By Marilyn Tennissen
“So, what’s this rosary ‘thing’ y’all do?” the woman asked as she pulled up her chair next to the priest.
“Well,” the priest said with a smile. “Let’s talk about it.”
And, right there in the middle of Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas, an encounter happened. A direct evangelization occurred when a non-Catholic was drawn to the display of colorful handmade rosaries, bottles for Holy Water, numerous pamphlets about the prayers and beliefs of the Catholic Church and a lively table of children making crafts.
This is what Encounter Catholic is all about – bringing a Catholic presence where you would least expect it, at festivals and events in the local community. These opportunities for evangelization would not be possible without funding from organizations like Catholic Extension.
Extension has been a supporter of Encounter Catholic for several years, helping the Diocese of Beaumont purchase the supplies for rosaries and other materials for booths at Mardi Gras in Port Arthur, the Village Creek Festival in Lumberton, LiveWell Women’s Conference, Baby and Family Expo in Beaumont and many others.
The Diocese estimates that clergy, diocesan and parish staff, and lay Encounter Catholic volunteers have engaged with at least 75,000 people since the program began in 2009.
It’s hard to imagine that amid carnival rides and food booths anyone would be interested in posing for a photograph next to a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis, but the very realistic replica drew hundreds of people – many non-Catholics — to the Encounter Catholic booth at Mardi Gras last month. While volunteers printed the pictures and the kids made frames to decorate, the waiting families perused the materials and talked to the priests and other volunteers.
One of the keys to the success of Encounter Catholic is the casual atmosphere. There is no proselytizing or judgment. One recent encounter involved a young man who was anxious about his upcoming move to California. The priest gave the young man a blessing and prayed for the man’s safe travels and for him to find acceptance and peace.
Encounter Catholic helps the wider community see the Catholic Church as people who are messengers of God’s love and forgiveness, not a faceless, judgmental institution.
“The challenge for all evangelization is moving outside of the church to encounter people who are not in the pews. With Encounter Catholic, we leave the four walls of the church and place ourselves out in the community where the people are,” said Father Sinclair Oubre, one of the founders.
When a young couple from a rural area dominated by Protestant churches stopped to see what was going on at the table, the wife said, “Not only am I not Catholic, I’ve never even met a Catholic!”
After introducing herself to the couple, a volunteer said, “Well, now you have. And now you are about to meet a Catholic priest!”
These simple meetings are changing lives. And these meetings are made possible with grant support from organizations like Extension.
Catholic Extension is a national fundraising organization committed to supporting and strengthening poor mission dioceses across the United States.
Since 1905, Extension has provided funding and resources to dioceses and parishes through programs and services investing in people, infrastructure and ministries. Awards are based on need, passion and commitment to the growth of the Catholic faith.
Catholic Extension has continued its commitment to Encounter Catholic. It recently awarded the Diocese another $10,000 to sustain the project.
As for the woman curious about the rosary, after about a 15-minute chat with the priest, she left with a blessed rosary and instructions on how to say the prayers.
“Maybe I’ll look into this a little more,” she said.