Catholic evangelists ask NFL fans visiting Detroit to make Jesus their No. 1 draft pick

Crowds begin to fill in around the main theater April 25, 2024, for the first day of the NFL draft in Detroit. Catholic evangelists are handing out rosaries, asking fans if they need prayers, and inviting them to tour Detroit's historic churches as hundreds of thousands of people congregate in downtown Detroit. (OSV News photo/Mandi Wright-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters) Editors: MANDATORY CREDIT.

DETROIT (OSV News) — The pick is in: And St. Paul Street Evangelization is asking people if it’s Jesus.

Catholic evangelists are handing out rosaries, asking fans if they need prayers, and inviting them to tour Detroit’s historic churches as hundreds of thousands of people congregate in downtown Detroit for the 2024 NFL draft, which began April 25 in Cadillac Square.

St. Paul Street Evangelization, a Warren, Michigan-based apostolate that focuses on evangelization and catechesis in the public square, set up shop April 25 on the corner of Congress and Randolf, just outside the designed NFL Fan Zone, offering people rosaries, miraculous medals and a prayerful listening ear.

“Days like today have a lot of foot traffic, bringing people from all over to watch their preferred sport. Sometimes that’s the perfect time for people to meet Jesus and tell them about his love for them,” Michael Miller of St. Paul Street Evangelization told Detroit Catholic, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Fans from all 32 NFL teams are in downtown Detroit this week to watch the draft, making their way between the various stages, fan areas and bars and restaurants during a weekend-long celebration of all things football. The draft concludes April 27.

And while fans definitely have football on their mind, it’s a ripe opportunity to bring up faith, Miller said.

“I’ve witnessed people weep when we pray for them and we reach a part of their heart that they need desperate help for,” Miller said. “They are so grateful, changed for that day and hopefully for the rest of their life that God loves them; they feel his presence come over them.”

Bob Wilson, director of St. Paul Street Evangelization, said the NFL draft’s setup, with a daylong festival of music, activities and games in the buildup to the draft, makes for a great opportunity for evangelization.

“We want to spread the Word, and this is a good place where we are going to get a lot of foot traffic,” Wilson said. “We have our table with a lot of sacramentals and we employ our ‘listen, befriend, proclaim and invite’ method. When somebody is inspired by the Holy Spirit to listen, we chat.”

St. Paul Street Evangelization wasn’t the only religious group setting up shop outside the NFL Fan Zone, with street preachers and evangelists from various Christian churches dotting the scene. With fans from all over the country of many different faiths and opinions converging on the spot, Wilson said it’s important to stick to basics when discussing Jesus.

“The first rule of evangelization is to get to know someone by asking them good questions,” Wilson said. “When you just ask questions about what the Holy Spirit means to them, you can see the Holy Spirit work in their hearts.”

Wilson said the street evangelists sparked good conversations with both passersby and with other evangelists of different denominations.

“When you run into a preacher who isn’t Catholic, you try to find common ground and talk about the Gospel, and you might ask whether they’ve ever considered Catholicism,” Wilson added. “With the Catholic Church, you get the sacraments, the communion of saints, the Gospel.”

In addition to sparking conversations, the St. Paul Street Evangelization team recorded video interviews with passersby, asking questions about topics such as their relationship with Jesus, what happens after death, and the more important things in life. The videos will be used as part of an upcoming course for the St. Paul School of Evangelization, Wilson said.

The video interviews with both Christians and non-Christians will help future evangelists learn how to share their faith with others, Wilson added.

“We want to get an idea of what people who are Christian say about what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus and what that does for them,” Wilson said. “We also want to hear from those who don’t know Jesus, what people think about salvation and what is important in life.”

Elsewhere downtown, parishes such as St. Aloysius on Washington Boulevard and Old St. Mary’s in Greektown are hosting church tours, inviting fans to experience the beauty of the city’s historic churches and learn more about the faith in Detroit.

Members of Knights of Columbus Council 305, based out of Old St. Mary’s, were hosting its annual Tootsie Roll Drive for children with physical and mental disabilities and the Special Olympics, using the NFL draft foot traffic to raise funds and tell people about the historic parish.

“For us, the draft came to us — we are right here at our church, where we’ve been for 183 years,” said Andrew Assenmacher, the council’s grand knight. “We try to do this throughout the year, get ourselves out to meet the public. Evangelization is great for us to do; it just comes naturally for us. The people we meet are from all across the country, and we’re welcoming them to Detroit and showing them the positive side of the city.”

As the draft begins in earnest, football is on the minds of most fans in downtown Detroit, but Catholic evangelists such as Wilson hope people will be receptive to Jesus’ grace, wherever their team is picking.

“Football is about wanting to win. We all want to win, to experience the excitement that comes from winning,” Wilson said. “We want to win at life, and to know Jesus is how we win at life. At St. Paul, we like to use sports analogies, like running a race.”

He added, “You have to train your body to win at sports, and you have to train your spirit to walk with the Lord. And if you do that as a team, with a church, you are more likely to succeed.”

Daniel Meloy is a staff reporter for Detroit Catholic, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.


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