By Pete Ascosi
I had the privilege of traveling to Ireland to present a Discovering Christ Conference a couple weeks ago with five others from ChristLife.
We were invited by Tine, an Irish Catholic network for the new evangelization. Tine leaders Albert Galea and Tim Nichols have helped organize many conferences on evangelization over the years, but they were looking for practical means of actually doing the work of evangelization at the parish level.
Enter Discovering Christ.
Arriving a bit grogy from the plane flight, we spent a day of rest and prayer at a beautiful Focolare Retreat Center in Co. Kildare. This retreat center provided more than rest and prayer, but also the opportunity to form “one mind and one heart” with the wonderful folks from Tine, and NET Ireland, who together comprised our conference team.
Together this multi-generational team with folks from five countries prayed and prepared to put on the Discovering Christ conference.
Two Catholic bishops, twelve priests, and about seventy lay people from across Ireland gathered to hear about Discovering Christ. The first evening the conference participants mainly soaked in the presentations and worship.
By the second day of the conference there was a buzz in the room as participants grew in their enthusiasm for Discovering Christ.
One highlight for me was the sample Discovering Christ session or practicum, where we mix participants up at tables and hear the first talk of Discovering Christ "What is the Meaning of Life?" by Dave Nodar. After the talk, conference attendees got their first opportunity to have a small group discussion.
At my table, everyone related to a central question of the talk, “What prevents people from stopping and considering the meaning of life?” While I had been warned that parish small groups are very new in Ireland, the people at my table all opened up and shared openly about their own struggles and how they found meaning and purpose in life through their faith in Jesus Christ.
"I feel completely renewed," wrote one conference participant, "As a mum of four children I have been searching. After Friday night I said to my husband 'ChristLife is what's missing in my life.'"
Another highlight was Fr. Erik Arnold’s talk "A New Pentecost for a New Evangelization." The talk not only presents the absolute necessity for the Holy Spirit, but gives conference attendees the opportunity to choose the grace of the sacraments again by renewing the baptismal promises through a prayer of commitment to Jesus Christ and renewal in the Holy Spirit:
Please forgive me for all the things I have done wrong.
I turn to You and turn away from sin.
Jesus, please be the center of my life.
I welcome You personally as the Lord and Savior of my life.
I surrender everything to you.
I ask you to fill me with the Holy Spirit,
empowering me to live as a daughter/son of God.
I want to have your grace to truly live a new life.
Praise and thank You, Lord.
After the talk we invited participants to make this prayer commitment either in their own words or using the written prayer with prayer teams around the room. It was humbling to pray with so many heartfelt lay people and priests who sincerely surrendered their life to Jesus Christ, many for the first time in such a personal way. After we prayed with each person, there was a profound sense of peace and joy as each person thanked us for witnessing their commitment to the Lord.
"I found the opportunity to be prayed with fulfilling," wrote another participant, "Sometimes you need to feel your heart being raised to a deep relationship with Christ. I felt that today."
As the conference ended on Saturday evening we warmly gave our goodbyes to bishops, priests, and laity who headed back home with renewed hope and enthusiasm for Jesus Christ and the mission of evangelization.
In retrospect, this trip to Ireland was more than helping the Irish Church embrace the New Evangelization through the Discovering Christ course. It was an opportunity for our team to discover Christ ourselves in a deeper way through the people of Ireland. In particular the witness of communities, ministries, and movements – like Tine, Net Ireland, and Focolare – gave me hope for the Church in Ireland.
Faith-filled conversations with people during our travels; intimate times of prayer and Mass with our team; inspiring talks; fellowship and laughter over Irish food and drink; and even an encounter on the street with a young homeless man all left me with a deeper thirst to know Christ myself and to share Him with the world.