Without a doubt, one of the key challenges of the Church in the modern world is to reach out to those who are outside it – whether those might be people who have fallen away from the Church, or never been part of the Church, or simply people opposed to whatever social role they see the Church as playing.
It’s encouraging, then, to see how Catholics and those outside the Church can engage with each other in creative and constructive ways, even at times as combatative as the present day.
Over at domicanajournal.org, a post entitled ‘St Agnes and the Women’s March’ tells of a remarkable episode during the huge protest rally that followed the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
“There were not enough restrooms set up for the Women’s March that took place in Washington, DC, the day after the presidential inauguration,” Bro. Martin Davis OP writes. “I found this out while visiting the Dominican priory on the southern side of the National Mall, where I saw many people from the March looking around for a restroom.
“Observing the desperation of those outside, some friars kindly offered to let a dozen marchers use the public restrooms in the priory. But, unexpectedly, hundreds of people quickly formed a line seeking relief.”
This small act of mercy quickly became a source of anxiety, he continues, noting that some of those who sought to use the friary’s facilities were carrying signs or wearing clothes that bore messages that were anti-Catholic, pro-abortion, vulgar, or even pornographic.
Still, he says, those with such messages had the courtesy to cover them, observing that “the fervour that may have animated the large crowd did not go so deep as to make people oblivious or rude to flesh-and-blood humans”.
Realising that a range of concerns had brought people out to march, with some marchers simply not wanting their daughters to grow up in a world that would objectify or otherwise mistreat them, he found that common ground could be found in other areas too.
“While many admittedly were on the opposite side of the Church’s teaching on abortion, I was able to engage in discussions of the Church’s teachings on the dignity of women, of labourers and of the poor, as well as the importance of the environment,” he said.
Describing how “the peculiar situation of some people wearing ‘get your rosaries off my ovaries’ next to men actually wearing rosaries on their belts did not stop many from inquiring into what brings us to live lives dedicated to Christ,” Bro. Martin noted how he spoke to those present about St Agnes, whose feast day it was, leaving many chilled to hear of the courage of a young girl who stood up to the Roman authorities.
In the short term an obvious gain came from how a few marchers spontaneously began passing round a hat to collect money for the friary, with hundreds of dollars being collected over a couple of hours, but in the long term, Bro Martin writes, there’s reason to hope that some seeds have been planted that may in time bring people to Christ.
Less dramatically, but no less importantly, Brandon Vogt, at brandonvogt.com, describes the reactions to an interview with Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron conducted by pro-choice, pro-gay atheist Dave Rubin, who Brandon admits “sincerely tries to understand the guest’s point of view, giving them free rein to articulate it”.
Bishop Barron did the interview, he says, aware that this might confuse some Catholics but that it would “put the Catholic faith on the radar of thousands of people – especially young people – who would otherwise never consider God or religion”.
With the video now online and having been viewed over 100,000 times, he says, he has “never seen a such a stream of genuine respect and appreciation for a Catholic cleric”.
He gives 24 examples of comments from atheists who’d been impressed, showing the value, yet again, of planting seeds.