In the last several years, there has been a growing effort by dioceses, parishes and lay ministries to send out committed Catholics to walk their local neighborhoods in search of Christ’s lost sheep. Some programs have gone to the doorstep to invite lapsed Catholics back to the faith, while other ministries, such as St. Paul Street Evangelization, have cast their net out onto busy streets. The Urban Missionaries of the Heart of Christ take the latter approach and walk metropolitan areas to provide a visible presence of Christ’s love and a resource for His Church.
Who are we?
We are a fraternity of laymen under the spiritual patronage of Blessed Charles de Foucauld who bring the presence of Christ to the secular city through prayer and street evangelization. We wear a short tunic (half-way down the thigh) with the dark red Jesus Caritas (“Jesus Loves”) symbol (a cross coming out of the center of a heart) in order to identify ourselves to those who wish to speak to us. We engage in this volunteer ministry as a complement to our other vocations and responsibilities. In Oregon, we walk with the blessing of our bishop, Archbishop Sample.
What do we do?
We walk the streets of metropolitan areas to offer a humble, welcoming presence to those whom God puts in our path. We pray (sometimes even in song), do spiritual reading, enjoy fellowship, and evangelize and comfort those who approach us. The primary charism of the ministry is to entrust yourself wholly to Christ, and thus allow him to use you in the way He sees fit that day. Some days, God will put people in your path who have real spiritual needs and questions, and you will marvel at these encounters. But on other days, you will spend your time reading, praying, walking and enduring the heat or the cold. In either event, you are sharing in the life of Christ: sometimes as an evangelist, sometimes in prayer and sometimes in suffering and public rejection. Do not be discouraged if you go through a little stretch without any fruitful encounters. Your very presence, prayer and sacrifice will undoubtedly bear much unseen fruit, but you may not know about it until the next life.
Why Blessed Charles de Foucauld?
Blessed Charles de Foucauld was a late nineteenth century priest and monk who went out into the desert of North Africa to bring Christ to a region that had forgotten him. He was mindful of the limits of preaching and apologetics, and believed that radiating Christ—becoming another Christ, a little Christ—was the surest way to win hearts. For Christians, the desert has often symbolized the land parched for Christ’s life-giving water, and hence the abode of demons. If you walk the streets long enough you will conclude that our cities in the West have become the desert. They seemingly offer everything and value everything except the one thing necessary: to sit, listen and adore the Lord.
Sometimes we think that we choose our patron saints, but in fact they first choose us, and we then gladly accept their hand. Blessed Charles has given us this ministry, and urges us on in a spirit of humility and love. Moreover, his Jesus Caritas symbol is a wonderful icebreaker for those whose hearts have grown cold.
Matthew Manint’s website has some fine resources on Blessed Charles—especially the free e-book by Rene Bazin:
Who can Join? How do I Join?
Any Catholic who is fit to travel sidewalks for hours at a time, who has a love for poor sinners, and who desires to grow in holiness is welcome. It is my experience that each person brings different gifts, and these gifts are joined together (in Christ's body!) to make strong teams of twos and threes. It is necessary to have a rich sacramental life (monthly confession, frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist) so that Christ may live in you, and so that others may see Him in you.
If you feel called to this ministry then simply drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those in the Pacific Northwest, we can get together in person. For those outside of the region I would strongly refer you to St. Paul Street Evangelization as an excellent venue for evangelization. But if you really need to wander around--rain or shine, snow or heat--in a tunic, then drop me a line.
Some Common Questions
Q. Why a fraternity? A. Many devout Catholic men are hungry for friendship with other Christian men, but find few men who are interested in going deeper into the faith. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of devout women in the Church. Moreover, deep friendships often come from shared trials, and this ministry offers plenty of trials and joys—the very building blocks of friendship.
Q. Why a tunic? A. It’s a uniform of sorts and serves the same function as the dark pants and white shirts of Mormon missionaries. It signals who you are and why you are here, and it invites people to approach you.
Q. Do you usually just talk to the homeless? A. No, though we've had countless conversations with homeless men and women. The most effective place to do this ministry is in mixed business/residential neighborhoods, and so there are always people of all sorts around. In purely business districts, people are distracted and in a rush, and so it is a poor place to evangelize.
Q. How is this different from St. Paul Street Evangelization? A. We usually focus more on the run-down areas (high rates of prostitution, drug use) and working poor neighborhoods. This ministry is also a little more focused on fellowship, prayer and penance, and a little less focused on apologetics. St. Paul Street ministry should be the regular means for those who feel called to evangelization, while this ministry fills a small, local niche.