By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

Discoverers don’t drop out.

Celeste Snyderman, of St. Paul Church in Rome, attended a “Discovering Christ” event and submitted this email report to Mary Hallman, director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization:

“On the first night of Discovering Christ, one of the members of my small group told me she wasn’t coming back. She said she was beyond the program in her faith. I told her that we are all in different places, and asked her to continue for the benefit of others. She continued, and at the conclusion of the last night, she hugged me and told me she was wrong, she was glad she stayed, and she was looking forward to the next session. She even gave me a gift – an uplifting DVD which I have played every day since.”

Father Robert P. Hyde Jr., Pastor of St. Margaret Church in Mattydale also offered a favorable review of the Discovering Christ experience: “It was very energizing for many parishioners,” he said in an email. Father Hyde noted that the program is multigenerational, with young people, middle-age people, and seniors all together.

“Discovering Christ is an opportunity for people to come together, share a meal, watch a video, have a discussion, and really get to the bottom of some of the deepest questions people have about our faith,” Hallman said.

A Discovering Christ Training Conference will be held Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 at Our Lady of Peace Church in Lakeland. Admission is $45 per person; $25 for clergy and religious.

This will be a conference to train people who will then go back to their parishes and train other parishioners in how to implement the Discovering Christ program.    

“One of the great things about Discovering Christ is it can be run completely by the laity,” Hallman said. The program is the first part of ChristLife, a three-part process of forming disciples.

Hallman said Discovering Christ aims to point people to the sacraments and Jesus Christ in the context of the parish community, to make the liturgy on Sunday more meaningful to them, to make them more likely to come to Mass, and to make them step outside the life they lead every day and to live differently.

Participants will also learn how to run the Discovering Christ course, how to recruit volunteers, and how to facilitate a small group.

The program poses these questions: What is the meaning of life? Who is Jesus? Why does one need a savior? Why does church matter? The participants wrestle with these questions in small-group sessions.

“Discovering Christ,” Hallman said, is really an effective way to allow them to bring their questions and to come up on their own [answers] within the context of community.”

The teaching aspect of the program, she said, happens in the video portions; all the videos are about 30 minutes long. Then the participants break into small groups, and a facilitator helps them dig a little bit deeper.

“Their defenses kind of fall a little bit,” Hallman said, “and they become, in that sharing, they become a little more transparent. And that’s how relationships develop among people. … There’s a level of trust that develops that allows them to be more forthcoming with their thoughts and their feelings.”

The program is considered evangelization, Hallman said, “because what we help people understand throughout this Discovering Christ process is that our purpose and our meaning in life is to have a relationship with God, so that we can come to know, love, and serve him in this world and be with him forever in the next.”

A terrific speaker who will address the participants, Hallman said, is Father Michael A. Saporito, of the Parish Community of St. Helen in Westfield, N.J.

“He jumps around, he’s like on fire,” Hallman said.

She added: “He talks about how the Holy Spirit is part of everything that you do in Discovering Christ. And he shares about how this program has really impacted his ministry as a priest personally.”

Twenty parishes in the diocese are involved in the Discovering Christ program. About eight of them received a diocesan McDevitt Grant for evangelization to help underwrite the cost of it, Hallman said.

The conference will be held 7-9 p.m. Sept. 23, and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 24 at the church at 203 Halcomb St. in Lakeland.

“I’d like to see more and more parishes utilizing Discovering Christ because it’s great in a lot of aspects,” Hallman said. “First of all, it’s a way for us to invite people to our parish that maybe are not parishioners, that have either fallen away from the church or no longer practicing the faith. … So it gives us a chance to connect up with them in a really nonthreatening way.”

But it’s also for the people that are in the pews. “It really gives them a chance to deepen their faith,” she said.

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