Legion of Mary, in St. Peter's Square!

In your second semester at the NAC you get assigned an apostolate, which usually involves some kind of work in the fields of evangelization or charitable work.  Options are as varied as working with the Missionaries of Charity to feed the poor, to teaching students catechism, to giving tours of St. Peters, to - and this is the one I am blessed to be a part of - evangelizing pilgrims in St. Peter's square as part of the Legion of Mary.  Lets just say, it's an amazing apostolate!

Like any other Legion group (it is a worldwide organization, with "Legions" of Mary at Parishes all over the place), the 10 or so of us meet once a week and pray the rosary, read out of the hand-book (both devotional, speaking about the beauty of emulating and following Our Lady, and practical, as in, how to do that out in the world when trying to evangelize), and go through the reports of what all the members did over the past week.  In our case, the work we do doing during the week is always evangelizing down in St. Peter's Square.  We go out in pairs, for about 2 hours, and just make ourselves available to whoever wants to talk with us during the time.  So, I've been out a handful of times now (I started at the beginning of this semester), with a couple of different guys, and it has had a profound effect on my approach to evangelization, my confidence in approaching and conversing with strangers, and my excitement for the priesthood.  

Regarding evangelization, two factors have made this apostolate a fantastic chance to learn how to take the Gospel out to the world.  Firstly, the other guys that I've been going down there with are great examples - they're zealous, loving, excited, patient, knowledgable, and approachable - and they've taught me a lot about how to jump into a conversation with a random pilgrim in the Square.  I found myself prone to sort of dismiss those who just wanted directions to the Vatican Museum or the times for Masses in St. Peter's; it was easy just to give them the info and send them on their way.  But, as the other guys showed me, evangelization often begins with the most humble of openings - just ask them how they liked St. Peters, or how long they've been in Rome, or where they are from, and boom, things happen.  Like the lady we encountered asking where to buy rosaries - simple, I thought, head down the Borgo Pio and you're set - but instead we started to talk with her, and she started talking about her kids, the trip she was currently taking with her husband, and asking about our vocations and what we were doing in Rome.  We ended up inviting her to the NAC for Evening Prayer, went out for dinner afterwards, and it turned into a profound conversion experience for her and her husband who hadn't been to church in years!  Factor number two: a lot more people have questions about the Church and the faith, than I would have thought.  I guess I figured that most people wandering in and around St. Peters would be Catholics, or at least Christians, coming to the center of Christ's church here on earth.  But, that is not the case at all.  Sure, there are many, many pilgrims who don't have questions about the faith, but an awful lot do!  Is Pope Francis changing the Church's teaching on marriage, abortion, etc? (answer: nope - Jesus taught otherwise.)  Will we have female priests? (answer: nope - Jesus chose otherwise.)  Why are the churches so lavish, yet there are poor people all around? (answer: love of the poor has to be integrated with love of God, beautiful churches aren't antithetical to caring for the poor), Why is Peter this important? (answer: Christ chose him to lead His church, as He chooses every Pope to continue being his vicar until His return).  

The Fountains are Flowing Again!
(they are especially beautiful at night, lit up from below)
Obviously, conversations have gotten a lot deeper than that, and I don't want to leave you with the wrong emphasis by my summary of conversations that we've had.  I've learned that above all it's important to not go into a situation with the idea to argue the person out from their error to the truth.  Yes, apologetics plays a role in the conversations - that's part of proclaiming the truth - but, possibly just as important, is exuding the joy and excitement that comes from following Christ.  People don't like an argument, even if it's convincing, they do like happiness.  Christ offers both: truth and joy, and they do go together, but a glum, argumentative, seminarian doesn't change anybody's life, whereas a person who is excited about the truth does!  (Obviously, with God's help.  That example I gave above truly made me realize this.  I said very little during the multi-hour conversation, yet, somehow, God was able to work through our presence to bring Himself to this couple.)  Being "confident" doesn't mean being macho, and off-putting, it means being willing to share the faith, the relationship with Christ, that I have been blessed to have.  It means showing just how amazing life is when you give it over to Him.  Yep, there are crosses - classes are hard, I don't have enough time to do everything I want (hmmm. maybe it's not all about me...), I'm not perfect, I'm far from home - the cross is part of following Our Lord, but there are so many more blessings!  The chance to be 5 minutes from the Vatican, to play soccer in sight of the dome of St. Peters, to travel around Europe, to delve into the mysteries of the faith, to walk past a dozen beautiful, ancient, saint-filled, churches on the way to class every morning, to start every day with Mass, and spend a couple hours talking with God every day - it's awesome!  Does following Christ automatically mean fun travels and great classes? No. But it does mean fulfillment, the peace of knowing that every moment - good, bad, easy, hard, boring, or busy - is a gift from Him, a gentle reminder to turn to Him and be thankful for His love.  It is challenging, but it is rewarding, and the world doesn't know that those things can go together (they can!)  Evangelization isn't faux-confident, overbearing, pounding-in-the-truths-of-the-faith, arguments; no, it's about living ones life according to Christ and thereby showing just how amazing that is.  This is what the early Christians did (above all in their willingness to die for their faith, confident in Christ and peaceful in knowing that eternal life awaited those who turned their lives over to Him), and they transformed the world!

Last point: Being down there, in the collar, bringing the faith to those traveling through Rome, has made me ever more excited to one day, God willing, be a priest.  Gosh, ordination could be only 3 years away at this point - that's crazy (as in, time is flying by), but it's also exciting!  I can't wait to get back to my diocese and minister to the people there, bringing them the faith that I've experienced here in Rome, the sacraments, an amazing opportunity to encounter our all-loving God, and the inspiration of so many faithful that I've encountered here (that's something that I didn't even talk about in this post, as well as devotion to Mary...  Ah well, it can't be a dissertation.)

So yeah, it's an amazing apostolate and I am so glad that it was the one chosen for me!  So much to learn, so much to see, so much to do - all from, and for, Christ!