Joe Hall has an encouraging message for folks who are skittish about promoting their Catholic faith in public: Give it a try, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
According to Hall, evangelization efforts by Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes were highly successful at two recent large-scale celebrations in Owego: the Tioga County Fair, conducted Aug. 10-14; and the St. Patrick Parish Fall Festival, which took place Sept. 17-18.
Each event featured a table staffed by groups and individuals from St. Patrick and the three churches that constitute Blessed Trinity Parish — St. James, Waverly; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; and St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin. Hundreds of rosaries were given away as well as a variety of other Catholic items including Miraculous Medals, saint medals, crucifixes, special prayer cards, holy water, literature on how to become a Catholic and how to pray the rosary, and cards listing local Mass availability. Another popular attraction was “Flat Francis” — a cardboard, life-sized image of Pope Francis — next to which people posed for selfies. Hall, who coordinated the tables at both the county fair and parish festival, said that traffic at each venue was frequently steady, with folks of all ages coming forward and often pulling family and friends along.
The attractive-looking rosaries — many of which were made by Harvey Shatraw, a Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishioner — were popular even though not all recipients were familiar with a rosary’s purpose. However, table staffers were happy to explain how to do rosary recitation.
In addition, Hall said, the volunteers engaged with members of public — both Catholic and non-Catholic — in faith-related conversations. Many people requested and received prayer to help cope with issues they were experiencing such as injury, illness, death, divorce, drug addiction, suicide, relationships, homelessness and reconnecting with their faith.
“So many people had such emotional responses to being prayed with,” Hall observed.
Those reactions reflected an openness to Catholics spreading God’s word that Hall said he found pleasantly surprising, having not known whether the volunteers would be ignored or disparaged: “You are taking a risk. You never know.”
Hall also lauded his Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick cohorts for their courage and enthusiasm while evangelizing, citing as their inspiration Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “How beautiful it is to see that young people are ‘street preachers’ (callejeros de la fe), joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!” (No. 106) and “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (No. 127).
“I was just amazed at how willing they were to share their faith and speak about what it means to them, and to pray with people,” he said, adding that by evangelizing as a group, “It was a fun thing, not a scary thing.” He remarked that for those who are unsure of the best words to choose, a higher power will be there to assist.
“I think the Holy Spirit kind of guides you so you know what to say,” he remarked.
The evangelization tables were launched at St. Patrick’s fall festival a few years ago and have since expanded to the county fair as well as the Owego Strawberry Festival, although the strawberry fest has been postponed the past two Junes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hall expects Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick to have a presence at all three venues in 2022, and hopes to get more parishioners involved from all four churches.
“It’s a really uniting type of thing for the parishes,” Hall said. “It was wonderful that everybody kind of came together.”
Hall urged other Catholics to also be open about sharing their faith in their daily lives, noting, for example, that he’s heard people say they learned some aspect of the Catholic faith from once hearing their grandmother talk about it.
“People shouldn’t underestimate the impact they can have just in everyday conversation,” he said.