By Tony Gutiérrez, The Catholic Sun

Among the vendors serving visitors coming to the Valley from across the country for Super Bowl LVII and the related Super Bowl Experience is the Diocese of Phoenix. The product: prayer.

Joyce Coronel, program manager for “Christ in Our Neighborhood” — the diocese’s evangelization program — is organizing a group of volunteers to be a welcoming presence in the plaza between the Diocesan Pastoral Center and St. Mary’s Basilica for visitors partaking in the Super Bowl Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center across the street and other Downtown Phoenix venues.

“It’s going to be a lot of people walking past our building,” said Coronel. “It’s a great opportunity to go out there and invite people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The volunteers — both priests and laity — will be available Thursday, Feb. 9, through Saturday, Feb. 11. Priests are scheduled to hear confessions throughout the event using an outdoor makeshift confessional.

“Many people who are in the area for the Super Bowl weekend festivities will be able to see the sign, see people praying for them, and know that confessions are available,” said Father Harold Escárcega, chaplain of Xavier Catholic Preparatory High School and parochial vicar at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. “You never know how the Lord is going to touch someone’s heart.”

“You never know how the Lord is going to touch someone’s heart.”

The evangelization team will distribute St. Benedict crucifixes, miraculous medals, rosaries, and pamphlets that inform readers how to make a good confession or pray the rosary.

“Pope Francis talks a lot about accompaniment. We see this as a way to accompany people,” said Coronel.

“A lot of people have not returned to church after the [Covid-19] pandemic, and we want to be that face of Christ for them. We want to offer the love and the hope of Christ to people right here in our neighborhood, Downtown Phoenix.”

St. Mary’s Basilica will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. During the hours it’s open, the evangelization team will distribute LED candles and invite people to go inside to offer a prayer for world peace. Coronel noted that the beauty of the basilica could also serve to draw people closer to God.

“People will be allowed to go in and visit this beautiful, historic basilica we have,” she said. “Beauty is an evangelizer. Beauty touches the heart in some ways words cannot, so that’s going to be a great aspect of this.”

The idea of doing evangelization events came to Coronel after she attended a conference for St. Paul Street Evangelization in Detroit last summer. She recalled that during the conference, she went with an experienced team member into the neighborhoods of downtown Detroit to share their faith.

”We were in a farmers’ market in downtown Detroit; we were outside Old St. Mary’s Church in downtown Detroit, witnessing to people, so I wanted to bring that back here,” she said.

In addition to offering confessions and materials, volunteers will also offer to pray with visitors. Coronel emphasizes this is not about apologetics but about prayer. She plans to keep a journal to remember to pray for people who stop by.

Father Escárcega advises Catholics to not be shy when sharing their faith or offering to pray with or for people.

“You never know what someone is going through,” he said. “As a priest who hears things from all walks of life, people are generally struggling with one thing or another. There may be something that needs healing. Being a listening ear or offering a prayer can go a long way, even if you don’t think it will.”

As for the game itself, Eagles and Chiefs fans are equally welcome to visit or volunteer. Coronel has family roots in Philadelphia and is rooting for the Eagles, even though she has a future daughter-in-law with Kansas City roots.

“My mom’s from Philadelphia,” she said. “It’s a good Catholic city.”

Father Escárcega, on the other hand, has more Kansas City connections.

“I have more friends in Kansas City, so probably Kansas City,” he said. “Sorry, Philly.”

Despite supporting opposing teams, they’re both on the same team for Christ.

“Catholics need to get out of the mode of thinking everyone knows where they are and that people are just going to come to us,” Coronel said. “We need to be in search of the lost and in search of people who need God and find them and bring them in.”

“We can’t be content to sit back and say, ‘Well, we’re the Catholic Church, they can come to us,’” she added. “We have to go to them with that missionary zeal. The world needs Jesus and the Catholic Church. We are His Church that He established, so let’s reach out and welcome everybody in.”

For information about volunteering, contact Joyce Coronel.

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