Deacon candidates learn the power of evangelization

Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez blesses a man on the streets of Austin during a street evangelization course in December. (Photo courtesy Adam Janke)

By Peggy Moraczewski 
Correspondent

Men preparing to be deacons recently got a crash course in street evangelization. In December at the request of Deacons Guadalupe Rodriguez and Dan Lupo, associate directors of formation in the diocesan Diaconal Ministry Office, Adam Janke and Mary Ann Weisinger from Saint Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) taught the evangelization course. 
Although somewhat hesitant about the idea of street evangelization, the deacon Candidates (class of 2016) and Aspirants (class of 2019) from all walks of life and their spouses, participated in the eight-hour training session. Father Juan Carlos Lopez, Vicar for Priests, welcomed them and eased them into the day by celebrating Mass and praying with them. Following Mass, English and Spanish training sessions were available, taught by Janke and Weisinger, who prepared participants with skills for evangelizing on the streets of downtown Austin.
Sharing personal stories and experiences, Janke emphasized the importance of respecting where an individual might be in their personal journey of faith and pointed out that some may not be open to hearing your message. Candidates and aspirants were also reminded of their competition: secularism, materialism and individualism; all separating people from God. Despite the challenges, they came with open hearts and a desire to serve as followers of Jesus.
Weisinger and Janke shared their best practices of this non-confrontational method of evangelization. The training included role play, answering questions and dispelling fears. Pamphlets, holy cards, rosaries, medals and even a “million dollar bill” with a picture of Pope Francis on it were available to the students. Advice from Janke included a reminder that, as they evangelize, they are not present to win arguments, but rather to answer questions and extend an invitation to the Catholic faith.
He suggested offering a rosary or medal to the people encountered; attempting to find common ground (name, children, hobbies, travel, sports, job, etc.); being sincerely interested and listening to their responses. Additionally, he encouraged them to listen for a prayer request in the conversation and offer to pray for them and invite them to church. But, primarily, he told them to ask the Holy Spirit for help and allow themselves to be led by Christ.
Maybe it was the Holy Spirit whispering to Mark Olivieri (class of 2016), as he apprehensively dressed for class that morning. Something told him to wear his “I Love Being Catholic” T-shirt under his dress shirt and, thinking he could use the moral support, he quickly pulled it on. Later that day, this T-shirt became a conversation starter on the streets of downtown Austin.
Many of the candidates and aspirants mentioned that once they opened their hearts to the Holy Spirit, everything changed –– for the better. They found themselves sharing the message of the Gospel and, unexpectedly, learning new things about themselves.
Dan Lanicek (class of 2019) confessed that he felt stretched and challenged, but enjoyed evangelization. 
“I was the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes that day,” he said. 
Participants all had different experiences, some with more immediate satisfaction than others.
The Holy Spirit had something different in mind for Jesus Spindola (class of 2019) who admitted to limited success on that rainy Saturday afternoon. However, the following day, he found himself evangelizing to a distraught man at the gas station; a kind word turned into breakfast and a deep conversation of faith. The man was sad about a personal situation that happened when he had turned away from God; he wanted to repent and ask forgiveness. Spindola incorporated the lessons learned during training into his daily life, just like Mark White (class of 2019), who had someone specific in mind, when he picked up a Pope Francis “million dollar bill.” Every day as he leaves work, he says to his coworkers, “let me know if you need anything.” And, every day, one particular coworker responds, “a million dollars and a pay raise.” That Monday, she got her million dollars!
“She looked at it and a big smile broke out on her face. Not a smile of laughter, but of something else. She read the back and just looked at it. I told her to pray and maybe she will get ‘that raise,’ one far greater than the one she is looking for. Without a word she gently placed the bill, standing it upright, in a shadow box on the wall in her office. Evangelization in its true form, demonstrated by the Holy Spirit,” White said. 
This training offered by the Office of Diaconal Formation is one step toward implementing the diocesan Pastoral Plan “Encounter that leads to Transformation.” There are currently 57 men in diaconal formation; ordination for the class of 2016 is scheduled for Nov. 19. 
For more information, contact Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez at guadalupe-rodriguez@austindiocese.org or Deacon Dan Lupo at 
dan-lupo@austindiocese.org.