Published April 6, 2006
Pedal forth Mormons, keep watch Jehovah’s Witnesses, and prepare the way Protestants.
Wearing T-shirts reading “be not afraid” and wooden cross necklaces, and armed with canvas bags holding parish bulletins, rosaries and Catholic literature, Catholics are again setting forth during this year’s Holy Week, along with Catholics across the United States and Mexico and in Canada, to witness to their faith through their love of Christ as they go door to door for three days into neighborhoods and invite residents to church.
Participants believe that it’s not so much about what one says but simply about following Christ by lovingly extending an invitation to those of every race, religion and age.
One story exemplifying that invitation occurred last year when missionaries visited a woman who hadn’t attended Mass in years and didn’t come to her door, so they just left a parish bulletin and departed. Later a priest heard her confession at his parish, where he learned that that woman had been afraid to open the door but was prompted to go to church after reflection on that unspoken invitation.
“That was the occasion of grace for her to return to the church,” said participant Dr. Edward Mulholland. And “it’s a ripple effect.”
Cathedral of Christ the King participant Teddy Wiegand agreed that it’s more about the invitation. “I don’t think my words are really going to change them, except for the invitation.”
And the way Wiegand sees it, if the Afghan man who was to face a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity can courageously witness his faith to the world, he can at least do likewise in Buckhead.
“An Arab man converting and potentially becoming martyred and losing his life for his faith—that’s inspiration. If this Afghan man gets the (Gospel) message and if he put himself on the line and wasn’t changing his story, that was a very strong witness that you can put yourself out of your comfort zone,” said Wiegand.
This year 16 parishes from across the archdiocese will participate in this outreach April 12-16, and planners hope to have as many participants as last year, which included 75 families and 160 youth and young adults.
Outreach such as this is a response to Pope John Paul II’s call to go forth into the deep as fishers of men for a new evangelization. Youth and young adults can go with their families, and they also have the option to join one of the separate boys and girls groups for those ages 14-15 and ages 16-25, who will meet at designated parishes at which they will sleep, eat and go out for the mission. The event is sponsored by Youth for the Third Millennium and Missionary Families for the Third Millennium, both apostolates of Regnum Christi, the lay movement of the Legionaries of Christ religious order. Organizers invite all Catholics to participate in this mission to reach out to others with Christ’s love and hospitality, in service of the local church. This year YTM and MFTM are also sponsoring MegaMissions in other U.S. cities such as Chicago, Houston and Sacramento. This is the first year Canadians will participate. The organization has been leading this mission in the archdiocese since 1999.
The program will begin on Wednesday, April 12, at 2 p.m. with an opening Mass at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, and will conclude with a Mass on Easter Sunday at noon in the gymnasium of Pinecrest Academy, Cumming.
Individuals and families will gather each morning at 8:30 a.m. for a training session and prayer time at Pinecrest Academy while their children attend a morning camp. Then parish teams of small groups will eat lunch and set out to visit designated neighborhoods in the boundaries of participating parishes and will visit homes and give items designated by the parish. Pastors will determine who will be visited, whether inactive Catholics, Hispanic neighborhoods, or every home in a neighborhood.
The missionaries typically return to the parish for reflection and Holy Week activities. Participants customarily ask the residents if they have any prayer intentions and tell of Holy Week activities at the church in their area. If the residents are Catholic, they are asked whether they have any needs that the parish can help them to meet.
Mulholland, a Latin and language arts teacher at Pinecrest, is a trainer this year. “It’s not necessarily apologetics. It’s an outreach. It’s the church saying we need you, come back.”
The Mulholland family had lived in New York and come down the last two years to participate, staying in a host family’s home, but in the past year they relocated to Georgia. While it’s a sacrifice to get out the baby bag and stroller, they feel it’s a meaningful way to recall Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and to teach their children the meaning of Easter. Even for those uninterested, “all they see is families taking their faith seriously, and there’s no harm in prayer together.”
He recalled past visits to Hispanic families where in conversation they learned that about 10 babies had not been baptized, and the area church ended up baptizing all the babies together. His wife Valerie noted that the fruits are often not seen immediately, but “we can only plant seeds.” She said that as a cradle Catholic she didn’t used to have a personal relationship with Christ. But her husband introduced her to the Legionaries of Christ, whose passion and love for their faith inspired her to go deeper in her own spirituality and to fully follow Christ and even the church’s unpopular teachings. She recalled a talk by a priest on evangelization, who said that many non-Catholics and non-Christians are climbing the same mountain to God, but by reaching out to them they can offer them tools that can help them along the hike. In that way, she feels that committed Protestants can also be blessed by a simple invitation to attend Mass. “It’s this Christ-centered way to live with marriage, raising kids, and to understand that it’s our goal to lead (my children) to Him and as many as we can along the way.”
Their 9-year-old, Eamon, is glad to come as well and recalled how they once visited a man who grumbled that he missed that Latin Mass, until another boy gave him a rosary and he “became happy and was smiling.”
“I like to participate in the missions because you get to go to new places and meet new people and see how you can influence their lives by telling them about your faith,” Eamon said. While mostly the adults talk “sometimes we say things and we are the ones handing out rosaries.”
Youth for the Third Millennium was founded in the United States in December 1994 after a group of men gathered to discuss ways to build a youth organization that would help bishops and priests provide opportunities for young people to share their faith with others. The first year they held 12 missions, and by 1996-97 the number of YTM missions had more than doubled to 30. Participation continued to increase. Its sister organization in Mexico, Juventud Misionera, also holds annual Holy Week missions.
Wiegand, a confident Catholic, admits that with his sales experience for him it’s easier to make home visitations than to sit in a church and pray all afternoon. He also noted that the strongest influence in his faith has been the steadfast, constant witness of committed Catholics like his grandfather. He believes some people need that invitation to take that step forward. And he believes that for anyone it’s a good exercise to get “outside the box” and become more comfortable in talking about faith, whether they visit a total stranger or country club acquaintances. Wiegand has seen some touched who had lost faith or who appeared to have lost enthusiasm for their faith.
“I just take it literally what the Gospel says, to go out and spread the word. There are enough instances I’ve experienced doing this where it really makes a difference,” he said. “They might think this is God calling me back. Or we have people who are just curious about the faith. … It’s a great opportunity for me to say I’m a regular guy and I’m enthusiastic about my faith.”
Even as his wife prepares to give birth to their second child, he hopes to hit the streets again next week in response to Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations.
“For me there is no better Holy Week activity,” he said, “plus we’re blessed with great weather in Atlanta.”
Kelly Henkel is a coordinator this year and has participated in several past missions. She has found there are always surprising stories. One woman met her fiancée along the mission trail, and one resident said she was very depressed and that day had prayed to God for help when missionaries arrived. Henkel recalled one man who thanked them for visiting and quickly shut the door, but then when they were walking away “he reopened the door and said ‘you know this is a really good thing you’re doing. I’ll be there,’” she recalled. “It’s always like that. Hundreds of people out there for that one soul to help. It’s always an adventure.”
Online registration at www.ytm.org closes midnight April 8, but any person who is interested in participating can register after that date at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, following the opening Mass on April 12. Cost is $75 per person, and $175-$200 for families with children.