It rained the evening that St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish held a Mass on the 2400 block of South Trumbull Avenue.
Fifteen minutes before the Mass was set to start, the rain was pouring down. Five minutes before, it slowed to a drizzle, and a few neighbors came out from their houses to join the organizers of the Mass on the street.
Five minutes after the 7 p.m. start time, when the congregation was called to order, the sun peeked through and a few dozen people stood or sat on chairs.
Given the weather, the July 7 Mass was one of the smaller block Masses hosted by the parish, with about 70 people participating. For most of the 10 annual outdoor Masses — celebrated in different neighborhoods twice a week for five weeks — the congregation numbers between 150 and 200 people.
St. Agnes has held block Masses for about 15 years as a way to bring church to those who don’t normally attend Mass, to pray for peace where there has been violence and to share fellowship with neighbors.
It is one of the efforts the archdiocese is recognizing as the kind of vitality-building initiative needed as part of Renew My Church, the ongoing planning process to revitalize the church.
“We try to reach people who don’t come to church,” said Anselmo Delgado, an extraordinary minister of Communion and PreCana leader at St. Agnes, explaining that volunteers knock on doors to invite people in the area of each Mass the evening before. “You find all kinds of reactions.”
Father Tom Boharic, associate pastor at St. Agnes, celebrated the Mass. One reason to bring the Mass outside the church is because “God looks for us in our everyday life. Jesus was not born in a castle,” he said in Spanish. “He was born in a stable, in the streets.”
The block Masses began as an effort of the parish Guadalupana Society. Now they are a wholeparish effort, with different groups and ministries coordinating different Masses.
Concepcion Rodriguez, another organizer, said parishioners know they are called to evangelize.
“It’s the mission,” Rodriguez said. “We are part of this church, and the church is missionary. Every Christian has to go out and evangelize. For me, this is a privilege.”
The organizers divided the parish into 10 geographical sections, and placed each section under the patronage of a different saint. They choose a specific site for each Mass by finding a family willing to host and looking to have Mass on blocks that have been the scenes of violence.
The July 7 Mass was in the area under the patronage of St. Cecilia, so before Mass began, a parishioner spoke about the works of mercy the saint performed, in honor of the Jubilee of Mercy. Then participants were invited to bring forward containers of water as well as Bibles, religious statues and other sacramentals to be blessed at the end of the Mass.
“Doing this is a way to evangelize in a non-threatening way,” Boharic said. “We’re not starting an argument with people. We’re inviting them to come pray with us. I think this is one of the best ways of evangelizing.”
To watch a video feature about the block Mass, visit www.youtu.be/75jrgk3kOsU.
When lightning struck the bell tower at Sacred Heart Church in Winnetka in the early hours of Aug. 25, 2018, it did more than send chunks of concrete crashing to the ground.
Renew My Church calls on parishes to create a culture of evangezation in their communities. One way to do that is to reach out to non-practicing Catholics or others not practicing a faith and provide them with an opportunity to form a personal relationship with Jesus.
Eighteen new parishes are being formed in the Archdiocese of Chicago as part of the Renew My Church process. In many cases, newly united parishes will retain more than one church as active worship sites. Unless otherwise noted, where parishes are joining, both churches will remain open as worship sites. All new parishes will be created effective July 1.