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Friday, March 31, 2000
Record crowd of 37,000 'Shouts Jubilee' at Congress 2000

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 justice."

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 place."

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 year."
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 educators."

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 you serve."
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."

Copyright 2000 The Tidings -- March 31, 2000


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