ELLICOTT CITY — LaDonna Hale Went to church but didn’t feel she had a relationship with God. She considered herself a lukewarm Catholic – until she discovered ChristLife.
“I know Him now and I know He knows me,” Hale said, choking back tears as she shared her story June 21 with the more than 200 people gathered for the three-day ChristLife National Training Conference at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Ellicott City.
Hale’s testimony kicked off the second day of training for ChristLife, a Catholic ministry for evangelization based at St. William of York Parish in Ten Hills. This year’s participants came from 36 U.S. dioceses as well as Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Singapore.
Matt Lozano, director for training and leadership development for Heart of the Father, a Philadelphia-based ministry, compared the mission of an evangelist to that of a farmer in the first keynote address June 21.
There are three seasons on a farm, he said: sowing, growing and harvest.
“Throughout your life, you’re called to all three,” said Lozano, noting that the sowing season can be discouraging and the growing season the longest. “That’s where maturity happens.”
Harvest season, Lozano said, is the most exciting. “I love harvest time.”
He referred to John’s Gospel story about the woman at the well. “You cannot see the harvest if you’re offended that Jesus is talking to a woman.”
He noted how Jesus’ disciples were scandalized that Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman, and similarly urged participants to be open whoever seeks a deeper faith: the man who has an operation to look like a woman, the traditional Catholic, the liberal Catholic.
“Jesus taught his disciples how to reap in Samaria,” he said. He encouraged the audience to make room for the “freaks and the geeks,” and “those who don’t have anything to offer you.”
Lozano told the audience to open their eyes, look at the fields and rejoice.
“What you see is not typically what He sees,” Lozano said. “The Father transforms hearts.”
As Lozano concluded, he asked the audience to pray to see the harvest, saying, “We say yes to your harvest, Lord.”
The day continued with workshops on inviting young adults, the three ChristLife programs, prayer and small groups. For the first time, according to Pete Ascosi, assistant director of ChristLife, a workshop focused on bilingual communities.
In his keynote before lunch, Ascosi offered six steps to attracting new people to the ChristLife programs:
• Set a clear vision and a goal. “Why are we doing this?” Ascosi asked.
• Identify an evangelization coordinator. Ascosi said it may take time to find someone gifted. “Be patient. God will raise these people up.”
• Equip your team to invite people in. He pointed to invitation cards, social media and face to face.
• Make ChristLife visible. “If Bingo is seen and heard, let’s make things like Discovering Christ seen and heard,” Ascosi said, mentioning promotions of parish dinners and other events through personal letters, parade floats and on banners as big as the Bingo banners erected on church property and newspaper articles.
•Embrace the process. He urged evangelization teams to understand the three parts of the ChristLife process – Discovering Christ, Following Christ and Sharing Christ – as well as how to include participants in other parts of parish life.
• Be creative. Ascosi said it’s hard to measure evangelization’s success. “That’s not necessarily God’s viewpoint.”
Debra Benson of St. Ignatius Parish in Hickory said their parish census showed numbers were dropping. With the approval of Monsignor James Barker, pastor, the parish adopted the ChristLife program four years ago. Gauging its impact is difficult, Benson said, but she’s convinced of its value, saying, “It has brought a sense of community.”
At Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville, pastoral associate Thomas Little said the program encourages parishioners to contemplate God in their lives.
He said the program — a social event, talk and discussion — works for their large parish. “It’s been easy to do,” he said.
With its emphasis on hospitality and kindness, he added, “It’s also good Christian practice.”
The conference was to conclude June 22 with a Mass celebrated by auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker.