Hours for confession also are being extended.
Fr. Boric is confident about his approach. He’s seen it work in the past.
“I remember last year a young man came into the basilica, in his 20s, atheist, would consider himself definitely living an alternative lifestyle, and just felt this peace in the basilica and immediately wanted to talk to somebody,” he recalled, during an interview in his office across the street from the basilica. “So he came over to my office, we talked, and he joined our [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a process for people to join the Church]. So, there’s something about the basilica, you can argue that, but there’s something more about the presence of Christ that leads people. I just want to let that facilitate itself.”
The second part of his approach is to use young “urban missionaries” who will work full time in bringing the Church’s message of reconciliation to the streets, especially to the marginalized. Fr. Boric wants to emulate a model that has apparently been successful in another large city with similar problems — Denver. The successful program there is called Christ in the City.
And the basilica just happens to have an old, unused convent where urban missionaries can live. Fr. Boric envisions them giving up a year of their lives to evangelize, minister, and bring the love of Christ to homeless and addicted residents of the city. The first two missionaries, who are both college students, were to begin their year this week.
“They will not be providing handouts. Rather, they will help the needy get to soup kitchens, shelters, welfare agencies, and various Catholic Charities,” he said. “The missionaries will learn the names and the stories of all the homeless around the basilica. They will become friends with them. They will bring Jesus Christ to them.”
The priest told his parishioners that he and three seminarians already do something like this, walking through the streets of Baltimore praying the Rosary. “We encounter the people. We invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And we invite them to discover the Catholic faith,” he wrote in a letter.
Those efforts brought nine people into the Church this past Easter, and since then, nine other people have asked to become Catholic. “God willing, we will bring another nine or 10 new folks into the Church before Christmas,” Fr. Boric said. “Imagine a Baltimore city parish that is bringing 18 people into the Church every year. It won’t take long to really impact our streets if we keep bringing them Christ. Once word gets out, the 18 people could turn into 30 or 50 or more. This is how the early Church grew. This is how we will grow again.”
Parishioners of the basilica, and Baltimoreans in general, could make a difference in the lives of homeless people and panhandlers — who are usually met by a brush-off — just by getting to know their names and using them.
“A lot of these guys don’t hear their names for months,” Fr. Boric said. “We can at least do that. We can give them some good news.”