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Friday, February 9, 2001
Congress 2000: Morality, spirituality and more
More than 200 Congress workshops bring locally, nationally and internationally known speakers.

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 teaching.

“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 communities.”

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 people.”

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 your skin.”

“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 Press.

“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 movement.

“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 depression.

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 Prendergast

Feb. 17, 8:30 a.m.:
Keynote (English), with Archbishop Rembert Weakland

Feb. 18, 8:30 a.m.:
Keynote (Spanish), with Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia

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

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