The Happiest Place On Earth... 12/14/2011
_ The first time I went to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress seven years ago, I was amazed.
Of course I had heard stories about "Congress" from friends who had been attending for many years, friends who encouraged me to come, and friends who couldn't stop talking about it, but I couldn't imagine what all the fuss was about. What was so special about a convention?
Well, that question was answered as soon as I stepped onto the grounds of the Convention Center in Anaheim and was surrounded by tens of thousands of active, thoughtful and happy Catholics. I don't think I've ever felt so hopeful about the church as I have, and do, at Congress. Why?
Well, first of all, you meet the most amazing people doing the most amazing things in the church, from across the country--directors of religious education, pastoral associates, priests and religious, music ministers, and on and on. It fills you with hope about the future of the church. When you come to Congress it's hard no to think, even in the midst of difficulties, "The church is in good hands!" You can feel the Spirit alive here.
Second, you get the chance to learn so much. I don't think I've ever been to a convention where I had such a hard time choosing among the speakers and workshops I wanted to attend! Hmmm....should I go to see Richard Rohr, Joyce Rupp, John Allen, Timothy Radcliffe...or someone who's talking on a topic that I've always wanted to learn about? You always leave Congress thinking.
Third, and this is often overlooked, the exhibitors on the convention floor--publishers, Catholic artists, liturgical suppliers, and on and on--are a great help to anyone's ministry, because they provide you with terrific resources for the coming year. (I always leave Congress "richer" but a little "poorer" in the wallet since I can't resist buying all the great stuff.)
Fourth, it's a joy to be able to pray with thousands of Catholics at a Mass, Catholics who love God, who love their church and who love one another. I always joke that it's great to be in a Mass of thousands of Catholics where everyone knows all the songs!
And fifth, the more you come to Congress the more you know people--even in a cast of tens of thousands. It's funny, but it's like coming home, a little bit of heaven.
Disneyland has nothing on Congress: it really is the happiest place on earth.
James Martin, SJ
Jesuit priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.
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