Four Brooklyn parishes teamed up for a bold move when they took to the streets on Ash Wednesday.
St. James Cathedral-Basilica and St. Boniface, both Downtown Brooklyn, and St. Charles Borromeo and Assumption, both Brooklyn Heights, distributed ashes in the street as part of an aggressive evangelization effort.
They used as their guide the papal exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), in which Pope Francis urged the faithful to “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.”
To kick off Lent 2014, the parishes were both “bold and creative” in coordinating an inaugural event that featured prayer services and the distribution of ashes at the Manhattan Bridge Archway Plaza in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). The “Arch” is located on Water Street and receives much pedestrian traffic – thus making it an ideal location to spread awareness about the local Catholic churches in that area.
“We felt that a visible presence would be extremely helpful on Ash Wednesday,” said Father Ed Doran, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo and dean of Brooklyn Deanery No. 3. “The hope of doing this is that the Lenten journey is filled with prayer.”
The outreach program was a joint effort between the four “B3” parishes and the diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning. For the past few months, the groups have discussed the demographics of the DUMBO area and what’s been happening in the neighborhood to give them an understanding of the best evangelization methods.
The DUMBO section of Brooklyn is comprised of many young working families, yet there is no Catholic parish in the community.
“We wanted to try something that would be inviting for them (DUMBO families) to be aware of the parishes that we have,” said Father James King, pastor of Assumption. “We thought Ash Wednesday would be a good way to introduce the parishes to the DUMBO community because so many people live here and they don’t know where the parishes are.”
The day included morning, afternoon and evening sessions. More than 80 people attended the morning session, while about 40 came in the afternoon and another 30 in the evening.
Everyone in attendance received a booklet titled “Joy in the Journey” to guide them through Lent. Each day includes a spiritual reflection, a practice and a prayer. The booklets also contained an insert detailing the address, contact information, website and Mass schedule for each of the four participating parishes.
This type of joint effort between parishes is nothing new, said Bob Choiniere, diocesan director of Pastoral Planning. The goal is for parishes in the same area to collaborate with one another since they all have the same goals of evangelizing their particular neighborhood. He said he was pleased with how the effort on Ash Wednesday came together.
“This is really pure evangelization, coming down and seeing the Church’s presence in this community,” Choiniere said. “The best way to do that is exactly what (Pope) Francis is telling us – to get out in the streets and make yourself known.
“And people show up. I think that’s what’s amazing about this whole thing, just watching the people wander in looking for that contact and finding it right here under the Arch.”
Father King said that this type of evangelization effort in such an iconic setting as the Arch could leave a lasting impression on DUMBO residents seeking to explore their Catholic faith.
“We’re going out into the community rather than them coming to us,” he said. “It’s very successful so far.”