Dutchess Evangelization Program Opens Door to Discovering Christ

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A partnership between the archdiocese and ChristLife opens the door to future evangelization programs like the record-setting one just completed at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie.

Nearly 500 people participated in ChristLife’s Discovering Christ program for seven weeks at Lourdes, which concluded Oct. 28 with a catered dinner, music, panel discussion and testimonies from participants.

“Whether it’s this specific program or other opportunities like this, the point is if you bring people together who are committed to their faith or the Church, they can do great things,” said Dr. Daniel Frascella, director of the archdiocesan Office of Adult Faith Formation.

“This has been a wonderful example, but I know from my time here, every pocket of the archdiocese is filled with people like this. If we can play a role to bring those people together and reach others, we would be very happy to do that. This was the first attempt at it, and it’s gone pretty well.”

Dianne Davis, the New York regional director for ChristLife, said the seven-week program at Lourdes was the largest ever held, drawing many participants from Dutchess County and others from the Hudson Valley and Albany. Discovering Christ is the first of ChristLife’s three programs. The second seven-week program, Following Christ, begins March 31 at Holy Trinity in Poughkeepsie. Sharing Christ is the third.

ChristLife has reached about 140,000 people and 900 parishes in 40 states and 12 countries since 2009. The first ChristLife event in New York was organized in 2010 by Lisa Timm at Holy Trinity, with the support of Father Joseph LaMorte, the pastor of Holy Trinity at the time and now the vicar general and chancellor of the archdiocese.

“This is the fulfillment of a desire the Lord put in my heart in June 2017,” said Ms. Davis, a parishioner at St. Martin de Porres in Poughkeepsie.

“I feel the Lord gave me an idea to do a big Discovering Christ for Dutchess County. I called (Auxiliary) Bishop (Peter) Byrne, and he contacted my pastor, Msgr. (James) Sullivan who is the dean for Dutchess County, and Daniel Frascella from the archdiocese. The four of us met in August 2017. They just listened to the idea I feel the Lord gave me.

“This is really our community coming together to do what the Church calls us to do, which is to bring people to Christ.”

Participants were assigned to the same table of eight to 10 people each week. They were served a catered dinner by some of the 160 volunteers, who arrived as early as 1 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. event to set up the stage and sound system in the gymnasium for the evening’s program as well as 50 tables and close to 500 chairs for participants.

Musician Michael Corsino led the group in song, which was followed by a discussion with panelists Ms. Davis, Ms. Timm and Frascella. The three discussed Scripture, the importance of Mass attendance, church community and the sacraments. Desert, coffee and testimonies from participants followed the panel discussion.

“At our table, we have folks who differ in age by 60 years,” said Roy Wood, a 51-year-old parishioner of St. Mary’s in Marlboro. “When I first sat down, I said we have nothing in common. By the end of the first night, we really found we all had something to offer. It was a beautiful thing. The group at our table will stay together and do some home visits through the holidays.

“It is why the small tables are so important because you have a small community within the bigger community of the room. At my age, a lot of the teachings and messaging is stuff you hear when you’re in your teens. It’s nice a little later in life to hear it again, and it means more than when you’re 17 or 18.”

Christina Annunziata said there was a reason she sat at her table.

“I met a great group of people,” said the 43-year-old parishioner of St. Martin de Porres. “I felt God placed me at my table because the people at my table have helped me grow through this process and I feel I’m closer to God. I speak to him more than I would have seven weeks ago on a daily routine.

“The things I’ve learned here made such an impression on me that they will remain in my heart and mind for years to come.”

Eileen Palmieri and Gina Justino, both parishioners of St. Martin de Porres, participated in previous ChristLife programs and came back to serve as volunteers.

“It is so fulfilling to me to serve the Lord in this way,” said Ms. Palmieri, the hospitality coordinator. “To see people converted to another level of love for Jesus Christ is so heartwarming.”

Ms. Justino, 47, is the coordinator of desserts, baking and collecting from volunteers the many servings needed for each meeting. She said participating in the program two years ago changed her.

“I did go to church with my family here and there, but it didn’t mean anything to me,” said Ms. Justino, who now goes to confession regularly after being absent from the sacrament for 20 years.

“I woke up one day and I was feeling empty. I went through the program and it gave me a relationship with God. I talk to him on a regular basis. When the priest talks about the Gospel at Mass, it means something now.”

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