Discussing the divineThe program continues to expand and I got another request this week, from a school in Colorado, to help them start the program there.
Ask a Catholic ministry educates peers about faith
By Joe Terrell
"I don't know the hearts of those doing it, but Christianity is about love," said Steve Hanson, senior computer engineering major. "And I don't think [that type of evangelizing] sends that message well."
Marcel LeJeune, class of 1995, thinks he has found the proper approach to on-campus evangelizing.
LeJeune graduated from Texas A&M in 1995 with a degree in history before earning a master's degree in pastoral theology at Ave Maria University and serving as director of campus Catholic ministries at Texas Tech from 2002-2006. While at Tech, LeJeune taught a class on evangelizing, which formed the genesis of the Ask a Catholic ministry.
"During the class I would challenge [students] with weekly assignments. The first week their assignment was to tell someone they didn't know they were Catholic. As the semester progressed, the challenges got more difficult," he said. "One week we decided to write the words ‘Ask a Catholic' on a board and we stood in the busiest part of campus. And that's how the ministry was born."
LeJeune is the assistant director of campus ministries at St. Mary's Catholic Center, which is the largest campus ministry in the country. More than 5,000 students attend St. Mary's Sunday services and 40 people work on staff. There are more than 80 student organizations that operate outward from St. Mary's.
When LeJeune took his position in 2006, he brought his unique ministry idea, even going so far to write a manual, which can be viewed online.
"Beginning every semester, we have a training course here at St. Mary's, which emphasizes basic do's and don'ts, interpersonal communication, basic argument formation and, most importantly, we teach them how to teach," he said.
The training sessions clock in at just under an hour and a half, which might seem short to some, but to LeJeune, the scant time frame is a necessity.
"You're only going to learn so much in a class setting, especially when you're learning about communication," he said. "The only way to know how to do it is to just go out there on campus and start talking to people."
Newer members are paired with veteran students in groups of three and four who then, donning bright lime green shirts and signs, head out to the most heavily trafficked areas on campus, including Academic Plaza, Sbisa, Blocker and Koldus.
"It's really born out of respect for people's free will," LeJeune said. "We don't think yelling is an effective ministry. We want to expose our faith, not impose."
Each three to four person group has a designated leader, whose job is to coordinate the schedules and find times for everyone to meet. The groups are typically deployed for an hour at a time, but it is not uncommon for a group to be out on campus for a longer period of time. The members of the Ask a Catholic ministry encounter a wide spectrum of questions from curious students.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic Church and we want to clear that up," LeJeune said. "We get basic questions like ‘How can you prove God exists?' and then we get a lot on Catholic particulars about Mary, purgatory and the pope."
But LeJuene said he emphasizes that one of the goals of Ask a Catholic is never to argue.
"We get some people who just want to pick a religious debate," LeJeune said. "We want to build relationships and have respectful relationships. The person is more important than the question."
Students involved are told to be aware of their own limitations. At times, students might encounter a question that they do not know how to answer.
"I think an important part of the conversation dynamics is to know when it's OK to say, ‘I don't know,'" LeJeune said. "This way it's a learning experience for both parties involved."
Since Ask a Catholic's appearance on A&M's campus, three other campuses have adopted the ministry, using the guide that LeJeune wrote himself. The three other branches are at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Charlottesville and the University of Kansas.
"I really think we've changed the dynamic of evangelism on campus," LeJeune said, "Universities are a place of ideas and Christianity is a religion of ideas. We are bringing it back to its roots with relevant discussion."
The manual and more information on Ask A Catholic A Question can be found here.