One day about 6 years ago, when I worked as a Director of Religious Education for a rural Catholic parish, I was in my office browsing Facebook. I saw an image of a Catholic evangelist on a boardwalk out in public evangelizing a man wearing a Darth Vader helmet and riding a unicycle. Of course, I had to click through the link to read the story about St. Paul Street Evangelization. I contacted the ministry and started a team at my parish. I admit that I didn’t actually expect that direct evangelization would be fruitful, at least I didn’t expect that a 2-minute conversation with someone that I never met could lead to a genuine conversion to Jesus Christ and his Church. I thought most of our work would just be arguing about doctrine and planting seeds. After all, wasn’t everyone walking down the street wondering whether Catholics worship Mary?
Therefore, I didn’t know how to react when, the second time I went out to evangelize in our community, we met a man, Tom, who had just read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and wanted to know more about Jesus. He didn’t know any Catholics and was too afraid to walk into a random Catholic Church. I was floored that after we explained the Gospel, his heart was “burning within him” and he wanted to know what to do next.
How were we going to help him at that moment to satisfy his need for Jesus in his life? I knew my priest wouldn’t be pleased if my team baptized him right then and there. Telling him that he should just “go to a program” wasn’t a satisfactory answer. A program a few weeks distant would not address his need for a relationship with the Savior who loves him right now.
In Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2011 address to the bishops of the Philippines, he states that “your great task in evangelization is therefore to propose a personal relationship with Christ as key to complete fulfillment.” That moment on the street may not have been the right moment to baptize Tom, but it was the perfect time to introduce him to Jesus. We prayed together to thank God for Tom’s life, repent of our sins, and ask Christ to come into Tom’s heart, to give him all of the graces God had for him. We led him to Jesus.