Queenship of Mary sisters wearing their habits a big draw at the agricultural fair
By Deborah Gyapong
Caption: The Queenship of Mary sisters and other volunteers hand out popcorn at the Metcalfe Fair, as part of booth sponsored by St. Catherine of Siena Parish. Deborah Gyapong (CCN).
As Thanksgiving approaches, many communities host agricultural fairs to showcase everything from the best potatoes to the best heifers.
At the Metcalfe Fair, in a small rural town in the Ottawa archdiocese, local Catholics decided to showcase their faith Oct. 1-4, putting evangelization into practice by offering free popcorn, rosaries, pamphlets, friendly glances, kind words, and meaningful conversations. One of their big draws is the presence of the Queenship of Mary sisters in their habits.
Fr. Anthony Hannon, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Metcalfe, first attended the fair in 2008 and noticed the Presbyterians and the United Church had booths, so he decided his parish would have one the following year.
But he recalled it was a tough slog. The first year, they handed out literature and found many people would either avoid their booth or politely take the pamphlets only to throw them in the trash can as soon as they were out of sight. He recalled going outdoors and finding one of their pamphlets about Jesus outside in the rain, lying in the mud with a big footprint mark on it.
He picked it up and brought it back to his team. "This is symbolic," he told them. "It is hard to evangelize, most people are not interested."
"Jesus is inviting you into his suffering," he said he told them. "He is offering His love for all of us. He is giving us a share of his pain and his rejection."
Hannon said people often have a hard time relating to priests who wear their collar in public. "They don't want to look us in the eye," he said. "They are afraid of us." But then the Queenship of Mary moved into Metcalfe and began helping out at the booth.
"They are like movie stars," Fr. Hannon said.
This new private association of religious life featuring sisters in full habit decided to use the approach of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) and offer free popcorn.
This is the fourth year the sisters have been coming to the fair, this year with a popcorn machine that could scarcely keep up with the demand. But when little lines of children and families would form, the wait provided more opportunities to strike up conversations.
At first the sisters also asked people to take a survey, using the CCO approach, but now, as they get to know the families who come back year after year, they focus on friendship.
"It's wonderful to speak to the people," said Sister Marie Madeleine. She described one encounter with a man who had lost his faith and experiencing hopelessness. She was able to "talk about the love of God" in an open conversation that he said he appreciated because "there was no judgment, just love."
Sister Philomena, who was asked by two teenaged girls how she received her call to enter consecrated life, said their presence at the fair is "evangelization through relationships."
The girls have come every year to get popcorn, she said. "This time they wanted to know, how did you know to become a sister?"
"We had a great conversation," she said. One told her she always knew what she wanted to do. "I told her God would never call you to something that would make you miserable. It may be hard, but it won't make you miserable, even if it is hard."
"That's what brings me the most joy, being able to connect with people, and bring them joy by handing out popcorn," she said. "You pray it makes a difference and touches their hearts."
While Mother Mary Bernadette, the Queenship of Mary founder kept the popcorn machine going, Sister Teresa Catherine Marie said she toured the barn where there was a display of animals for children, including some baby ducklings. "There's a very family feeling to the fair," she said. "Being able to share the hope we have is always a plus."
"Yesterday, all of us went on the rides," she said, grinning. "That was a lot of fun. It's also a way of evangelizing."
Ottawa father John Pacheco brought his five daughters and some members of the Legionnaires of St. Maurice, a men's group he leads at his parish, to help out at the booth and to get ideas for their own evangelization projects.
Pacheco said he wanted his kids and the men in his group to see "evangelization is a normal part of life" and not a "hard sell" where someone "presses a button and you put on your evangelization face."
"Most Catholics have never been involved in evangelization" he said. "We keep talking about the new evangelization, but nobody ever does anything. It's all talk, talk, talk."
Helping out at the fair gives the men in his group a chance to see how people react. "It's all about practice," he said. Next year they might rent the booth next door and add some other elements, including music and a man dressed as a medieval knight to help spark questions and opportunities to talk about chivalry and Catholic moral teaching.