I just returned from speaking at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress held in Anaheim.
My mission preaching partner, Jeanne Hunt, and I had two workshops: 1) on different types of parishes and strategies for successful ministry; and 2) on eight basic human needs and how the Catholic Church tries to meet them.
As anxious as I get about such speaking opportunities, I find the experience energizing, inspiring and informative.
Total attendance at the four-day congress is 35,000 Catholics (of which 10,000 are youth).
It is energizing to see this huge crowd of Catholics gather for talks, for liturgies, for informal discussions about Church and the Gospel, about religious education and faith formation.
The ethnic diversity of our Church is more obvious in southern California than in the midwest. I suspect Asaians and Hispanics outnumbered the rest of us by far but there was no racial or enthnic tension.
The only "negative" sound was the fundamentalist evangelical standing with his bull horn outside the convention center excoriating us for being Catholic and assuring us that we were destined for the fires of hell. (I personally found his diatribe comedic.)
Being able to gather with fellow believers for Mass as celebrated in the Hawaiian islands or with a Celtic flavor touches the soul and resurrects awareness that ours indeed is a worldwide Church.
The music is inspiring, whether born of Africa or Ireland or Mexico or the South Pacific. The dress of the Chileans and the art work of the Nicaraguans subtly but forcefully draw us out of ourselves and reflect Jesus' commission, "Go, make disciples of all nations..."
There were more than 225 talks and workshops (obviously more than anyone could attend), appealing to the interests and needs of Church ministers involved in education, catechesis, parish administration and a litany of other parish ministries.
Some are speakers little known (my category) and others are famous worldwide, such as Ronald Rolheiser, Barbara Fiand, Donald Senior, James Martin, Richard Rohr, Joyce Rupp, Kieran Sawyer, Michael Crosby, Richard Gaillardetz, John Allen.
There were concerts (e.g., the "Festival of Cultures"), art exhibits, live radio broadcasts, prayer sessions, the dance for young adults, and an exhibition hall full of vendors selling books, religious articles, vestments, and services. David Haas, Tom Kendzia, Liam Lawton, Michael Sparough spoke, played, sang, and moved our souls.
The public witness was obvious. Catholics could be found all over the area --in shops, restuarants, motels, and probably in Disneyland (though I didn't go across the street to check).
The private witness was equally strong --love of the Gospel, hunger for religious education, opennes to faith formation, eagerness to fulfill the variety of ministries a parish implies--and assuredly inspiring.
I think it would be safe to call LAREC the "mother of all Catholic religious education conventions." It is a shot in the arm for all who participate, an energizing, inspiring and informative opportunity to all who love the Church.
I was anxious about speaking there, but the experience easily turned anxiety into joy. I can't wait 'til next year.