For some 45,000 Catholics this past weekend, such an experience happened in Anaheim, California, at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (LAREC). This annual gathering attracts people from up and down the West Coast, and neighboring states, as well as from further distances.
Outside of World Youth Day, it is perhaps the largest regular gathering of Catholics in the world. The four-day event features major speakers, hundreds of workshops, concerts, and liturgies on a grand scale, reflecting the wonderful diversity of the Church.
For a 15-person crew from St. Anthony Messenger Press, the LAREC this year was focused around our promotion of new resources to inform and inspire about our faith, surveying our customers about new services and products, and interacting with authors and presenters for print and electronic media.
This year was for me a return to Anaheim after an absence of a couple of years. My job was two-fold: to speak with customers at our exhibit booth about my new video program of education about the revised English translation of the Mass prayers of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, and to seek out and interview personalities for American Catholic Radio, our weekly faith-formation program broadcast across the country and internationally as well as being available online at FranciscanMedia.org.
My father owned a grocery store when I was growing up, and he prided himself on his attention to customers. Dad’s energy for selling groceries seems embedded in my genes, and I tapped into it over the two days. I like talking about our productions with ordinary Catholics, and it’s satisfying to hear them respond positively over work which we’ve been doing in relative isolation for the past two months. In a way, it’s like bringing your new baby out into public view for the first time!
When we weren’t in the booth, Matt and I were thinking about radio interviews. We were able to talk with a number of interesting guests. We spoke with a Jesuit filmmaker who happened on the story of an Auschwitz survivor who created powerful drawings of life in the concentration camp, and, coincidentally has a connection to St. Maximilian Kolbe and soon-to-be-Blessed John Paul II.
A Franciscan priest who serves as chief chaplain at the Air Force Academy shared his thoughts on the vital pastoral ministry to our men and women in uniform. A spiritual director who helps her clients get in touch with their inner-life through gesture and dance opened up for us a new avenue of care for the soul.
And the woman who’s promoting the latest revision of the popular New American Bible, used in parishes and homes across the U.S., told us how the long work of updating this Biblical translation was done. These and other interviews will appear in future episodes of American Catholic Radio.
An important part of our time was spent promoting a new service for faith-formation leaders as well as ordinary Catholics: an online delivery system for our video products. I like to call it “Netflix for the Church.” Like that popular commercial service, which now delivers much of its movie-rental library digitally, directly into subscribers’ computers, our service will allow teachers, parents and other users do more easily use our products in parishes, schools and homes. We hosted a luncheon to preview the service and get input from our customers.
A big part of the LAREC is the vast exhibit area, where vendors of Catholic books, video, audio products, music and religious goods and services are gathered. One of my friends in Catholic publishing calls it “God’s shopping mall.”
Thousands of Congress attendees flock to their favorite booths to shop for materials to use in parish educational programs, sample the latest Church music or look for gifts to bring home. We did a little “window shopping” ourselves, visiting other resource providers to check out the competition.
We also made contacts for future productions and distributions. Popular this year was the new iPod app to help Catholics approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation—it’s been in the news lately, and we spoke with its creators, and tested out how this device helps people prepare to go to confession.
The LAREC is always an invigorating experience. In the liturgy I celebrated with my colleagues Saturday night, I compared our time in Anaheim to the moments which the disciples shared with Jesus on the mountain of the Transfiguration.
The thousands of participants radiated a positive energy of “being Church” as they moved through the halls of the convention center and exhibit areas. One could witness the great and rich diversity of the Church in the United States, especially the wonderful array of races and cultures and languages which forms our community.
Despite the challenges facing the Church (and the annual presence of protestors on various sides of issues, outside the convention center), I felt as the disciples might have: “Lord, it’s good for us to be here.”
I feel energized by my conversations with our customers, and by sharing with the “wisdom figures” of our contemporary Church. I was glad to be with my talented colleagues who share the mission of St. Anthony Messenger Press. And I’m ready to go “back down the mountain” and resume my own ministry as one who seeks to inform and inspire in the Church.