ChristLife sparks personal, parish renewal

ChristLife, an apostolate of the Archdiocese of Baltimore that trains people to share their faith as part of the New Evangelization, will hold its annual National Training Conference at St. Philip Neri Church in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, April 20-22. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori will open the conference, which will have speakers to appeal to both new and experienced Catholic evangelists.

“We welcome both clergy and laity — anyone looking for a way to successfully evangelize,” said Dave Nodar, ChristLife’s founder. “It’s also a great opportunity for personal renewal and an opportunity to network with others involved in the field of evangelization.”

Archbishop Lori has offered his strongest endorsement of the apostolate, telling 2014 national conference participants: “ChristLife is helping us here in Baltimore to discover once again the depth of the Lord’s love, the beauty of that love, and the urgency of this mission.”

Program’s aim

Nodar was inspired to found ChristLife in 1995 in response to Pope John Paul II’s call “to evangelize with generosity and holiness.”

There were three elements lacking in parish evangelization when he began, Nodar believed. These included: a need for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ; a method for people to mature in that relationship; and an effective training course with other disciples so that individuals may be well-equipped to share their faith.

The ChristLife series Nodar created involves three video-driven programs which, he explained, were “developed to help all people discover, follow and share Jesus Christ as members of the Catholic Church.” The “Discovering Christ” program invites people into a personal relationship with Jesus; the “Following Christ” program provides the tools participants need to follow Jesus as a disciple, and the “Sharing Christ” program equips Catholics with the practical skills to proclaim the Gospel.

Nodar said he has seen the program “explode” in the past six years, with 60,000 completing it in 600 parishes both in the United States and other nations. ChristLife has its headquarters in Baltimore and is operated by a small staff and a team of volunteers. It is funded by donations and product sales.

Fostering renewal

The speakers for the upcoming conference include Father Erik Arnold, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, Maryland, who has worked with ChristLife over the past decade.

“It’s amazing the kind of transformation that can take place when people’s hearts are awakened to the reality of God’s love for them, the reality of his mercy and care,” Father Arnold said of ChristLife’s first program. “‘Discovering Christ’ proclaims that Good News, creating an environment for people to hear it, welcome it and respond to it.”

Dianne Davis, another scheduled speaker, added that she deepened her personal relationship with Jesus after attending a 2009 conference, saying, “it changed me for the better. ... I knew this was something the Catholic Church needed in order to experience renewal.”

Today, Davis serves as New York regional director of ChristLife and travels the nation speaking at conferences. She asserts that she regularly sees its benefits.

“People are full of joy, they attend Mass regularly, have a hunger to know God through Scripture, are creating a welcoming environment, are more generous with their time and money and, most importantly, are becoming missionary disciples.”

She singled out for encouragement pastors who are experiencing declining Mass attendance at their parishes. Addressing them, she said, “ChristLife has developed a practical and proven way to bring the New Evangelization to your parishes.”

Father Arnold likes its effects in his parish.

“I’ve seen my own parishioners who had a lot of head knowledge about the Faith transformed as the Faith moves into their hearts and they enter into a real and living relationship with Jesus.”

He’s also observed that ChristLife builds community in parishes as “participants really begin to trust one another and develop a bond of friendship. This spills over into Mass, and it changes the way we pray at Mass when we actually know the people around us.”

‘Real and practical way’

“ChristLife has been a huge blessing for me in my priesthood because we never got any of this in the seminary,” Father Arnold said. “Even though Pope St. John Paul spoke often about the New Evangelization, it hadn’t made its way into the seminary by the time I was ordained in 1999. But thankfully, the ChristLife series teaches you how to actually accomplish the work of the New Evangelization in a real and practical way.”

Nodar concluded, saying, “We need to have a way to invite people in parishes and outside to come join us in a way that is relational but nonthreatening and nonpressuring. I think ChristLife has proven itself to be an excellent way.”

Jim Graves writes from California.