By Mike Nelson
IF THE ENTHUSIASM evident in the thousands of people
dancing their way out of the Anaheim Convention Center
April 9 was any indication, the annual Religious
Education Congress had, indeed, lived up to its theme:
"Awaken Hope – Shout Jubilee."
More than 37,000 people -- including 12,000 teens on
Youth Day – jammed the renovated Convention Center and
surrounding hotels during the April 6-9 Congress,
sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese's Office of
Religious Education. This was Congress' 30th anniversary
in Anaheim, and it coincided with the Jubilee year call
to reconciliation, heating and forgiveness -- topics
frequently addressed in workshops and keynote talks
during the weekend.
"This is a year in which we pledge to forgive,
reconcile, awaken hope in others," Religious Sister of
Charity Edith Prendergast, ORE director, said in her
Congress opening talk April 7. "We believe that inside
everyone is a great shout of joy, ready to be born. But
I believe we can only shout Jubilee if we are people of
Many of the catechists and ministers attending
Congress concurred. Lani Galvan, a music min Sister at
Holy Name of Mary Church, San Dimas, attended a talk by
Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," to
learn more about healing and forgiveness.
"There was a strong message of reconciliation here this
week," she said. "If we could learn to forgive and
reconcile as family, as a country, and as a church
community, we would make this world a much better
Fellow parishioner Corinne Pantaleo, who works in
youth and peace and justice ministries, was
"enlightened," she said, by what she heard about
forgiveness from Bud Welch, parent of an Oklahoma City
bombing victim, and by 16-year-old Craig Kielburger, one
of several keynote speakers. But she also said the
"Awaken Hope" theme touched her in a personal way.
"We get so busy in our lives" doing our work, even
doing God's work, that we forget we need to have time
for spiritual growth," she said. "I hadn't been to
Congress in 18 years, but I'll certainly be back next
One of many first-time visitors to Congress was Caroline
Renehan, national director of catechetics for the Irish
Bishops Conference in Dublin (and cousin of Msgr. Edmond
Renehan, pastor of St. Clare Church in Canyon Country).
"I'm interested in learning about newer approaches to
teaching religious education," she explained. "To focus
primarily on doctrine doesn't work, so I'm hoping to
find ideas, as well as perhaps recruit some of the
speakers to come to Ireland and address our religious
Youth and confirmation ministers Dorothy Dulany and
Jim Pi Amonte, from St. Philomena Church in Carson, were
impressed by the speakers addressing their ministry.
"Today's youth are more open to being formed
spiritually," said Dulany, "but we as adults need to be
more open to meeting them at their level. We have to ask
and listen to their opinions, not just tell them ours.
And we also have to help them see how and where God is
present in their lives -- in school, in their
friendships, in their music -- and that God loves them."
As many speakers stated throughout the weekend, God's
love is present in God's people, old or young. One of
the most well received talks of the weekend was
Saturday's keynote talk by Kielburger, founder of the
worldwide Free the Children movement to stop abuse of
children in the workplace and community.
"We need to realize that youth have something special
to offer," Kielburger said. "We have gifts and talents
to share. To me, the world is like a jigsaw Puzzle, and
the pieces are our talents. When we share them, we
create a beautiful picture."
Kielburger was one of-three Saturday keynote
speakers, "voices of hope," who addressed the topic
"Building a World of Communion and Justice." The other
speakers were St. Joseph of New York Sister Elizabeth
Johnson, chair of Theology at Fordham University, and
Arun Manilal Gandhi, grandson Mahatma Gandhi and founder
his own Institute for Non-Violence.
"To bring peace on earth, must be the change we wish
seek," said Gandhi. "We have to live what we want others
to learn. And we can't achieve peace by wishing; we have
to work for it."
Gandhi called the 18 months he spent living with his
famous grandfather "the most transforming of my life.
His observation was that as long. as there are tears in
the eyes of one person, we can't afford is- to rest in
peace. Grandfather said e- it is easy to be overwhelmed
by the nd pain in the world, and we can't help of
everyone but we must help of someone."
To achieve this, Sister Johnson said, "we can draw
strength from to the stories of our predecessors, the to
rich heritage of people who have gone before us. We are
one community, one gorgeous tapestry of life created by
God, a community that stretches across time and across
the world, filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ.
"The world is a long way from being healed – extreme
misery, poverty, racism, sexism, the temptation to
settle disputes with violence. But this moment of
Jubilee challenges us to encounter God in our midst, and
open the paths to a better world."
Many at Congress took time from the spiritual
nourishment and practical expertise offered in the
workshops to attend musical and theatrical performances
during the weekend. A highlight was a 30-year
retrospective of liturgical music, assembled by John
Flaherty and Gary Daigle, that brought together many of
the church's leading composers -- among them, Marty
Haugen, David Haas, Bob Hurd, Donna Peña, Rory Cooney,
Christopher Walker, Jaime Cortez, Dan Schutte, John
Foley and Grayson Warren Brown.
Haugen also presented his newest biblical-based
musical, "Luke: The Feast of Life," to an enthusiastic
audience April 8, and Maripat Donovan starred as
"Sister" in a lunchtime version of "Late Nite
Catechism," which drew an overflow crowd (including
Cardinal Roger Mahony) in the arena April 9.
A few hours later in the same arena, more than 100
catechumens and candidates preparing for their
sacraments at the Easter Vigil participated in the third
Scrutiny of Lent during the closing liturgy, which
included a powerful presentation of the raising of
Lazarus, the subject of the Gospel reading.
"Roll away the stone," sang the assembly, a theme
Cardinal Mahony expanded on in his homily. "There are
stones and barriers in our own lives -- conflicts in the
home, tensions in families -- which as teachers you are
called on to help remove from the lives of the people
And just as Christ directed h followers to release
Lazarus' bond once he had "come forth," so to are
today's disciples asked to he people release bonds --
lack faith, disillusionment with the church,
disappointment in people -- that restrict others.
"By helping people to release their bonds, we are
awakening hope, tremendous hope," the cardinal said.
"Let us all realize that we are helping others to come
and journey with Christ, and let us send our people
forth, awakened with hope."