Our presence has proven to be an edifying example to many passers-by. Many secular people appreciate our ministry to addicts and the homeless, and find themselves re-evaluating their beliefs about the Catholic Church. Many Catholics see us and are gratified to see other Catholics out there representing the faith. We've also had many heart-warming conversations with protestants--even when those conversations started out rocky. Apologetics conversations are rare, but we immensely enjoy them when they happen.
Pen and small note pad
Rosaries (one to pray, others to give away)
A rolling cooler with food or drink
The "I Thirst" card with prayer meditation and our contact info
A thin book for spiritual reading
Tuck a few sheets of music into the book
Maybe even bring this little guide
I also keep a few books in the car that I can later retrieve to give away.
These things will all fit in the large front pocket of the tunic, and will stay dry even in the rain and snow.
A wool tunic works best. Preferably wool coating: a thick, strong wool fabric used for suit coats. It will last for many years. It is surprisingly cool in the summer and warm enough in the winter.
In the warm months I wear a white t-shirt underneath my tunic (to keep the sweat off my tunic), long shorts and either hiking or running shoes.
In the cold or wet months I wear a thermal top or other long sleeve shirt under the tunic, rain resistant pants (like for running or hiking), and either shoes or boots. In the winter, I prefer to go without a jacket and hat, and just walk shorter routes.
Let a large rosary hang from your wrist at all times so people will know you are Catholic. Wood and cord rosaries hold up better in the elements.
What to Expect in the Warmer Months
Plan on a 2-4 hour walk. That may sound like a short time, but it is sufficient for an extensive walk with much conversation and prayer. You will find that your faculties are tired after that time—especially if you are walking alone. Bring a rolling cooler full of cold Gatorade and water. Offer a free drink to passers-by who might be interested. Feeding the thirsty is a corporal work of mercy and it serves as an ice-breaker for a conversation. We usually run out of free drinks halfway through our walks. Offer a rosary to those who might be receptive, along with a Divine Mercy card or a guide to saying the rosary. We usually talk to so many people that we are gratified to have a little quiet prayer time afterwards.
What to Expect in the Colder Months
Plan on a two hour walk. Walk in every kind of weather, as some of the most remarkable encounters happen on the most unlikely days. If the weather is bad, offer it up as a sacrifice. Bring a cooler with hot coffee or warm food (hot dogs, cheeseburgers, soup, stew, etc), perhaps hand warmers and wool socks. Offer items as you walk along, praying your favorite devotions. Lift up all of the people you've met to the merciful gaze of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of the time of year, you'll find that some days people are friendly and polite, and other days they seem more aloof or skeptical. Some days you’ll have remarkable encounters that lay bare the triumph of God’s grace, and other days are less eventful. Once in a while you’ll feel like an unwelcome guest and will have to take refuge in prayer and reading (especially if you are "breaking-in" a new neighborhood for the first time).
“They will bring salvation by practicing virtue, by penance and prayer, and by a charity that sees in every human being only a member of Jesus to lavish with favors and lead to Heaven. This is the immense and all-embracing charity that must shine out from the Fraternity as it shone from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” --Blessed Charles de Foucauld
Walking Alone or with a Fellow Missionary
The ministry is effective whether walking alone or with others, but we should be mindful of our Lord’s promise: “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am there.” Walking in twos or threes creates a greater spiritual witness, and that's the central reason our Lord sent out the seventy-two in pairs. But our spiritual patron, Blessed Charles, was largely alone in his ministry, and we know that the Lord has done great things through him.
The dynamic of walking the streets alone is very different than if in pairs. If walking alone you should focus on maintaining a prayerful spirit of recollection, rest in the Lord and let him use you as circumstances permit. Do spiritual reading or pray the rosary or divine mercy chaplet as you walk. It puts people at ease as you approach them since they see that you are doing something (it allays their fear that you are going to pounce on them like a salesman!). But be present to them as they approach, and smile and make eye contact—recognizing them as God’s little children. Offer them a Gatorade or a rosary if you feel called to do so. Offering such a little gift usually opens them up to share.
When you walk with others, you will be joined more in a spirit of fraternity than a spirit of recollection. That spirit of friendship seems to put passers-by at ease, and so you will find it is easier to have meaningful encounters when walking in pairs or in a group. It's good to share your stories and thoughts with your partner, but make sure you don't neglect to pray or do a little spiritual reading.
Whether you walk alone or with others, find good spots to sit where passers-by will see you. Offer a humble, welcoming presence as people pass.
Walking the streets
Be courteous and humble with foot and car traffic. Even when you have the right of way, jog across the intersection if a car is waiting for you to cross.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Try to keep one eye on the things around you and the other eye on our Lord.
Where to Walk
Walk the main thoroughfares, and major side streets.
The most promising areas to walk are mixed business and residential neighborhoods. Purely residential neighborhoods—like suburban developments—have very little foot traffic. On the other hand, people in business districts are usually focused on work or errands and are less open to conversation. I have found that blue collar and working poor neighborhoods are the most welcoming, as are immigrant neighborhoods. In the city center (the retail and restaurant district) the streets are more crowded and people are in a hurry, but it can bear fruit if you are in pairs and find a good spot to stay a while. Don’t linger at bus stops as people may justly resent it.
It is important to become a familiar sight in the neighborhood. People are more comfortable speaking with you if they’ve seen you around before. So be a consistent presence in the neighborhoods that you have chosen. In time, you will come to have affection for even run-down areas because you will recognize them as your mission ground, and because Jesus has a special love for the people there. If you regularly walk an area with drug abuse and prostitution it may subtly wear you down (especially if you walk alone). Make sure you refresh yourself by also visiting more faith-filled areas.
“To save us, God came to us, mingled with us, lived with us in the closest, most familiar contact…He continues to come to us, to mingle with us, to live with us in the closest contact, every day and at any hour in the Eucharist. Therefore, we must, in order to work for the salvation of souls, go to them, mingle with them, and live with them in close and familiar contact.” --Blessed Charles de Foucauld
Maintain a peaceful, recollected disposition and let Christ show Himself through you.
Welcome all who pass with a smile and a friendly nod.
Always put aside prayer or reading if a person wishes to speak with you.
Walk slowly. Often people need to work up the courage to speak to you.
If it looks as though someone is trying to find the courage to strike up a conversation, stop walking or conversing with your partner and be present.
Break the ice by offering a cold drink (if it is a hot day). Some people want to talk with you, but don't know what to say. Gently lead out their thoughts.
Many people are content to just offer a quick word. Be content with what the Holy Spirit gives you, and don’t try to force a conversation.
Listen more than you talk. It is a sign of humility. Some people are just looking for compassion, and an opportunity to share their trials. Be aware of the range of local social services for the homeless, mentally ill, or the poor. Usually the needy are already aware and have already contacted social service agencies, though they may not have found satisfaction due to limited resources.
Direct people to healthy, local parishes that will give them spiritual sustenance. Also recommend Catholic radio, and dependable websites and other media. Offer a free book to those who want to know more.
Once in a while people just want to advance their polemics: whether as secular humanists, evangelicals, fundamentalists or Jehovah’s Witness. They usually discover that they have reasons to respect us and maybe even like us.
In order to turn them around: (1) Don’t raise your voice. (2) Beware of “winning the argument but losing the soul.” (3) If people abuse you respond with a humble smile like St. Francis.
(4) If people ask about controversial aspects of the faith (Hell, demons, abortion, fornication, the Petrine office, the Real Presence, sacramental confession), never deny the words of our Lord but gently affirm Church teaching. When talking to atheists, especially speak with conviction about supernatural realities. When talking to Evangelicals, emphasize what we have in common, and respect their Christian witness. Many are former Catholics who were not fed in their former parishes, and so be patient when they air their grievances. Rely on your knowledge of the Bible when speaking with Evangelicals and fundamentalists.
You will witness illegal behavior such as drug use, drug dealing and prostitution. Remember that you are a representative for Christ and not law enforcement. Do not interfere. Pray for them and look on them with love.
If you have a memorable encounter, write down the person's name and some important facts about them. Keep a list--an intercession roll--of all your encounters so that you will remember them in your prayers.
“They will carry everyone in their hearts, even the most wicked, taking Jesus’ Heart for their model; they will be friends to one and all in order to be saviors to one and all.” --Blessed Charles de Foucauld
If you establish a rapport with someone, continue the relationship! Seek them out whenever you are walking their neighborhood. Invite them to your parish if you think it is a good fit.
Continue the faith walk with them as they explore the faith (whether RCIA, or chats over coffee or a beer). Their walk will probably be bumpy and require patience. A Catholic parish can be a lonely place for a newcomer; young men can especially feel isolated and apart.
Speak confidently to the angels and saints. They are with you. Ask for their wisdom and courage. In particular, ask for the aid of those saints who have done similar work, especially St. Phillip Neri. Blessed Charles de Foucauld has the apostolate under his direct care, but also pray to the founders and saints of the mendicant orders—the Franciscans and Dominicans. They were active in walking and spreading the faith from town to town. Ask Sts. Dominic, Francis, Anthony of Padua as well as lesser-known saints like Joseph of Cupertino and Vincent Ferrer for their intercession. You might also invoke those saints dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (which we wear on our chests): St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere.
Sometimes sing softly in prayer. It is always pleasing to God and the angels and saints, and singing well is “praying twice” (according to St. Augustine). It also helps build a spirit of fraternity. Many people—especially the young—are attracted to more traditional practices such as chant since they seem like a more authentic expression of the faith. Also, the demons really do hate Latin (since it is the language of the Church, and has been their scourge in ages past), and especially Latin in chant. Some simple, beautiful chant to practice: Veni Creator Spiritus, Adoro te Devote, Asperges Me, Salve Regina, Ave Maria, Regina Caeli, and the Missa de Angelis forms of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
Hymns and Christmas carols (in season) are good, too.
A Sign of Contradiction
Every person who passes us is our audience, and not just those who wish to speak to us. Some Christian brothers and sisters will find comfort in our presence as they pass by in their cars. But for others, our presence is a sign of contradiction in an era that seeks to push God out of public view. Our presence is a reminder of the permanence and inescapability of Christ and His Good News (after all, at death all will be known), and it is also a sign of the importance of prayer and recollection. God is found in the “still, small voice”, and our presence reminds people of a quieter, more reflective way of living.
Be humble when you stand as a sign of contradiction. Christ was a sign of contradiction before Pilate and Herod, and in each case He was silent. All has been given us by grace and so we have little to claim as our own. Moreover, to passers-by we might look like fools, and so embrace your foolishness as for Christ. Your ministry will only bear fruit if you are able to laugh at your self.
A central part of this ministry is offering yourself as a small sacrifice for the kingdom of God. You will occasionally share in Christ’s rejection as others despise you for His sake, or for what they take your faith to be. You will be tired and stiff after some walks, and maybe even very cold or hot. The ministry will place you at the center of the daily spiritual combat that carries on around us, and that itself is a penance. While we seek atonement for our own sins, our Lord is also seeking faithful souls to offer reparation for those who “do not hope, do not love and do not adore him”.
We wear the Sacred Heart of Jesus on our tunics, and His Heart is wounded for lack of love. I encourage you to read Pope Pius XI’s classic encyclical on “Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Miserentissimus Redemptor)”. Bring it with you on your walk and reflect upon it. It can be found here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/encyc/p11miser.htm
You might also listen to this homily on reparation by Dom Mark Kirby OSB: