Benedictine Sisters Jennifer Mechtild Horner and Sheila Fitzpatrick pose Jan. 26 under an 800-foot zip line that they just rode that was built over Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis in the middle of the Super Bowl Village and next to St. John the Evangelist Church. CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

Historic parish reaches out to Super Bowl visitors

By  Sean Gallagher, Catholic News Service
  • February 3, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - A historic Indianapolis church is in the centre of festivities surrounding the Feb. 5 Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium.

St. John the Evangelist parish, founded 175 years ago when Indianapolis was a small town on the edge of the American frontier, is the middle of the Super Bowl Village hosting many events at the Indiana Convention Centre across the street from the church and on streets surrounding it.

More than 100,000 visitors are expected to be in town, with tens of thousands of them walking by the church on streets largely closed to vehicular traffic for the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

There is even a zip line on which riders can zoom for 250 metres from a starting height of 30 metres and ending in front of St. John Church. When the riders put their feet back down on solid ground, they see a sign in front of the parish's 140-year-old church that reads, "If you thought the zip line was a thrill, ... come in and spend some time with Jesus!"

Such a sign shows that Fr. Rick Nagel, St. John's administrator, and his parishioners consider the Super Bowl a tremendous opportunity to evangelize.

"You can run and hide or you can just jump in," said Nagel, who planned to ride the zip line.

"We've decided to jump in and do some outreach. Our biggest goal is to give people a great sense of the Catholic Church."

To do that outreach, approximately 70 tour guides called "St. John evangelists" have been trained not only to explain the history, beautiful architecture and other aspects of the church, but also to explain how they embody the Catholic faith. They have already been put to work in large events in recent months, such as the Future Farmers of America Convention, the 2011 Big 10 Football Championship and the National Catholic Youth Conference.

Several priests are also hearing confessions in the church during the days leading up to the game. And visitors can get answers to their questions about the Catholic faith at the "Ask a Catholic" booth set up in the church's narthex.

On the weekend of the game, additional Masses have been planned to accommodate the large number of Catholic visitors to Indianapolis.

St. John parishioner Joseph Maguire, 56, who works for a law firm in downtown Indianapolis, is a St. John evangelist who stood on the steps of the church during the Big 10 championship.

"We encouraged them to come in and take a look at our church," he said. "Anyone that we can get inside is amazed by the beauty of the church. They take pictures. Then we can direct them to other people who are leading the tours."

Erica Heinekamp is one of many young adults serving as a St. John evangelist. She thinks the beauty of her parish's historic church is one of its most important assets.

"Human beings are naturally attracted to beauty — there's no way around it," she said. "I think the physical beauty of St. John's Church is one of its greatest testimonies because it points to a greater meaning of that space, one that invites people to know themselves at a deeper level.

"By giving personalized tours of this space, I definitely think that we can give them insight to a deeper meaning of our beautiful space, one that is an invitation to get to know the Catholic faith even better on their own."

Nagel was excited that his parish is taking seriously Blessed John Paul II's call to "open wide the doors to Christ." The church was taking up that challenge literally by opening its large front doors for thousands of visitors walking past.

"The new evangelization is alive and well here in the heart of our city," Nagel said.

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