Hilary White

From 40 Days for Life to street evangelization

Hilary White
Hilary White
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PORTLAND, OR, December 6, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – If you are strolling around Portland, Oregon, you might come across a pair of friendly people presiding over a table of rosaries and pamphlets explaining the basics of the Catholic faith. This is the St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE), a group of lay people inspired by the 40 Days for Life campaigns, to “convert the culture” and rescue a society that has become enamoured of the “contraceptive mentality”.

The group was founded by Steve Dawson, 37, a former seminarian inspired by the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., a family friend who spent his life forming lay people for apostolic work. The group is growing, and in the few short months since it was founded in May this year, it has expanded to 15 U.S. cities with 130 volunteers and contacts abroad.

Dawson, who calls himself a “revert” to Catholicism, had served on the leadership team of 40 Days for Life in Michigan. He told LifeSiteNews.com he believes he was directly inspired by God to take a more broad approach.

“I felt that we needed to be doing something similar for evangelization,” he said. He took a lesson from his Protestant friends who do street evangelism. “I felt that if we did not convert the culture, it would crumble. We would never put an end to abortion or the culture of death.”

“The Protestants took the faith to the streets, but the Catholics didn’t. I kept asking my friends, when was the last time you were out in public and someone tried to evangelize you to the Catholic Faith.” He balked, however, at impersonal methods employed by some, like speaking through a loudspeaker or being “confrontational,” saying they are “not effective.”

“I believe that pro-life work is important and needs to be done,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Yet, in my spiritual growth and listening to Hardon, it became clear to me that abortion was not the problem. It is a symptom to a deeper problem. Deeper is the contraceptive mentality, which is a symptom of a culture that has lost its way from God. A de-Christianized culture.”

The work, he said, is simple, and mostly consists of talking in a friendly and non-confrontational way with anyone who stops to chat.

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Street teams of two or three people will set up a sandwich board sporting a picture of Jesus and a small table, or sometimes just a blanket on the sidewalk, arranged with rosaries and pamphlets, and then wait. Invariably, someone will stop by and the evangelizers will simply ask, “Are you Catholic?”

The evangelizers will offer a free rosary, with a leaflet to explain what it is and how to use it, and conversations just get started. And with that, they often find themselves opening new directions in the lives of others.

After three years doing direct, person-to-person pro-life work with 40 Days, Dawson left to explore a possible vocation to the priesthood with the Franciscan order. He came back after 14 months, deciding he wanted to be married, but did not want to stop working to convert the culture.

Dawson is now finishing up a degree in business administration at Portland State University and runs SPSE on donations out of his living room.

He told LifeSiteNews that the inspiration comes in part from conversations with the late Jesuit priest, Fr. Hardon, the author of a widely used catechism, and a training program for lay catechists. Fr. Hardon, who inspired hundreds to enter the religious life, also was immensely supportive of lay initiatives.

The project has moved along rapidly from humble beginnings, through Facebook and their website and blog, with people contacting Dawson from all over the country.

SPSE has started a training website that will provide a means of connecting evangelizers, he hopes, around the world. Currently, SPSE street evangelizers are working in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Boise, Idaho; Belleville, Naperville and Chicago, Illinois; Detroit and Lansing, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Great Falls, Montana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Glens Falls, New York; Portland, Oregon; Coventry, Rhode Island; and Dallas and Forth Worth, Texas.

“We have about 120 evangelists that we are working with who are involved or are seeking to get involved. We are working with people in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Philippines, and UK,” he told LifeSiteNews.com.

Asked why he decided to switch from pro-life work to religious street evangelism, Dawson said the two are inextricably combined, but that he came to believe that the latter must precede the former, particularly in combating the wide acceptance, even among Christians, of contraception.

“So to me, the only way we are going to end abortion is by fighting the problem at the root. We need to convert the culture.”

“It’s like a whack-a-mole game,” he said. “Catholics are whacking down the moles as they pop up. Homosexual marriage pops up…whack. Abortion over here…whack.” But he realized that he could not continue to fight piecemeal.

“I refocused my energy and started asking myself what is the best way that God can use me to bring about the conversion of the culture,” he said. “This is where my learning and experience with 40 Days for Life comes in. After coming up with the non-confrontational street evangelization idea, I applied the 40 Days model to it.”

He said he was inspired in part by the emphasis placed on the “new evangelization” by Pope Benedict XVI. “The idea of public evangelization is not new in the Catholic Church, but it has been lost, at least in the West.

“We are here to bring it back, using all the technological means at our disposal such as web training, social media, etcetera, to do our part in bringing the faith back to the land and to saving our culture.”

Is the work effective? Dawson said that he hopes so, and has seen dramatic conversions more than once. One man who approached him after being offered a free Rosary was a “fallen away Catholic”. Asked why he left the Church, the man said that he believed everything the Church taught but did not believe that abortion was immoral. He said that he would personally never have an abortion, but he thought that a woman had a right to choose what she did with her own body.

After a conversation, the man agreed that it is always wrong to kill an innocent human being, and that the unborn child is human, and therefore abortion must be wrong. The man returned to the Catholic faith and was converted to the pro-life position.

“Abortion is a common topic when we talk to people about the Catholic faith,” Dawson told LSN. “Sometimes we are able to change a person’s mind on the morality of the practice. Sometimes we are just planting seeds. Once in a while God can use us to save a life.”

One young woman was given a medal that Catholics believe can bring about miracles when prayed with. That brought on a 15-minute conversation about Catholic beliefs on abortion, and the girl took home some literature and a small life size 12-week model of a fetus. Several months later, Dawson “ran into her.” She ran up to him and said that the day she had talked about abortion, she had just found out that she was pregnant, and she was planning on having an abortion. After their talk, she said, she felt that “God was giving her a sign to keep her baby.”

One SPSE group in Dallas-Fort Worth reaches out to Latino gangs. Another is led by a former gangster and rapper who uses his talents to reach out to disenfranchised young people. Not all their encounters “go smoothly” of course, Dawson said. “Sometimes we get people who have a chip on their shoulder and something to say.”

“They tell us that the Catholic Church represses women and restricts a woman’s right to choose.” But the group simply prays for those they cannot reach the first time and for another opportunity the next time.

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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Lisa Bourne

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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