HADDON HEIGHTS — Here at the Collegium Center for Faith and Culture last Saturday, Adam Janke told the story of “Uzi.”
Edwin Mendez, or “Uzi,” was head of Chicago’s Spanish Cobras street gang when he finally realized that drugs, violence and immorality would never bring him peace. Before he could break free, however, he was shot nine times by a rival gang, the Latin Kings, and left for dead.
In his hospital bed, recovering, Uzi found the Catholic faith, first through the support of a priest he knew as a child, Father Rosa, and later through the Blessed Mother and the Holy Rosary. His zeal for the truth repaired his broken relationship with his father, who Uzi convinced to return to Sunday Mass and to the sacrament of reconciliation, before he died.
Today, Uzi Mendez is Chicago’s Chapter Coordinator for Saint Paul Street Evangelization, hoping to preach the Gospel as Father Rosa did and convert more souls like his father.
As Uzi has done, other Catholics can share their own story with a culture hungering for truth, Adam Janke said.
As program director for Saint Paul Street Evangelization, Janke is part of a non-profit apostolate with over 300 chapters worldwide that answers Jesus’ call to bring the Gospel to all nations, taking to the streets and other public places such as malls and parks, in a non-confrontational manner, to “meet people where they are at, hear their stories, and build a bridge of trust,” he said.
The all-day workshop at the Collegium Center was designed to let the laity know that it isn’t the job solely of priests and bishops to evangelize, but indeed, it is the mission of all.
At the same time, his visit was to help the faithful “feel more confident in evangelizing.”
To accomplish this, Janke shared his organization’s practices. Two or more evangelists set up a table in a public area and offer passersby items such as a miraculous medal, rosary or holy card, to spark an initial conversation.
If a visitor is receptive, “listen to their story; make an invitation; share your own story, providing reasons to be Catholic; and pray with them,” Janke said.
In between his presentation, attendees broke up into small groups to discuss and practice evangelization methods to those with different mindset, such as a man who only believes in science, or a woman classifying herself “as spiritual, not religious.”
“Don’t be afraid; the focus is not on you, but on God’s work in your life,” Janke added, emphasizing, too, that “the purpose is not to win arguments, not even to debate, but to find common ground.”
Cheryl Lauer and Nancy Holt, along with Deacon Mark Kuhn, traveled to Haddon Heights from Southampton, Pennsylvania’s Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“We’re looking to evangelize in our area,” Nancy said, adding that Janke provided a “great presentation. We’re going to use what we learned.”
Brenda Quinn, director of operations at the Collegium Center, called Janke’s message “a needed one in our diocese and across the world,” to guide souls in encountering Jesus Christ.
“He left us on fire,” she said.
For more information on Saint Paul Street Evangelization, visit www.streetevangelization.com