ChristLife spurs faith-sharing efforts

To some Catholics, evangelization is a scary word. 
But for Christ the King parishioner Al Avila, evangelization can be as simple as exhibiting joyful, patient, honest, caring behavior at work and showing outward signs of one’s Christianity.
From last September through this February, he and his wife, Mary, attended an adult evangelization program at his parish called ChristLife, which helped them deepen their faith and learn how to share it with others.
Inspired by those sessions, Avila began placing on his desk at work a San Damiano crucifix, an icon-style crucifix with various Scripture scenes along its edges. “Things like that attract people’s attention, sometime prompting questions, and it gives me an opportunity to share my faith,” he said.
And that’s the purpose of ChristLife, said Father Damien Cook, pastor.
“Our desire is to help people to know Christ personally,” he said. “People can get together in small groups and share their faith, encounter Jesus through each other, identify where God is in their lives and learn to tell that story to others and explain why they believe.”
About 200 people have attended two of three cycles of ChristLife at the parish, and the third will be offered in September, Father Cook said. 
On July 20-21, the parish hopes to expand its efforts by holding a conference for parish leaders and inviting people from other parishes to learn how to run the first unit, titled “Discovering Christ.”
Christ the King members Robert and Madaline Hursh also have attended ChristLife, which helped them gain the tools and the confidence to reach out to share Christ with others.
It’s also deepened their prayer life, he said. “I pray that the Lord will help me bring him to the people I meet each day.”
He’s become something of a prayer warrior. “Since people know I pray for others, they often bring their prayer petitions to me and ask for prayer,” Hursh said.
Another parishioner, Cheri Andrews, was “nudged by the Holy Spirit” to attend, and found it a moving experience at a time in her life when she did not feel close to God.
“I kept reading about it in the parish bulletin and thought, maybe I should go,” she said.
“In the program’s group sessions, hearing other people’s stories helped me share where I was at,” she said. “The biggest thing I learned is that God is with you wherever you’re at in your faith life.”
She also has returned to the sacrament of reconciliation after a long period away.
Although she remains reserved about evangelizing, Andrews said she is taking “baby steps” in that direction by simply sharing her own experiences with others.
Making missionary disciples by helping people discover, follow and share Jesus Christ is a key archdiocesan priority, said Father Jeffrey Lorig, director of pastoral services.
Efforts to make that happen are “springing up all over the archdiocese,” he said.
To live out the archdiocese’s pastoral vision – “One church: Encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy” – about half the parishes in the archdiocese already have begun or are planning initiatives to help parishioners spread God’s word to the unchurched, he said.
“The Catholic Church is missionary and is called to go out,” he said. “It does not exist for itself, but for non-members. It’s about recovering the lost.
“But for too long, we’ve been thinking about ourselves and lost the reason we exist,” Father Lorig said.
The emphasis of programs like ChristLife, Alpha and other evangelization efforts is on adult evangelization, which is different from catechesis or hospitality, he said. “It’s about discovering or re-discovering the treasure that is Jesus Christ and making disciples for the Lord.”
Andrew Dejka, coordinator of parish evangelization and adult discipleship for the archdiocese, said ChristLife is one of a number of tools the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis recommends as a “conversion engine” – a driving force – for making disciples in parishes.
The program, which originated in Baltimore in 1995, uses a relational process, including shared meals, talks on the basics of the Christian faith, small group discussions and weekend retreats, he said. 
It includes three sets of seven weekly sessions each, titled “Discovering Christ,” “Following Christ” and “Sharing Christ.”
Other effective programs include Alpha, Christians Encounter Christ, Catholic Christian Outreach Small Groups and Christ Renews His Parish, Dejka said.
“We encourage parish leaders to consider what conversion engine may be a good fit in their unique context.”
Father Cook said the training conference later this month will offer something for all parish leaders.
“Even for people who are not going to help present ChristLife programs, the conference teaches group facilitation skills, how to really listen, how to pray with people – tools that are useful for other apostolates or parish groups,” Father Cook said. “So everyone is welcome.”
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