Held at the Anaheim Convention Centre in California in March, the congress is the largest gathering of people connected to religious education in the world.
The entire event took place over four days, with the first day (21 March) held as a Youth Day and the last three days (22-24 March) held as Adult Days. During the Adult Days, around 18,798 people attended, including 160 Australians.
Across three adult days, there were over 300 workshops and 193 world class speakers, with topics ranging from personal growth to music to spiritual topics.
Having the opportunity to listen to the people whose research and formation is used when we deliver professional development and formation opportunities to staff in schools was certainly uplifting and inspiring.
One of the highlights was hearing from Bishop Robert Barron. He runs a website and publishing company called Word on Fire and its videos and articles are used extensively in our formation and professional development.
Bishop Barron’s session was called Giving Reason for the Hope that is Within Us and presented a nine-point plan for engaging young people with the church. Some of his key points included:
- get people involved in works of justice - if they live our life then they may start to understand our doctrine;
- stop dumbing down our Catholic Faith - we grossly underestimate the ability of our young people to learn Religion and we need to embrace faith and science and facilitate conversations between scientists and young Catholics;
- emphasise the community nature of our Church - make sure we have spiritual leaders who want to connect with community, not managers;
- stress the beauty of the Mass and ritualistic nature of it and have biblically rich and informed homilies; and
- become digital missionaries - if they won’t come to us we need to go to them.
Fr James Martin, a Jesuit priest who ministers to and advocates for LGBTQ people, presented another interesting session.
We attended two sessions facilitated by him, Showing Welcome and Respect to LGBTQ People in our Parishes and Lazarus Come Forth.
The session on Lazarus was the most eye opening of the two as Fr Martin presented scriptural insights about Lazarus and the impact that this should have in our ministry.
Both sessions highlighted the dignity of the human person and the importance of mercy in our faith life and interactions with all. These sessions also highlighted another of Bishops Barron’s points - place a high demand on people, but treat them with extreme mercy and love.
One of the keynote speakers was Sr Kathy Bryant, an inspiring woman of faith that called us to act with justice through right relationships with all.
During her talk, Sr Kathy encouraged us to be open to an encounter with Jesus from the Gospels, an encounter that should make us uncomfortable. This encounter will call us to seek those who are suffering and encountering injustice and lead us to walk with them, as this is Jesus today in his moment of the passion and death.
Sr Kathy pointed out the need to reclaim the richness of our catholic social teaching and act for systemic change; we must connect with others, as justice can does not happen in silos.
Overall, the experience reaffirmed the developments in formation and curriculum that have been taking place over the last few years in our diocese.
It gave us a renewed sense of purpose within our role and identified some avenues for possible future directions for formation within our Catholic school system.