Indianapolis’ St. John the Evangelist Church is located in the heart of the Super Bowl Village, and the historic Catholic church intends to open its doors to everyone.
“I think it’s a gift that our city is hosting the Super Bowl and that we can be in the heart of it with our Catholic presence,” parish administrator Father Rick Nagel told EWTN News on Jan. 27.
The church is three blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the Feb. 5 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
The Super Bowl Village features four 800-foot zip lines, the longest temporary lines yet built.
Those zip lines end right outside St. John the Evangelist, where the church has posted a sign that reads: “If you think the zip line was a thrill, come on in to meet Jesus.”
The church has incorporated the hugely popular sports event into its “Open Wide the Doors” outreach program, which was set up to minister to visitors to the area.
“We’re opening our doors to evangelize, particularly in a city that’s hosting a major world event,” Father Nagel explained.
During these events, the parish offers more Masses, increases confession availability, and adds Eucharistic adoration hours.
“The New Evangelization really calls us as Catholics to sometimes reach out and bring what we believe to the street. That’s our hope: that we can share this amazing Gospel message that we know to be true and right with others,” Father Nagel said.
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have used the exhortation “Open wide the doors to Christ,” which inspired the parish program’s name.
Father Nagel said that the phrase encourages Christians to open the doors of their churches and to “open wide the doors of our hearts to receive Christ, who has the words of eternal life.”
The 175-year-old parish has trained about 70 volunteers to give tours of the 140-year-old church building.
The tour “evangelists” also incorporate catechesis into their tours and explain why Catholics believe what they do, what sacred art represents, and what the function is of different parts of the Church.
“We’re going to have a little bit of fun,” the priest added. “We’ve got a life-sized cutout of Pope Benedict, and it looks very real.”
Visitors can have their picture taken with the cutout.
The parish also hopes to set up some stands where those who have questions about the Catholic faith can ask them.
“We’d love to have them go to Mass,” Father Nagel remarked.
“If they need to be reconciled to God or want to know more about the Church and the sacredness of our Church, they can ask questions about who we are and why we do what we do.”
At least one former Super Bowl champion will also visit the parish.
St. John the Evangelist traditionally has a First Friday event for young adults where they can hear a talk about their faith and break into small groups for discussion over dinner.
The First Friday before the Super Bowl, the guest speaker will be Chris Godfrey, the former NFL Giants guard who played on the team that won Super Bowl XXI in 1987.
“He now spends his life evangelizing and bringing the Gospel to the country. He’ll be giving a reflection on the call to holiness and how to answer God’s call in our lives,” Father Nagel said. “We’re hoping to pack the house that night. It’ll be a wonderful night of adoring our savior Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Priests will hold confessions, and there will be praise and worship music.
“In the heart of this secular event will be a very sacred night,” said Father Nagel.
He said that he is looking forward to having visitors at the parish.
“I think it’s great that we’re going to be able to host a lot of folks from the East Coast. There are a lot of Catholics coming from the East Coast. We’ve already received a lot of phone calls from folks asking about Mass times.”
The church’s outreach effort began in fall 2011, when crowds of young people were at the Future Farmers of America gathering at the convention center across the street from the church.
Despite the large crowds, no passersby went into the church until Father Nagel opened its main doors.
The church has since held outreach efforts for the Big Ten Conference college football championship game and the National Catholic Youth Conference.
The priest added, “In the future, we are prepared to do this for any major event in the city.”