The Marshall Street Starbucks becomes a fishbowl as I speak to the man across from me. Two walls of the crowded coffee shop are floor-to-ceiling windows, giving us a panoramic view of the Syracuse University students rushing by in a constant stream.
Dominick Mauro, a familiar face around Syracuse, is wearing a red hat that reads “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.” It comes from the biblical Book of Acts. He sits with a coffee in hand and a breast pocket full of pamphlets.
You’ve seen Mauro before- everyone has. For 17 years, the man, now 74, has stood on the street corners near SU preaching his faith. An Independent Baptist, Mauro calls himself a street evangelist.
Amid our conversation, he instructs me to look out the windows at the students walking past. He says they are indoctrinated to worldly things. This upcoming generation, Mauro says, is much harder to reach than those before it. Back in the old days, more people accepted tracts from him or stopped to talk to him. And less people gave him the middle finger.
“Another generation has come,” says Mauro. “And they’ve come up with humanistic values and they think they’re being lectured to.”
I buckle in for a lecture on millennial laziness, greed, and indulgence on avocado toast, but that’s not what Mauro gives.
“It’s the truth,” he continues. “A lot of that I can tell you, but you’re not going to understand it because you don’t know the Bible.”
I’ve been studying it since I was a kid, but I’ve already told him that.
Throughout our conversation, I remind Mauro that it’s not his beliefs I want know about- I’m curious about him. I try to make my questions more direct, mainly concerning why he does what he does: preaching on street corners three times a week.
“I wish I could say I was evangelizing,” Mauro says. “I am, but I’m not. The ground, when it’s hard, cannot receive seed… The ground is adamant today. The ground in America is hard.”
Mauro references a metaphor used throughout the Bible; the hearts of man is the soil and the gospel — the message that God sent Jesus to die and rise again to atone for the sins of man — is the seed.
As a street evangelist, Mauro says he is spreading the seed but that doesn’t mean the soil is receptive. He knows most people aren’t listening. But still, he does it. For Mauro, it’s all about following the command in the Bible to speak publically. Most preachers are afraid to do so, Mauro says.
Only a few times a week does anyone stop to talk Mauro, but he doesn’t see this as a failure. Standing on street corners, he plants the idea of salvation that he hopes another Christian down the road will help the listener to understand and take to heart. In this manner, Mauro says he’s ministered to well over 25,000 people.
Although Mauro is a familiar face around SU, few know much about his personal life.
“I’m a salesman,” he says. “I sell electrical supplies. I have a wife, three children, nine grandchildren.
Mauro proudly smiles as he talks about his grandkids. One teachers in Boston, another plays hockey for her college’s team. And, she’s saved, Mauro adds, meaning she believes in the Bible and the gospel. But not everyone in his family is.
Mauro’s eldest daughter doesn’t share his faith, at least not “yet,” he says.
“Even with my unsaved daughter I have a great relationship,” says Mauro. “She’s a great wife and mom- good girl. I pray for her constantly.”
He opens his Bible to a passage in the Book of Revelation and reads aloud to me. The verse talks about the non-believers who are fearful.
“That’s her,” Mauro says. “My daughter knows the truth- she will not tell you ‘my dad is wrong.’ Never. But she’s afraid because she doesn’t want any change.”
Mauro’s other three children and wife share his beliefs.
“I was 19 years of age, I was drinking pretty heavy,” says the now-street evangelist. “I drank so much one day, I started drinking at two or three in the afternoon. I drank enough to kill two people my size, so bad that I lost most of my memory for three or four days. I hadn’t slept for 36 hours straight. I wasted my life.”
But then, Mauro met his wife. In order to properly take her out and prove himself to her father, Mauro knew he had to get a job. And so he did, and he began to get his life together.
“If God hadn’t brought my wife into my life, I’d have been dead,” Mauro says. “If I hadn’t gotten married I probably would have self-destructed. I had no purpose in life.”
The topic of family seems to bring out the more humble side of Mauro. Aside from God, family is his priority in life. This life of his is something that he doesn’t believes he deserves.
“I’m not worthy,” Mauro says talking about his life and his ministry to the people of Syracuse. “It’s glorious.”
He sees himself like he sees everyone else- sinful and rebellious. Mauro says he had always been “fearful of man” and afraid of his own lack of accomplishment before he was saved.
“The only good thing in me is Jesus Christ,” he adds.
Over the course of the last 17 years, Mauro has experienced a lot of confrontation. More times than he can remember he has been taunted, yelled at, given obscene gestures, spit on, and even paunched. Most of the time, he just takes it.
Mauro doesn’t go out to harass people, he says, but adds that his teaching might be taken as harassment. He isn’t shouting, he’s preaching. Mauro affirms that he isn’t judgemental or confrontational; Jesus himself spoke harshly and called people “vipers” to get his point across.
“They think I’m judging them and I’m not. They judge me. Most students are judging me according to my appearance without asking me,” says Mauro, later adding: “Tolerance is the big word today, but they’re not tolerant of people who disagree with them.”
He’s also aware that other Christians think his street corner preaching does a disservice to the religion. They tell him that his style of evangelism pushes people away.
“They don’t understand the Bible,” Mauro says. “That’s not true.”
As we talk in the crowded Starbucks, I feel a tap on my shoulder. A man seated behind me asks what I’m writing about- Christianity in Syracuse, or just Mauro. He seems concerned as he gives me his card telling me that he’s a pastor. The man encourages me to call him if I have any questions and after apologizing for interrupting, he’s gone.
I sense that our conversation is coming to an end but still feel as though I don’t understand Mauro. He adds my name at the end of a lot of his sentences in a way that makes it seems like he believes that he really knows me. But I have one last question for Mauro.
I ask him what he would write if he could write a letter to the whole SU student body if he knew everyone would read it.
“Be sure your sin will find you out,” he says. “Prepare to meet thy God.”
I ask a different question, hoping to be more direct: “What do you wish people understood about you?”
“That I have the right motive for being here,” Mauro says. “I care about people’s eternal souls and destiny. I come up here with no thought of myself or any selfish reason.”
With that, I start to pack up and go. Ringing in my ear is what Mauro first said to me when I sat down across from him. He told me about a past journalist who had written a biased, opinionated article about him. Years later, the journalist called Mauro to apologize, saying he wrote what he thought people wanted to read.
Finished with the interview, I thank Mauro for his time. But he isn’t done with me.
“Are you saved?” he asks. “Have you truly accepted Jesus Christ?”
I feel a swell of frustration, I’d already made my stance on the matter clear.
“Do you have a bible? Do you read it?”
Before I form my answer, he’s on to his next question.