What does a traveling evangelist do during the coronavirus lockdown?

Stefanick on stage Chris Stefanick. Courtesy photo.

What does a traveling evangelist do when a global pandemic keeps him at home? He goes online!

One Catholic evangelist said that lessons he's learning about online evangelization during the coronavirus pandemic could make some Catholic ministries far more effective than they once were.

Chris Stefanick, who hosts EWTN's "Real Life Catholic," also travels the country, speaking to more than 80,000 people each year. His travels are the way he spreads the Word of God, and the way he makes a living.

Stefanick told CNA that preaching during the pandemic has meant a slew of personal and practical challenges. But he said those challenges could compel the Church to develop and refine effective use of technology for evangelization.

"This is not a time for the Church to slow down its ministry. It's time to aggressively pivot and quickly pivot. This hasn't changed what we do at that core," Stefanick said.

In the past, even the recent past, Stefanick said, his evangelization work has focused mostly on events at which he speaks about how the Gospel, and the Church, have transformed his life and the lives of others.

His ministry has "able to leverage my gift for speaking with 40 parishes a year and that makes an impact," he said.

But those events, however effective they are, have impact limited by attendance.

"Taking that same thing and doing it digitally," Stefanick explained, broadens the reach of his ministry.

"If this succeeds, we can work with hundreds and hundreds of parishes. Whereas the events were limited by how many places I can get to."

The pandemic will "make us more effective because this will strengthen the whole digital component of our ministry. So instead of being 75% about events, 25% digital, now it's 100% digital. By the time we are out of this, we [will] strengthen that component," he said.

Stefanick pointed to "I AM," a virtual coaching program that was released by his ministry, Real Life Catholic, on Ash Wednesday. He said the initiative aims to help users replace negative self-thoughts with positive reflections on the Word of God. Drawing from struggles in his own life, he said, "I AM" is a program that is relevant to everyone, even non-Catholics.

"We have a 30-day coaching program and it's [one] of the most effective ministr[ies] we've ever done, based on the responses of people [and] how it's hitting their hearts. It's a program about helping people rewire how they talk to themselves and replace self-talk with the uplifting Word of God," he said.

"I've been with the Lord for a long time and I wrote some of this out of personal experience of the things that I struggle with negative self-talk."

The coronavirus lockdown has changed Stefanick's daily work schedule and brought about some own personal concerns, including worries about finances and the fragility of society. He said, though, it is also a blessing to spend so much time with family. 

"I can perceive the good for me in that I haven't been home this much in 10 years and it's the Sabbath that's made me relook at life. We'll never get this chance again. God willing. We will never get the chance again to pause on so many of our activities," he said.

"So it led to a lot of reflection, self-correction, repentance, prayer, silence and family time. Doing things like taking walks with kids, things I never did before that I regret not having done. Very simple things that you lose track of when life is going 300 miles an hour."

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Stefanick said the pandemic is also an opportunity to trust in the Lord.

"It also forces a real look, not theoretical, but a very real [look] at life and death," he said. "We're delusional in the Western world. We forget … how fragile the whole system is that insulates us from our need, from death, from everything," Stefanick said.

"I found myself in moments of fear when going to the grocery store and seeing everything [going] totally nuts, " he said. "[It's ] forced me to come back to, 'Lord, you are really my provider and whatever happens to me, your only motive is love.' And that's where my peace comes from. Not [from] having enough to pay bills and enough stuff out there to get what I need."

Stefanick said the pandemic requires a different kind of courage than many people might have expected, adding that members of the Church are all called to a sort of monastic lifestyle at the moment. He said it would be potentially hazardous for people to break the quarantine, and should focus on an important work of mercy - prayer.

He pointed to a challenge from Pope Francis, who has offered a plenary indulgence to people suffering from COVID-19 and their caretakers, including healthcare workers, along with their benefactors in prayer.

The pandemic will lead to more death in the upcoming weeks and those in the hospitals need to know that prayers are being offered for them, Stefanick said..

"What's being asked of us during this time is withdrawal, silence, and the life of a Carthusian monk …  not the life of an evangelist missionary. So that's a different kind of heroism and it's no less difficult. Frankly. I think it would be easier for me if I knew I could go out and help people and risk my life going to Mass," he said.

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"We really have to pray for the world right now … We should be praying a lot for people who are facing death. It's going to be a lot of bad news in the month ahead. A lot of people are gonna lose their lives and they need prayers."

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