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Sharing the love of God with basketball fans: You’re being recruited for an unbeatable team

by | Jan 5, 2024

The Christmas lights have barely been packed away but the countdown to Lent has begun (Ash Wednesday is an unusually early Feb. 14 this year.) Which can only mean one thing: You’ll need to come up with your Lenten plan stat AND March Madness is right around the corner.

Now, why would The Soulful Catholic give a lick about the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual basketball tournament? And what, pray tell, does this have to do with Lent anyway?

Well, besides the heart-stopping games and buzzer-beater thrilling victories to be had on the court, there’s a fabulous opportunity for evangelization in the heart of downtown Phoenix.  It all takes place about a week after we complete our Lenten discipline and bask in the glory of Christ’s Resurrection.

That’s because the final four teams of the NCAA tourney will face off right here in our city beginning April 6. In the midst of that hoopla, the Phoenix Convention Center, located directly across the street from Diocese of Phoenix headquarters and St. Mary’s Basilica, will host the Men’s Final Four Fan Fest. From interactive games to celebrity and athlete appearances, the family-friendly event will be a magnet for sports enthusiasts.

Thousands of basketball fans and their families will flood the streets as they head toward the convention center. That’s when they’ll discover a team that’s not in the tournament schedule but a winner nonetheless. Members of the Diocese of Phoenix Evangelization Team come from all over the Valley and represent all age groups. They’re undefeated in their league and led by the Holy Spirit. Their bench is reportedly pretty deep, too.

Susan Long is on the team and was there for the Super Bowl evangelization event in 2023. She’s been a street evangelist for years and crafts homemade rosaries to give away.

“I don’t like to use truisms when I interact with people on the street,” Susan said, “but the Holy Spirit is at work in our efforts. As I gave a rosary to this young couple, I heard myself say, ‘The family that prays together, stays together.’ They burst into tears, which made me think that maybe they had been on the verge of breaking up.

“It must have been the Holy Spirit who had me say that.”

As with the Super Bowl event, a six-foot high confessional parked right there on Monroe Street will draw many into reconciliation with the Lord Jesus. Last year, as the confessional was being set up, people immediately began asking when the priest would arrive.

Fr. Virgil Petermeier, OSC, was one of the volunteer confessors at the Super Bowl evangelization event in 2023.

One man hadn’t been to confession in 30 years. Thirty. Years. And just like that, he was healed of his sins while his wife stood apart speaking with the Evangelization Team. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’ve been praying for this for a long time,” she said.

(If they’re not coming to the sacraments, you guys, we’ve got to take it to the streets. Jesus certainly did.)

It’s hard to miss the Evangelization Team’s station, marked as it is by a large processional cross, amplified Gregorian chant music, scores of crucifixes and other sacramentals plus A-frame signs that ask: “Can we pray for you?” At the World Series evangelization event last fall, the team was approached by scores of people asking for prayer. At the upcoming NCAA tournament fan fest, there’ll be a prayer station, but fans will find an indoor arcade basketball hoop by the display of holy cards.

I mean, what’s a basketball tournament without some hoops, right? There might even be contests for cool prizes (stay tuned.)

The great thing about the Evangelization Team is that they’re always recruiting new players. All you need is attendance at a one-time training event at the Diocesan Pastoral Center on Saturday, Feb. 24, and a heart that’s willing to love and serve.

From making crucifix necklaces, hauling supplies, praying with those who have requested it to having heart-to-heart talks with those we encounter, there’s something for every committed Catholic.

Sometimes we think evangelization is for other people, for those holier or wiser than us, when really it’s for every single confirmed Catholic. If you’ve been confirmed, you’ve been commissioned. Evangelization means sharing the Good News—the good news that God loves us, that He has a plan for our lives, that He wants to free us from anxiety and misery. The good news that Jesus paid the price for our sins, that He died on the cross to set us free. And because of His resurrection, our own resurrection has already begun.

Christ is our hope in the midst of darkness. You might say He overcame our opponent, Satan, with an incredible victory when it looked like insurmountable odds stacked against Him. In fact, He’s the champion, not just of a league, but of the entire universe. He knows each of us by name, knows all our sins and secrets. Knew them when they drove the nails into His hands and as His blood poured out to redeem us.

He beat death. He beat sin. He wants to pour His love into your heart and then send you out into the world to share it.

In other words, you’re being recruited. The question is, will you answer the call?

Reach out to recruiter Joyce Coronel at [email protected] or 602-354-2025 for details on training and team sign-ups.

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