Priests reaching out to Spanish-speaking, others to bring them back into the church

Fr. Jose Machado holds Catholic tracts that he and other priests are using while evangelizing to the Spanish-speaking families he and other priests are visiting. (Advance photo)

Fr. Jose Machado isn’t waiting for the Spanish-speaking Catholics to reach out to him, he’s tracking them down and handing out tracts.

Fr. Machado, the diocesan facilitator for Evangelization, Discipleship and Stewardship for the Hispanic Community, is focusing on nine parishes in the Wichita area and two outside of the metro-area.

He is catechizing the Hispanic Catholic community through La Escuela de Evangelización, a lay evangelization school held twice a year, and by inviting a Spanish-speaking community of sisters from Texas to visit those same parishes three times a year.

“And another part is me knocking on doors,” he said, “when the sisters aren’t here and when we aren’t having retreats.”

Fr. Machado said he takes flyers with him on his family visits. “I am working on a project based on the Apostles’ Creed to invite those families to come back to church.”

The flyers answer common questions and correct misconceptions about the faith, he said, adding that he’s also working on a small booklet to assist in evangelization.

Fr. Machado doesn’t make cold calls. On Oct. 14 he and Fr. Michael Brungardt, the pastor of St. Paul Parish in Lyons, visited families who Fr. Brungardt noted haven’t been to Mass for a while. “I tell the pastor I just want to accompany him to homes, because I’m not the pastor there.”

Fathers Ned Blick and Garett Burns

Fr. Ned Blick, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Wichita, is also acting on the diocesan Pastoral Plan of going forth to preach the Gospel and to evangelize the culture.

He and Fr. Garett Burns, the parochial vicar, have up to five teams of two people who go on Friday afternoons to visit bi-lingual homes in a certain neighborhood, he said, in with the assistance, when possible, of the sisters from Texas, the Catechists of the Poor.

The teams seek out fallen-away Catholics and registered parishioners who haven’t been to Mass in a while, Fr. Blick said.

Vagabond Missions started last month to take part, monthly, in the parish evangelization efforts in a youth outreach. Vagabond missionaries, according to its website, seek out youth “to be the physical presence of Christ and his church to the neighborhoods and the kids the world has forgotten.”

Fr. Blick said when he visits a home he gathers information about the family and offers his services as a priest. “We find out if they’d like a house blessing or if the lack any sacraments,” he said. “We usually hand out rosaries and we have some children’s religious books.”

The approach to the family depends on whether they are Catholic and what kind of background they have, he said. “A lot of the people need their marriages blessed and some of the kids need basic doctrine in the faith – sacraments, as well.”

The outreach and invitations to parish life have been fruitful, Fr. Blick said. “I think last Easter we had around 40 baptisms.”

He believes the reason for the large number of baptisms is because many Catholics are culturally-Catholic and for one reason or another have not passed on the faith to their children.

The response is also due to the respect people have for priests, religious sisters, and the lay Catholics who are visiting. When teams visit poorer neighborhoods they will often take groceries to give to families, Fr. Blick said.

Fr. Michael Brungardt

Fr. Brungardt promised himself while in the seminary that he would never evangelize by knocking on doors. The Holy Spirit had a different idea.

“Within my first few weeks as a priest at St. Margaret Mary it hit me in prayer one day: go. After spending the majority of that day convincing myself that I shouldn’t do it, there I was, knocking on strangers’ doors,” he said via email.

“I got a list together of all of our parishioners that had not been coming to Mass and I went to their homes simply to introduce myself, tell them I was the new priest at their church, and to get to know them.”

Later, he and Fr. Ned Blick (the pastor) began going out each Friday to visit families, to get to know them, and to invite them back to an active practice of their faith. “What I quickly found was that people often had no grievance against the church. They had simply drifted away.”

Fr. Brungardt, who is now the pastor at St. Paul Parish in Lyons and Holy Name in Bushton, said he was also prompted by Pope Francis who says in Evangelii Gaudium: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step…we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.”

One way to fulfill the pope’s request is to knock on doors, he said.

“But there are countless others: going to football games or other sporting events, going to plays, going to dinners and celebrations, going to eat lunch at the high schools, going to hospitals,” he said. “In essence, ‘going forth’ as often as possible. Fr. Ivan Eck described it as, ‘Always being there and taking an interest in what people are interested in.’”

Evangelization can be as simple as showing up, he said, adding that when he does so, the Lord begins to work.

Fr. Brungardt said those he visits are initially fearful and hesitant. “But as you break the ice, introduce yourself, tell them you’re just going around getting to know people, asking if they’re Catholic or practice any faith – as you begin to talk to them as a human being, people begin to open up.”
A few aren’t receptive to the visit, he added, but most are very polite with their rejection.

“A common response I get after our brief visit is, ‘I’m glad you came by today,’” Fr. Brungardt said. “More often than you think, the response is, ‘I didn’t think anyone cared that I stopped going to Mass.’

“When you show up with a smile and joy you wish to share, and an invitation to come and see, people will respond more than you think.”