By Dave Jolivet
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — For several years the parishioners at St. John the Evangelist have taken the mission of its patron saint very seriously. The Attleboro parish has maintained a small, active and very committed evangelization committee to not only receive the Good News of Jesus Christ, but to share it with as many people as possible.
“We have held different events over the last few years with evangelization as the core,” Chris Donoghue, chairman of the committee, told The Anchor. “We are always looking for something more to sustain our faith lives and to spread that faith with others.”
The latest venture, which will end April 25, is a seven-week course, the first component of the nationally-formed ChristLife series, titled “Discovering Christ.”
According to the ChristLife website, “Discovering Christ” is the first of a three-step program. The “Discovering Christ” element, according to the site, “opens the door for people who are searching for the meaning of their lives,” where they can “share the Good News and the personal love of Jesus Christ’”
Donoghue said that a few years back the committee, in its commitment to evangelization, was looking for new ways to accomplish the ongoing goal. “We went online and discovered the ChristLife program,” he said. “I saw there was a national meeting in Baltimore and I attended and got some great information and feedback from parishes across the country. I brought the information back to the committee and we agreed it would be a good fit for our parish.”
The Attleboro committee went through its own training process and embraced the idea. “The biggest question for us was, ‘Would people commit seven weeks to attend the sessions?”’ added Donoghue. “We approached our pastor, Father Richard Wilson, and we decided to incorporate the idea into a Lenten program.”
The committee focused on an extensive invitation process, using the parish bulletins, sending out postcards, speaking to parents of Faith Formation students who will be receiving a Sacrament this year, and even sending E-invites to those parishioners with email addresses.
“We wanted to invite and welcome as many people as we could,” said Donoghue. “We had a team of 25 facilitators and we would have been happy with that. But the response was overwhelming and during the first three or four sessions we’ve averaged 130 people.”
Donoghue said each session begins with a catered meal, free of charge, where no catechesis takes place, but rather, gives the attendees the opportunity to socialize and get to meet new people, and “make new friends.”
The actual “Discovering Christ” sessions include a video, after which people, who are part of a group of eight to 10 individuals, including a team person, are invited to say what they felt about what they heard. “We encouraged people to say what they felt, not sharing something they thought we wanted to hear,” said Donoghue. “We provide a safe, non-judgmental space to say what’s on one’s mind.”
Donoghue added that the sharing sessions have become more active each week.
A very important element of the sessions is a one-day retreat focused on the Holy Spirit. “Most of us received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation without making an adult decision,” Donoghue told The Anchor. “The retreat presented the opportunity for folks to make that decision, respond to the Holy Spirit’s call to know Christ. There were two talks on the Holy Spirit and His influence in changing lives. Prayer teams also invoked the Holy Spirit to move people to make a verbal commitment to the Lord. It was very moving for a lot of people, including the team.”
The Attleboro parish’s venture into the ChristLife series was the first in Massachusetts.
“The people who have attended the sessions have loved it,” said Donoghue. “Some have said it has exceeded their expectations. The fact that 130 people attend each week speaks for itself.”
Ashley Michelle is one of the participants. She told The Anchor, “‘Discovering Christ’ has been such an amazing experience, at such a crucial time in my life. I’m new to the parish, and it’s allowing me to restore my faith; I was lost and now I’m found.
“I was so nervous at first because I only knew one person, praying we were in the same group, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was afraid I’d be ‘tested’ on what I knew in front of complete strangers. But it wasn’t anything like that!
“‘Discovering Christ’ welcomes everyone; those who have been actively practicing their entire life, those who are converting from another religion, those who strayed away and have returned, and everything in between. It’s a family I didn’t even know I was a part of, and am so happy I’ve allowed myself to be a part of. I truly feel blessed for everyone I’ve met, for the thought-provoking dialogue, and for the Holy Spirit Who guided me to here. I am looking forward to following Christ.”
Donoghue told The Anchor that preparing for this wonderful parish experience was very easy. “The ChristLife people are incredible,” he said. “The training they provide is so complete. They guide you through everything.”
Lori Castro was one of the program facilitators at St. John’s. “‘Discovering Christ’ has been an amazing experience for me,” she told The Anchor. “I am blessed and honored to be a facilitator and to see the workings of the Holy Spirit in our small group at our weekly sessions.
“As a parish this program has brought us a renewal as a faith community. It is important for us to sit and talk about our faith, to meet new people, be welcoming to all and to renew our commitment to Christ and His teachings. I am so grateful St. John’s has offered this to the community. It has certainly strengthened my faith and the parish as a whole.”
Donoghue said he hopes they can offer the second and third parts of the ChristLife series in the future — the remaining two, “Following Christ” and “Sharing Christ.”
“The remaining series should be offered within a certain time period, but a snowstorm set us back, so we are concentrating on finishing this series, then we’ll discuss the future,” Donoghue said.
Donoghue highly recommends the “Discovering Chris,” sessions to all parishes. “I feel every parish should be doing something to evangelize, and this is a wonderful experience,” he said. “It’s really easy to prepare and if there are questions or concerns, the ChristLife people are always there for you.”