WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Devoted Legionaries Richard Jiry and Lolita Romero must spend two hours a week doing works of mercy.
Like the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, members of the Legion of Mary visit private homes regularly in search of souls.
In Alberta they invite hundreds to the Church every year, most of them fallen-away Catholics.
"We are evangelizers; the primary work of the Legion of Mary is evangelization," explains local Legion leader Richard Jiry. "We are called to share Jesus and his Catholic Church with our neighbours."
Legionaries meet once a week and are required to spend two hours a week doing works of mercy.
As well as visiting homes, they visit hospitals, prisons, nursing homes and mental institutions. They also make "pilgrim Virgin visits," in which they take a statue of the Virgin Mary to private homes and recite the rosary.
The statue, complete with flowers and candles, is left in the home for a week so residents can pray with Mary.
"We've visited very many broken homes and in that visit where Mother Mary is invited into their home, big changes have happened in the home," said Jiry, a member of the Legion at St. Andrew's Parish in Edmonton. "Order has been restored in the homes and that is really a blessing."
The Legion of Mary is an international lay organization founded in Dublin in 1921 by Frank Duff, who committed himself to it until his death at age 92.
Archbishop Richard Smith will preside at a Mass commemorating the Legion's 90th anniversary at St. Andrew's Church, 12810-111 Ave., in Edmonton, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.
Currently in Alberta the Legion has 44 senior and seven junior praesidia, or parish-based branches, with 430 active members and 1,674 auxiliary members.
In the Edmonton Archdiocese, there are branches of the Legion in 13 parishes. Every branch has a different focus.
"At the basilica we work at the General Hospital and bring the sacraments and Holy Communion (to the sick)," explained Lolita Romero, a retired schoolteacher and a legionary for 30 years. "In the senior homes around the basilica we do lay-led liturgies."
By doing this "we help people go back to the sacraments and to continue to live their faith," Romero said. "It's very fulfilling work. We are living our Christian faith and spreading the Gospel."
Door-to-door visitations happen in a particular parish with the blessing of the pastor. During a visit, they inform people of the time of the Masses and give them a parish bulletin.
"We share with our neighbours who we are and we strike up a little conversation and then we share a little bit about the faith and it matters not if they are Catholic or fallen-away Catholics."
Recently two children were brought into the Church at St. Angela's Parish as a result of the door-to-door visitation.
Moreover, countless fallen away Catholics have returned to the Church thanks to the visitations.
Jiry, a legionary for 16 years, estimates members of the Legion at St. Andrew's Parish invite back to the Church at least 400 people a year. "Some people would say, 'You are the first ones in a long time that have ever come to me from the Church.'"
In their visits, the legionaries learn some people stopped going to church simply because they were ill.
"Then what we do is we always make sure that they are visited on a regular basis so that someone can get them to Mass or help them in their spiritual growth at home," Jiry explained.
"If we see they are very poor and in need of financial aid we refer them to Catholic Social Services or St. Vincent de Paul."
The legionaries once met a man who was visited only by Mormons when he was home sick.
"Nobody from the church has visited me," he complained. The legionaries continued to visit him until he recovered.
"I saw the man recently and he said, 'You've got me back stronger in my faith. I was almost thinking that all religions are the same but now I know what the difference is - the Body and Blood of Christ,'" Jiry related.
Sometimes Legion members set up a table in a flea market to distribute literature and to talk to people. Or they go to a shopping mall to chat with shoppers. "People are stressed and they need a little bit of love."
Jiry says sharing his faith with others through the Legion gives him "a feeling of happiness and joy."