STAMFORD—Last June, 25 parishioners from the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist went out into the streets of Stamford just as the early disciples did, who were directed by Christ to spread the Gospel.
In one evening, these modern street evangelists approached a few hundred people in an attempt to bring Christ to strangers, said Father Joseph Gill, parochial vicar of the Basilica. They were participating in a program called Night Vigil during which the faithful “hit the streets” of the city and invite people back to the Basilica on Atlantic Street for an encounter with the Lord in adoration.
“They went up to people and asked, ‘Is there anything we can pray for in your life,” Father Gill said. “A lot of the people broke down in tears and said, ‘We never had anyone ask us that before.’ It was a very moving experience for everyone.”
The evangelists also offered them a holy candle and encouraged them to return to St. John’s to light it, stay for a while and pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
About 150 people visited the Basilica, and many of them were overwhelmed by its beauty. There were others who never went inside the church but enjoyed their conversations with the evangelists.
“It really was a powerful night,” Father Gill said. “We are just taking Jesus at his word when he said to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It starts in your hometown. There are thousands of people in Stamford who may have never encountered Christ, and all we are trying to do it provide them an opportunity.”
The second Night Vigil will be held on September 7 from 6:15 to 9 pm, and Catholics of all ages are invited to participate.
“You can help as a street evangelist or come to pray and intercede for our city,” he said. “If you feel called to hit the streets, we would love to have you, or if you just want to be in the presence of the Eucharist, we would love to have you come down for that too.” (For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Last year, the evangelists ranged in age from the 20s to 60s, and some families took part. The group is also looking for Spanish-speaking people to participate.
Night Vigil was inspired by a similar program called Night Fever, which began in 2005 after World Youth Day in Germany and had a similar mission that encouraged parishes in urban areas to open their doors for prayer and evangelization and to have the faithful go out into the city to bring Christ to others.
At the June Night Vigil, a couple from Hartford who belong to a ministry called Sacred Beauty sang during the Eucharistic adoration. The evangelists, who went out in groups of two, met a family from the South whose daughter had just joined the Sisters of Life. They were returning home somewhat broken hearted about leaving their daughter behind; however, when they met the evangelists, the family was overcome with joy to learn “this is a town filled with grace,” Father said.
Also, a Latino mother of four children who had been looking for a church entered the Basilica and was overcome by its beauty. “This is home,” she said and decided to stay.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano recently told Father Gill there are three ways the devil preys on the faithful — division, deception and distraction.
“People need to be in silence because God works and moves in silence,” Father said, commenting on the pervasive distractions in our culture. “Beauty is another way that God is moving hearts that are closed off to truth and goodness. In the modern world, beauty is an invitation for many people to find God.” And the Basilica offered many people a chance to observe the beauty of the Catholic faith, he said.