Taking it to the streets: Saint Paul Street Evangelists take the Gospel to public spaces
FORT WORTH - The church bells of St. Patrick Cathedral are close enough to be heard, but they might as well be a world away for some visitors to the Fort Worth Water Gardens.
For those individuals who would not consider entering a church but are spiritually curious, the Saint Paul Street Evangelists meet them where they are, be it the Fort Worth Water Gardens, Sundance Square, the Keller Farmers Market, and the courthouse squares of Denton or Granbury.
Randy Grasso, David Rollins, and Phil Streib are team leaders of the local Saint Paul Street Evangelists, an international Catholic organization that “teaches average Catholics how to take the Gospel to a world starved for the Good News.”
The evangelists visit high-traffic locations and offer to pray, to answer questions, to listen, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone interested.
On frequent Saturdays, Streib, a St. Bartholomew parishioner, stands between the Fort Worth Convention Center and the Water Gardens next to a small sign headlined “Catholic Truth,” with an image of the Blessed Mother holding baby Jesus.
Streib has been surprised that it’s often young adults who approach him. He said, “A 19- or 20-year-old guy, tattooed from head to toe, wants to talk about faith. He’s looking for answers. It’s shocking how many young people are curious.
“Young people are thinking, ‘This can’t be all there is.’ They are looking for substance,” he continued, adding that millennials and Gen-Zers are less likely to have been raised attending church and may have little knowledge of Christianity.
The evangelists commonly field questions from those who were raised Catholic and no longer practice the faith, sometimes due to misunderstandings of the teachings of the Church. “We allow the conversation to happen,” said Rollins, who leads the team in Denton and Keller.
With a listening ear, they dispel inaccuracies, offer brochures with links to more resources, and suggest the questioner return to Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or confession. “We hope they hear or see something that tilts them toward thinking differently about the Church,” Rollins said.
Often, passersby have hearts burdened with worry and will request prayer. “They can be affected deeply, and it’s memorable to know a person has been touched when you pray together for someone or something they are concerned about,” said Rollins, adding that he’s seen tears from men and women.
If no one approaches them, the team will offer prayer or free rosaries and Miraculous Medals along with guides to prayer as an icebreaker.
Rollins, a St. Benedict parishioner, remembers being nervous when he began.
He recalled, “It can be scary if you haven’t done it before. You are afraid of being rude. You don’t know what to say. Those are the same fears I had at the beginning.
“Once I got over the initial butterflies in my stomach, it was a wonderful experience. I thought people might be angry, abusive, or insulting. But if they aren’t interested, they just say ‘no thanks’ and walk on by. There’s no altercations or arguments,” he continued.
Streib agreed, adding that his experiences praying outside abortion clinics were more hostile and intimidating.
Grasso, a St. Frances Cabrini parishioner, emphasized, “We are never rude. We are not here to win a debate.”
Another obstacle for prospective evangelists is a fear of not knowing enough. “I’m not a theologian or even an apologist,” said Rollins, but Saint Paul Street Evangelization offers online training and resources including books, pamphlets, and audio talks.
Team members say they have learned much about the Catholic faith as they evangelize, and the same questions recur.
Grasso said, “Saint Paul Street Evangelization gives you a good foundation to talk with anyone about anything. Their materials are wonderful.” He compared their training to learning a set of chords, and the subsequent conversations on the street are jazz songs that riff off the chords.
Grasso introduced the Saint Paul Street Evangelization ministry to the Diocese of Fort Worth when he moved to Granbury from Dallas, where he was part of a team stationed near Klyde Warren Park and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Now, he evangelizes at the Granbury town square on many Saturdays and often spends his lunch break in Sundance Square in Fort Worth. He hopes to grow the size and number of teams in the diocese.
His immediate answer: “It’s the most fun you can have as a Christian.”
A more thoughtful response quickly followed. “To give people a greater awareness of the most important thing in life — to save your soul. The Catholic Church exists for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
Whether he’s talking with an atheist or a practicing Catholic, he “finds out where they are, and encourages them to take the next step,” often recommending a book or a podcast. “Our conversation is like a stone in their shoe, something they are aware of and think about.”
As his devotion to Mary has grown, so has his desire to evangelize.
He explained that no one loves Jesus more than Mary does, and he prayerfully requests that Mary will open doors and bring in her children.
The evangelists don’t expect to see instant conversions.
Rollins said he hopes people he speaks with “walk away with a more favorable impression of what the Catholic Church is or what it has to offer. There’s no way to know. One sows. Another reaps. I see myself as a sower.”