By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
On a recent Saturday morning near Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas, Steve Dawson and a number of North Texas volunteers set up shop and began handing out free rosaries.
Using a method as old as the Catholic Church itself, Dawson has made it his mission to re-present the Catholic Church to the world.
“We started with our very first team in Portland, Ore. in May of 2012,” said Dawson, a native and current resident of Detroit, Mich. “The growth has been explosive.”
That team is the St. Paul Street Evangelization Team, an apostolate Dawson founded barely three years ago that now claims 180 chapters around the world, including seven in North Texas. He began the group as a response to the call of St. John Paul II and Popes Benedict XVI, and Francis to begin a new evangelization of the world.
Today, the group claims a diverse membership of Catholic lay and religious men and women and its board of advisors reads like a “who’s who” list of Catholic apologists, speakers and professors, led by Detroit archbishop Allen Vigneron and Lansing bishop Earl Boyea.
In the spirit of St. Paul’s missionary zeal, the organization’s purpose is clear, daunting, but familiar: make disciples of the nations.
As much as their time and schedules will allow, chapter members literally set up tables on busy, urban street corners, filling them with free Catholic literature, rosaries and CD’s for anyone to take home.
“We set up a table and offer people a free rosary, and it starts a conversation,” said Paul Mathers, a parishioner at St. John the Apostle in Terrell and the team’s southeast regional coordinator. “It’s just a really great way to spread the Good News about Jesus, salvation, and ultimately, membership in the Church that Jesus created.”
Mathers said his chapter tries to meet at least once a month and typically sets up in a busy section of Dallas or Terrell, but Klyde Warren Park has become an obvious favorite because of its pedestrian-heavy traffic. Some of those curious enough to stop at one of the group’s three tables for a brief moment soon found themselves engaged in a discussion about the Catholic faith.
All St. Paul Street Evangelization Team members are required to take a friendly, non-confrontational approach. If people don’t want to talk, or don’t want a rosary, that’s the end of it. No one is pressed into talking or taking anything.
It’s an approach Dawson says distinguishes evangelizing from proselytizing, the latter being something popes Benedict XVI and Francis have both publicly frowned upon. Referencing his predecessor, Pope Francis told an audience of catechists in 2013 that the church “does not grow by proselytizing; she grows by attracting others. And what attracts is our witness.”
That witness is something Mathers said he hopes will move people to re-examine their relationship with God and eventually, the Catholic Church.
“I hope when people encounter us in our mission they see by our example what Jesus does for them in their life,” Mathers said. “We want them to know the fullness of truth, but we want to start out with people making sure they know that Jesus came, died for their sins and get them on the path to salvation, wherever that may be.”