Christian Life Communities (CLC) are on the rise at Fordham University.
The communities, small groups of undergraduate and graduate students who gather once a week to share their faith, have grown to nearly 70 members in the year since they were established on campus.
“There’s definitely that hunger for a deeper connection with other students and a hunger for a connection with God,” said Randy Jerome, coordinator of retreats at Campus Ministry and organizer of the communities. “I think a lot of the appeal of the CLCs is just having a place of acceptance where students can be real, where they don’t have to have those pretenses. That’s a powerful thing, especially in college life where there is always pressure to have an image or conform.”
The Christian Life Communities movement is a post-Vatican II Ignatian initiative founded in the early 1970s. The movement, however, traces its origins to the congregation of lay people who through the efforts of a Belgian Jesuit, John Leunis, S.J., formed the Sodality of Our Lady in 1563.
At the heart of the movement is the coming together of members on a regular basis “to assure a deep sharing of their faith and human life, a true community atmosphere and a strong commitment to mission and service,” according the General Norms of the Christian Life Community.
The communities typically range in membership from 6 to 10 people and can include adults as well as youth, and not all members are Catholic. In the 35 years since the movement was officially sanctioned by the Holy See, CLCs have spread to five continents and nearly 60 countries.
At Fordham, CLCs are part of Campus Ministry’s faith-building initiatives and community programming that include a number of retreats designed specially for college students. In fact, many of the first students to become involved in CLCs did so after having participated in retreats. Jerome said that CLCs provide a way for students to build on their retreat experiences.
Fordham established the first four communities last spring with about 40 undergraduates. There are now nine communities with over 70 students involved and more on the way.
Jerome said that the groups have developed their own structure to the meetings. Each hour-long session begins with a prayer, followed by faith sharing in which students engage in free-flowing discussions about what has transpired in their lives during the week and how God fits within their daily activities.
The students then do a “focus exercise” in which they read a passage from the Bible, or Ignatian spirituality or perhaps a poem or news article. They can also bring up issues that they are concerned about, from sex and dating to faith and love.
“The students do share on very deep level,” Jerome said. “You get into conversations that you wouldn’t normally get into at the bar or the cafeteria or just hanging out. They really get to know each other on a deeper more meaningful level.”
The communities have become especially popular at Jesuit colleges and universities, most notably at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles where hundreds of students take part in dozens of communities.
The growing popularity of CLCs at Fordham, Jerome said, is driven by the three pillars of the movement: community, faith and mission.
“The three pillars really do provide something for everyone involved,” Jerome said. “Some students are definitely looking to strengthen and nourish their faith and CLC is a great way to do this. Some people are really looking for a sense of belonging and deeper, more meaningful friendships, so community is very important. And others, and this is especially true at Fordham, are really into service and actively helping others, so we incorporate all three aspects into the CLCs.”
Jerome, several Jesuit Scholastics, and Campus Ministry’s faith formation coordinator, Erin Tramantozzi, assist in leading the groups, and several of the groups are also co-led by students.
As for the future, Jerome said the possibilities are endless. All of the groups currently meet on the Rose Hill campus with a number of students making the trip from Lincoln Center. Jerome said he would like to create CLCs on the Lincoln Center campus and continue to spread the word among students of all faith backgrounds. As long as students are willing to take part, Jerome said, Campus Ministry will continue to encourage and accommodate more faith communities.
By Victor M. Inzunza