We were wondering where the church was.’”
“We’re here to meet people where they’re at, planting seeds,” he said. “It’s not difficult; you don’t have to know the Bible, apologetics or theology. It’s a personal testimony — if this is important in your life, you want to share it. (Street evangelization) reaches those who aren’t going to knock on a church door.”
In fact, more than once someone has said that they had been thinking about going to church and that they considered their encounter with the SPSE group “a message from God,” Carrico said.
Fellow SPSE member Matt Martinez of Ave Maria Parish said his experiences with street evangelization have been similar to Carrico’s.
“I have been involved with apologetics at Ave Maria, but in the six times I’ve been out, we’ve never had a debate involving theology or apologetics,” he said.
“I’d say 90-95 percent of the people are very pleasant, and about 20 percent will take a rosary,” Martinez said. “A lot of the people who stop and talk to us are Catholics who no longer go to Church or go to a different church,” Martinez said. “The fact that they don’t avoid us but come up to us is really encouraging to me.”
“They feel drawn to us,” he said. “Some stick around and talk for 10-15 minutes. People are open to what we have to say. They do want to hear about it. ”
In addition to rosaries, members of SPSE offer pamphlets — or “tracts” — on a variety of faith-related topics and books such as “Rome Sweet Home” by Scott Hahn and “Why We’re Catholic” by Trent Horn.
“There’s so much misinformation and so many misconceptions about the Catholic faith, such as the idea that Catholics aren’t Christian or that they worship Mary,” Carrico said.
The Castle Rock-Parker chapter of SPSE is always looking for new members, Martinez said.
“We’re doing this by word of mouth,” Martinez said. “We’re all called through our baptism to evangelize. We all have trepidation at the beginning, but it’s really not that difficult.”
Although attracting new members to SPSE has been challenging, Carrico said he has received a lot of encouragement from Father Brad Noonan, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi.
“Father Brad has been very supportive and has kept me going,” Carrico said.
“I’m very proud of them for doing that,” Father Noonan said. “The St. Paul Street Evangelization program is a wonderful model. They get good training and present Christ-like love to the community. It’s great for the New Evangelization.”
For more information on St. Paul Street Evangelization, visit www.streetevangelization.com.