Darren Pereira’s arrival in Ithaca in early 2021 to begin doctoral studies at Cornell University marked a fresh chapter in his academic endeavors.
And thanks to his evangelizing efforts, the Toronto native’s spiritual life has taken on a new dimension this year as well.
Pereira, 26, recently founded a local division of St. Paul Street Evangelization, a Michigan-based national movement involving Catholics who strive to spread their faith in the public arena. The Ithaca group has increased its visibility as of late, staffing a table at Ithaca Commons on Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and Nov. 13 where members offered rosaries, medals and pamphlets about the Catholic Church while engaging in friendly conversation.
“I think it was very positive and fruitful overall,” Pereira said, adding that many folks were interested in discussing Catholicism whether they were practicing Catholics or not.
“We did not encounter opposition or anger of any sort,” he said, noting that passers-by included people who grew up Catholic and stopped practicing their faith, as well as others “who never have established a relationship with Christ.” Pereira said he and other evangelizers prayed with a number of people, particularly those who were experiencing some kind of personal struggle.
The evangelization group is based at Immaculate Conception Church and involves members of that parish along with some of Pereira’s fellow students from Cornell, where he is studying physics. He and two Immaculate Conception parishioners, Jan Nye and Maureen Curtis, serve as the group’s street evangelists, having taken online training earlier this year through St. Paul Street Evangelization. The ministry also includes a prayer team of eight to 10 people.
Street evangelizers follow the St. Paul Street Evangelization model of “listen-befriend-proclaim-invite” in drawing people closer to Christ and the Catholic faith. Pereira emphasized that their style is non-confrontational, remarking that “you don’t really try to convince people with a loudspeaker on the side of the street.”
Pereira said he first became familiar with St. Paul Street Evangelization while attending the University of Toronto, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2017 before earning a master’s degree from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in 2020. He said he feels the time is ripe for launching an Ithaca chapter of St. Paul Street Evangelization, since public health restrictions have begun to loosen after many months of forced isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic — creating what he called “a real lack of avenues for evangelization.”
Pereira added that he prayed intensely about his new venture: “The most important factor was prayer. I really felt that need for the missionary part of my spiritual life to grow and have an outlet. I really felt the Lord was telling me that starting this was fulfilling that desire of my heart.”
He credited Immaculate Conception Parish — particularly Father Augustine Chumo, pastor — for its support of the initiative, saying that “they just welcomed it with open arms even though I was an unfamiliar face.”
Now he’s hoping to increase participation in the evangelization effort. He said there’s no need to be deeply versed in the Catholic faith — “we are all equipped and called by the nature of our baptism” — and that St. Paul Street Evangelization offers resources to support evangelizers, as well as materials they can hand to folks they encounter in public.
Pereira acknowledged that Catholics aren’t always known for public proclamations of their faith. However, he cited Matthew 28:19 — “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” — in stressing Catholics’ obligation to evangelize.
“The church has a missionary identity, a universal call to mission,” he said. “If you have the good news, the best news — which is the Gospels — would you not want to share this with others?”
Pereira observed that the evangelization ministry benefits not only those receiving the good news, but also the folks who spread that news as they become more comfortable with proclaiming their faith to strangers.
“I’ve seen them grow in confidence, in their ability to have these conversations in a public space,” he said. “It’s beautiful to already see that.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those wishing for more information about St. Paul Street Evangelization may contact Darren Pereira at email@example.com.