Bringing Christ's Church Door to Door
In street-level evangelization, Catholics are beginning to take a page from Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Homeowners are used to members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints coming to their doors, but many Catholic door-to-door missionaries are springing up across the country for the purposes of evangelization.
The efforts have no centralized headquarters. They’re simply the grassroots efforts of faithful Catholics who continue to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.
For marketing representative John Rosenthal and retiree Roger Cruze, the door-knocking effort was the outgrowth of Rosenthal’s business.
“As I went door-to-door as an appointment setter for a home-improvement company, I kept encountering broken people,” said Rosenthal. “I would pray for them as I walked to the next house. That’s how it all started.”
After hearing a talk on college evangelization by a Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ missionary at his parish, Rosenthal felt convicted to do something more to spread the Catholic faith.
Rosenthal recalled that Cruze, a fellow parishioner at Holy Family Church in St. Louis Park, Minn., knew some apologetics and had taught confirmation class, so he approached him about the idea. With the blessing of their parish priest, they began knocking on doors in the neighborhoods covered by the parish in October 2010.
Cruze admits that going door-to-door was “way outside my comfort zone.”
“On our first day out, at the first house we knocked, we spoke with an 80-something-year-old Lutheran and his wife who was a former Catholic,” said Cruze.
“After introducing ourselves, he said, Catholics, huh?! We’ve had Jehovah’s, the Mormon boys and even Assemblies of God. We ain’t never had any Catholics here before. Where ya been?” recalled Rosenthal.
“We go door-to-door to plant seeds,” added Rosenthal. “To give others who may not otherwise have been given the invitation to come to Mass and to explore the richness and beauty that we enjoy in the Catholic faith. We hope that sooner or later they will choose the fullness of Christianity — in the Catholic Church.”
To date, Rosenthal and Cruze have visited nearly 1,000 homes. They typically make their visits on afternoons, evenings and weekends. They’re able to visit approximately 20 homes — or a city block — in about an hour.
Their method is simple. Rosenthal and Cruze introduce themselves and ask the homeowner if there is anything they can pray for. They hand each person a miraculous medal, a Divine Mercy holy card, and a card with useful Catholic websites on it. If the person seems open to it, they’ll invite them to Mass at Holy Family, and depending upon the situation, offer them a CD either on considering the Catholic faith or growing in one’s Catholic faith.
Both Cruze and Rosenthal would like to see other parishes adopt a door-to-door campaign. They’ve produced a manual to help others get started. The “Catholic Door to Door Evangelizing Guide” is available as a free download through their website.
Mark Middendorf, president of Lighthouse Catholic Media, took the door-to-door concept a step further at his parish, Holy Cross in Batavia, Ill. With the leadership of the pastor, they piloted the program “Open Doors, Open Hearts,” which sought to reach the door of every parishioner.
“I expected we would have 50 volunteers,” said Middendorf. “We had 300, and we knocked on about 5,000 doors.”
As part of their door-to-door-evangelizing effort, they passed out a “welcome kit” featuring two different CDs — one for practicing Catholics; the other for fallen-away Catholics. Each CD featured a custom message from the pastor. On the back of each CD case was information about the parish, Mass times, and an invitation to a talk geared for skeptics, “When Science Tests Faith: Following the Trail of the Blood of Christ.”
“We had between 700 and 800 show up for the talk,” said Middendorf.
Through Lighthouse Catholic Media, Middendorf plans to make the program available to other interested parishes.
A similar effort took place in Colorado. Lyn Rooney helped create a pilot door-to-door effort at her parish, St. Francis of Assisi in Colorado Springs, Colo. The effort was the outgrowth of an apologetics group Rooney has been a part of for eight years.
“A Jehovah’s Witness had come to my door,” said Rooney. “We talked for about an hour, and I spoke about the Catholic faith. In the end the Jehovah’s Witness said, ‘If this is really the Church that Jesus founded, why aren’t you out doing what we’re doing?’ That was compelling.”
‘Any Baptized Catholics?’
In response, the group created the Welcome Home Evangelization Project, secured the support of the parish priest and parish council, and began going door-to-door in May 2011. The group adapted resources, guidelines and a script from the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., in coming up with a course of action. Approximately a dozen volunteers are involved in the work.
“This is a way to reach out to non-Catholics and inactive Catholics,” explained Rooney. “It’s an effort to help fulfill the bishop’s pastoral plan for evangelization.”
“We go out two-by-two on Sunday into neighborhoods within the parish boundaries,” explained Rooney. “We introduce ourselves and ask if there are any baptized Catholics in the household. If they say, ‘Yes,’ we delve a little deeper. We ask them if they would be willing to take a CD, and we share our experiences with them.”
The members carry CDs on a variety of Catholic topics, including “The Mass Explained,” “Confession” and “What to Do With Suffering?” The course of conversation determines which CD they get. They also invite people to attend Mass and pass out information pamphlets on the Church and the sacraments.
Rooney said that the work is simple, but the main challenge is convincing Catholics that they are capable of doing it and that it needs to be done.
Since the Colorado Springs group started, they’ve been to more than 400 homes. Rooney said that they’ve been able to build a rapport with those they meet.
“The personal invitation of someone touches people,” said Rooney. “They learn that people are praying for them.”
“When we go out we have no idea who we’re going to meet or who we’re going to touch,” said Cruze. “We likely won’t know all of the good we’ve done until we meet Jesus.”
“The renewal of Catholicism has begun,” said Edward Gallagher, who goes door-to-door as a member of the Legion of Mary in the Diocese of Providence, R.I. “We invite people back to the Church knowing that it could be 30 years before the seed that was sown begins to grow. It’s time for Catholics to take back their streets.”
Register senior writer Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.