Diversity in outreach invites the marginalized

In the midst of NASCAR fans, bikers, and surfers along Daytona Beach, you’ll find a very unique group of people on a mission to save souls. The faithful of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish are spreading the Good News and they’re doing it while riding Harleys, swinging golf clubs, even having big picnics with college kids.

Pastor Phil Egitto says the parish council committed to “outreach beyond our doors” about 10 years ago. He acknowledged and applauded Pope Francis’ support for the idea and says it affirmed their decision. Since then, the group has worked hard to include many diverse groups – most recently the growing number of African American parishioners walking in the church doors.

As a member of the Black Clergy Alliance who is also involved with the Black and African Heritage communities, Father Egitto felt it was a good time to gather a Catholic African American Ministry. The group has several faculty from Bethune-Cookman, a historically Black university in Daytona Beach. College students are becoming actively involved “connecting and evangelizing,” said Father Egitto. “We are trying to get people into our church doors.” They are currently planning a picnic in a nearby neighborhood. Father Egitto says, “We are hoping that people will come and check us out, then come to church and check us out.” He feels that through various activities in parish life. In mid-March, Our Lady of Lourdes offered a candlelight prayer service for those shot at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and remembered the 270 students who perished in school shootings since the fatal events at Columbine High School. The names were read by 15 Bethune-Cookman students.

Nelson Matthew, the parish’s director of marketing and outreach said, “There was a need for the Catholic African American Ministry in our parish because the numbers of African Americans attending our parish has been increasing. Every week someone new is joining. So we are trying to connect with them.” Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School will also continue to educate children on African American culture.

”Once they experience the love and the joy of our community, we can invite them to liturgy,” Father Egitto remarked. “And then hopefully the liturgy will spark their faith so that if they are not Catholic, they will want to become Catholic. And if they are Catholic, to rekindle their faith in being active in the church.”

The parish outreach efforts also extends to groups of golfers known as ‘Fairways to Heaven.’ They share the joy of the gospel on the golf course and invite others to church. Next on the agenda is the creation of a group catering specifically to veterans.

“Once you experience the power of the Eucharist, people want more. At Our Lady of Lourdes, we don’t gotta go to church, we get to go to church,” said Father Egitto. “We say, no matter where you are on your life’s journey, you’re welcome here. We’re trying to give new life to our faith by bringing it out to the community and into our church to experience God’s love in our community.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – March 28, 2018