Parishes take evangelization to the streets


By Celine Klosterman

Catholics ride a float promoting the Catholic churches in Burlington and West Burlington during the Burlington Steamboat Days parade June 16. The float won first place in the category of non-themed floats.

Catholics in Burlington and West Burlington hope to bring more people to the Church. So on June 16 they brought their churches – or at least elements of them – to the people of Burlington.
Flanked by stained-glass windows, Catholics sang hymns in pews as they and a small-scale replica of St. John Church traveled in the Burlington Steamboat Days Parade two weekends ago.
Members of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington and Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish in West Burlington had created a float resembling a small chapel to increase their parishes’ visibility in the community, said Ruth Skeens. She is director of evangelization and renewal for both parishes.
“We wanted to raise awareness that the Catholic churches are alive and well — and put a face on them,” Skeens said. To that end, a banner preceding the float listed the parishes’ names and read “Catholic Churches: Over 2,000 Years in the Making.”
Catholics who joined the Church this year rode the float, along with choir members from Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in Burlington.
The float combined elements of existing and former churches in Des Moines County. Catholics took colorless windows from the former St. Patrick Church in Burlington, and parochial vicar Father Bruce DeRammelaere redesigned them to resemble stained-glass windows at St. Paul Church in Burlington. A replica of a stained-glass image of the Agony in the Garden from Ss. Mary & Patrick Church stood behind small pews that were temporarily moved from St. John Church to the float. On the other side of the image of the Agony in the Garden was a wall painted to resemble the front of St. John’s.

A truck pulling the Catholic parishes’ float carries a model of St. John Church in Burlington during the Burlington Steamboat Days parade June 16.

Building the float brought together both Catholics and non-Catholics. “We now have a little network of people we met,” said Burlington parishioner Joe Spillane. Using materials including donated wood and screws, he assembled the 6-foot by 12-foot replica of St. John Church that rode in the back of a truck that pulled the float. That truck is owned by Ron Kelley, a Protestant who also helped with construction and is married to Ss. John & Paul parishioner Barb Kelley.
Bob Huschak, who painted the Agony in the Garden, has found taking part in such activities through Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish a good way to build relationships. A Byzantine Catholic, he belongs to that parish and attends Mass there because no Byzantine churches exist in the Burlington area, he said.
He projected a photo of the West Burlington church’s window onto a blank surface, and his wife, Marnie, traced an outline of the image. He then spent three days adding color to it. The couple also helped paint the wall resembling St. John Church on the back of the float.
Other parishioners donated barn space for painting and a hay wagon. Catholics also contributed 3,700 colored plastic bags that local newspapers were delivered in; those bags formed skirting around the bottom of the float. During the parade, Boy Scouts handed out candy in long-handled collection baskets.
“I was impressed with the number of people who got involved,” Skeens said.
The parishes created her position last year in hopes of helping parishioners embrace their call to evangelize, energizing parish life and welcoming lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Catholics in Des Moines County have since worked to educate parishioners on evangelization, invited non-Catholics to faith-formation studies and planned an upcoming six-week seminar for inactive Church members.
Parishioners plan to use the float again in the upcoming Independence Day parade in West Burlington.
“This was a nice vehicle for us to get together and have fun; now let’s go on to do other things to evangelize,” Spillane said.

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