By Ellie Hidalgo and
Maria Luisa Torres
The Religious Education Congress annually draws
leading experts from around the world to address a
variety of topics -- from liturgy and formation to
family life and morality. Following are previews of
several workshop topics and their presenters.
A ‘moral priority’
In every country around the world, including the
United States, there are countless women and children
who wake up daily to the harsh reality of poverty.
According to Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Amata
Miller, the issue of women and children living in
poverty -- both in the U.S. and abroad -- is a matter of
moral urgency, particularly in light of Catholic social
“There are so many women and children who have so man
of their basic needs going unmet,” said Sister Miller,
who will present “Women, Children and Poverty: A Moral
Priority” on Feb. 17 at Congress. Her workshop, she
said, will focus on “the specifics of poverty among
women and children, including the lack of adequate
housing, health care, food and income, and address some
of the way these problems are being dealt with.
“And I hope,” added Sister Miller, “that workshop
participants will talk about what is being done to help
women and children in their own parishes and
In addition to addressing many of the causes and
sources of poverty among women and children -- as well
as providing examples of successful programs and
approaches to assist both individuals and families
Sister Miller will also discuss the importance of
communities working together to create proactive
solutions for the future.
“The purpose of my workshops is never simply to
inform,” said Sister Miller, “but also to motivate
people to act, to work together towards creating
Systematic change. While we do need to begin by
informing people about this ‘moral priority,’ we no
longer have time for just talking. We need action in
order to start moving towards becoming what we can and
should be: a more just and humane society for all
Sister Miller, who currently serves as visiting
professor of economics at the College of St. Catherine,
a women’s Catholic college in St. Paul, Minn., said she
learned about poverty issues concerning women and
children through her extensive study of economics.
“I’m an economist,” explained Sister Miller, “and
studying economics inexorably leads us to the
exploration of issues related to women, children and
poverty, because women and children are the ones who
suffer the most from poverty around the world.”
“Women, Children and Poverty: A Moral Priority” will
be presented Feb. 17, 1-2:30 p.m.
Learning to ‘linger’
Take a “Sabbath Moment.” That’s a bit of advice for
harried mothers, overworked fathers and too -- busy
church lay leaders or religious.
“Get up ten minutes earlier and just linger,”
suggests Dr. Wilkie Au, director of the Los
Angeles-based Spiritual Development Services. “Or go
outside and walk for five minutes, paying attention to
your breathing, paying attention to the sun falling on
“Crabgrass Contemplation: A Spiritual Practice for
Busy People,” is the workshop session Au will lead at
the congress, Feb. 16.
“Crabgrass grows between concrete and cracks,” said
Au. “It’s durable.”
Au, also an Adjunct Professor of Theological Studies
at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, will be
drawing on his recent book, “The Enduring Heart:
Spirituality for the Long Haul,” published by Paulist
“How do we stay vital and how do we buildup our
spiritual resources for the long haul, especially for
midlife and beyond through chronic illness, divorce,
death of parents and friends? A lot of these things peak
around the same time,” said Au. “How do we still invest
in our lives and try to get most out of our lives, even
in the midst of difficulties and struggles?”
A first step is slowing down, even for a few moments.
Au uses the image of wine tasting to convey the idea.
“When we slow down and notice, our appreciation
deepens,” he said. “We linger and savor [life] instead
of gulping. We relish instead of ravishing.
“When our appreciation deepens, our gratitude
deepens, and then our love for God, who’s the source of
all this, deepens. Then we stay alive, because there’s
something to live for.”
Staying still and staying with are also important
steps for busy people.
“Staying still is about not letting anxieties pull us
into the future, said Au. “Doing what we can do for
today, and handing the rest over to God.” It’s what he
calls “responsible striving and trustful surrender.”
Staying with, added Au, refers to the “tough things
we all have to figure out in our lives. We have to stay
with it, not numb out to it and not run away.”
By staying with, said Au, a person begins to see,
over time, God’s presence in their life.
Part of staying with God, said Au, is having a
variety of flexible prayers forms like short prayers,
long prayers, music, silence, stillness, even body
“The bigger your bag of prayer forms, the more
possible it is to keep a vital prayer life,” he said.
“Crabgrass Contemplation: A Spiritual Practice for
Busy People” will be presented Feb. 16, 10-11:30 a.m.
Spirituality and depression
When many people think of spirituality, they think of
peacefulness, joy and faith in God not, usually, about
But Father Bill Burke of the Archdiocese of Chicago
will be leading a workshop session on just that topic –
“The Spirituality of Depression” – Congress Feb. 16.
He speaks firstly from personal experience.
“After I emerged from depression the first time, 1
found out there were tons more people either afflicted
with depression or who had it in their families than I
had ever imagined,” Father Burke told The Tidings. “Too
often depression is hidden and not talked about, and
this makes it worse.”
Father Burke, however, did start talking about
depression in his parish and, as he says, “all kinds of
people emerged.” And, from listening to many others and
reflecting on his own experience, Father Burke wrote a
meditation book, “Protect Vs From All Anxieties.”
In essence, said Father Burke, the spirituality of
depression is about “trying to make something good out
of a bad thing.” It’s about developing a spirit of
questioning and learning about the experience.
One thing he learned, said Father Burke is that a
chief cause of depression is anger.
“Resentment is a poison that you take thinking it’s
going to hurt someone else,” he said. “What does [anger]
say about how I relate to God? What is my image of God?”
For many people, said Father Burke, God is a
punisher, and “He’s constantly watching you fail.”
Often, such an image of God develops from earlier
relationships with teachers, parents or other adults.
But with such an image of God, Father Burke discovered
that “many people have not yet really accepted the good
news brought by Jesus.”
The good news, he said, is that God offers each
person a “completely grace-filled acceptance. You don’t
have to earn it.”
The experience of depression also can teach
compassion, said Father Burke.
“You can now bring to the world more understanding
and sensitivity,” he said. “You can watch people’s anger
and aggressiveness, and be thinking instead, I wonder
what’s wrong in there?”
Depression can lead people to re-examine and to
question aspects of their lives, said Father Burke.
“What things are not contributing to a healthy
atmosphere here? There may not be enough conversation,
art, free time or positive reinforcement,” he said.
“Even though it’s painful, there are all kinds of
things the experience can teach you,” added Father
Burke. “It’s not just to survive, but to learn from it
in such a way that you can help and heal others.”
“The Spirituality of Depression” will be presented
Feb. 16, 10 -- 11:30 a.m.
Feb 16 (Friday)
Period 1: 10-11:30 a.m.
Period 2: 1-2:30 p.m.
Period 3: 3-4:30 p.m.
Feb 17 (Saturday)
Period 4: 10-11:30 a.m.
Period 5: 1-2:30 p.m.
Period 6: 3-4:30 p.m.
Feb 18 (Sunday)
Period 7: 10-11:30 a.m.
Period 8: 1-2:30 p.m.
Feb. 16, 8:30 a.m.:
Gathering Event, with talk by Sister Edith
Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.:
Keynote (English), with Archbishop Rembert
Feb. 18, 8:30 a.m.:
Keynote (Spanish), with Bishop Samuel Ruiz
Registration for the religious Education
Congress is $60, and covers the workshop and
general assembly session. Workshops are held
throughout the Anaheim Convention center and
adjoining hotels. For information, call (213)
637 -- 7346, or visit archive.recongress.org