You may meet a missionary walking the streets of Manhattan. Don’t be surprised; the Christmas Season – like Easter – brings these infectiously joyful folks out in public to proclaim the saving power of Christ, the Good News, and the mercy of Jesus that Pope Francis preaches of daily.
For several years, Regnum Christi members have based street missions during key religious days at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Soho, corner of Prince and Mott, New York City. They will be at it again on December 18, 2017 – find out more here.
That same evening, a mission will be held at the other St. Patrick’s Cathedral – the one on Fifth Avenue. And this is no coincidence. The “old” cathedral group has played a key role in launching the “new” cathedral team for street missions.
These events are called “street missions” because they start on the street. It isn’t complicated, but it isn’t something many people take to naturally (thus, the training).
Street missionaries – two or three – take a street corner in the neighborhood, greet passersby, hand out a flyer with information on the Holy Week services and, if they appear interested, describe the services available, including the sacrament of Confession. A helper is available to help people get to the Church is they want to go to confession and just pay a visit – and other missionaries are available to welcome them. A particularly unique element of the New York missions is that they involve all elements of the Regnum Christi family, starting with the Regnum Christi and Lumen adults, and Legionary priests, who serve as the core of the missionary team. They are aided at different points in the mission by the other members of the “family”, including the teen groups, the consecrated women, and Legionary seminarians from Cheshire.
Regnum Christi member Steve Auth has led the SoHo missions with his wife Evelyn and fellow Regnum Christi/Lumen member Bob Infanger for the last 10 years. His personal connection with Douglas Dewey led to Fifth Avenue. Doug is coordinating the training and missions at that Cathedral, and took time from a hectic schedule to answer a few questions.
How did you get involved in the street missions and how many have you participated in?
I got involved in street missions over breakfast with Steve Auth. Merely hearing Steve’s description of it was enough to recruit me; I had my answer ready well before he asked me if I would like to participate. Steve had me at “we walk up to people on the street and love them into the church.”
What are you most inspiring experiences?
What inspires me most about the missions is watching the Regnum Christi missionaries at work. There are hundreds of more conventional and “dignified” ways they could choose in which to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy. But they have committed to an audacious and risky path, yet one with a high upside. If the SoHo missionaries were an asset class, they would be venture capital, accepting a high number of (seeming) failures in order to find the pearls of great worth: souls waiting to be asked to return to God. And not just Steve and Evelyn but all of the street missionaries inspire me. They are opening themselves and taking a risk to try to love strangers. I feel like I’m among the early apostles on the streets of Jerusalem, trying to share the good news and getting responses ranging from indifference to scorn, from fear to curiosity, and sometimes, deep gratitude and joy. I can say this: there’s a big, big difference between this work and writing a check or going to a black tie.
I have only been on two missions, once during Holy Week and the other time during San Gennaro. My detail is on the outside, approaching people, engaging them, and encouraging them to go into the church. I don’t know what happens to them after they leave me, specifically, whether the ones who go into the church end up going to confession or are affected by their encounter with me. And it’s best I don’t know because it would inflate me; ridiculous as it sounds, I would think it was my doing. In any event, I gain more from the missions than I give. There isn’t much in my life that I do without some angle of self-interest. Paradoxically, talking to people on the street that I will never see again and who have no apparent capacity to benefit me, benefits me.
What are the biggest challenges/frustrations?
I’m just a beginner as a missionary, but on the two occasions when I’ve been out there, the biggest challenges I found was getting started with the first few encounters, breaking the ice, and then, after some time had passed, fighting the urge to take breaks or call it a night before my work was done. I don’t think the devil likes this activity very much. The best solution to these challenges is to keep my eyes and heart glued to the people in front of me. The more I pour myself into the moment, the more fun I have and the more effective I am.
How did the Cathedral get interested?
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is very close to my office and I thought it would be a target-rich location for the street missions. Lots of foot traffic, lots of tourists and lots of fallen away Catholics. People just like everyone else who just get busy in the world, remain distracted, and let years go by without changing their pattern. A lot of people just need to be invited back, and there are a lot of people around St. Patrick’s to invite.
Getting the Cathedral involved was easy. The rector of St. Patrick’s, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, has an apostolic heart, and he was open to this right away. He tasked the director of volunteer services, Peter Fitton, to help coordinate the missions at St. Patrick’s. Since people are already streaming into St. Patrick’s on their own, and are open to visiting if asked, we will probably make some adjustments from how Steve and Evelyn have done things down at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in SoHo. It may be that more missionaries will be needed inside the Cathedral than outside. Regnum Christi did a street mission at St. Patrick’s years ago and the only hitches they encountered was a shortage of priests to hear confessions and a shortage of RC missionaries to man the streets (as this year, the missions were going on at the same time.) This coming Advent, we have enlisted additional priests from throughout the Diocese and additional lay movements from throughout New York. We think we are ready.
How do you organize a congregation that hasn’t done missions to do them?
To organize volunteers, I started by asking my friends who work in Midtown and have been surprised by how many have been willing to try this. I have also reached out to the Sisters of Life, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, The Frassati Fellowship, Corazon Puro, and the Young Adult Outreach of the Archdiocese of New York, led by Colin Nykaza. This apostolate isn’t for everyone, but I think people would be pleasantly surprised by how many are attracted by an opportunity to do something this personal and direct.
Not every parish is as massively conducive to street missions as St. Patrick’s Cathedral and other densely populated urban parishes. But I imagine any parish with even a little foot traffic could do a street mission, it would just require fewer missionaries and confessors. Also, no one should think they have to be eloquent, quick-thinking apologists with armadillo hides in order to do this. It’s about making a decision to love people and then humbly putting yourself out there. God does the heavy lifting.
Is this just for Regnum Christi members?
Steve and Evelyn Auth are members of Regnum Christi, as are a number of key missionaries like Bob and Jody Infanger. I’m not a member, however, and I don’t think this concept requires membership in any particular group except that of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. And being in a state of grace helps.
What does a training program consist of?
Steve and Evelyn have developed a 90-minute training presentation that is almost as inspiring as the missions itself. I highly recommend making the training available if you are planning on doing this at your parish. If you can’t get the Auths, maybe they will share the presentation. I have now done the training twice and am looking forward to a third session, on December 13, at 5:30 PM. If anyone reading this is interested in participating, please contact me at [email protected].
How many people in the parish/Cathedral are involved?
We will be doing the street missions at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Reconciliation Monday, which falls on December 18 this year. The Cathedral will have extra priests available to hear confessions from 4 to 8 PM that day, and we expect to be able to add some auxiliary confessors from the CFRs.
St. Patrick’s is a busy place year round and particularly during Advent and Christmas. We have not wanted to make a lot of demands on their staff and volunteers, so piggybacking on Reconciliation Monday seemed to make sense. Other than missionaries being available inside the Cathedral and others outside encouraging people to go to Confession, I’m not sure how conspicuous we will be. If you’ve been to St. Patrick’s around Christmastime, you will understand how busy it gets—thousands and thousands of visitors, daily.
Where and when will they conduct missions?
The only street missions we have planned at St. Patrick’s Cathedral right now are on Reconciliation Monday, December 18, from 4 to 8 PM. I can’t presume anything, but my personal hope is that Msgr. Ritchie would see this as a worthy activity and invite us do it again during Holy Week.
What are your expectations for future expansion?
I have no expectations, but I would love to see street missions at St. Patrick’s during Advent and Holy Week. The Salvation Army is out in front of St. Patrick’s every year. It would be great to see some Catholics out there wishing people a Merry Christmas and inviting them home for the Holidays.