Eight members of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin Faith Development Services Team and three members of the Cathedral Parish Team travelled to Anaheim, California to attend the Religious Education Congress of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in early March 2007.

The Religious Education Congress, which is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Office of Religious Education, is the worlds largest annual catechetical and liturgical gathering of Roman Catholics. This years Congress had over 40 000 people registered of which 35 hailed from Ireland. We were delighted to discover that there were at least three others from our diocese who had travelled independently.

Stand in the Light

The theme of this years Congress was Stand in the Light, echoing the gospel of the Transfiguration. Over the three days, we were privileged to hear Sr. Edith Prendergast, Rev Bryan Massingale and Jim Wallis give key note addresses which both challenged and inspired us.

We were struck at the depth and breadth of Church teaching strongly rooted in the Magesterium which was offered not only in the Keynote addresses but was also present in so many of the Workshops which we attended. As we walked through the Exhibition areas and ran the gauntlet of the many groups protesting and advertising all kinds of everything outside the arena, we came to admire the ability of the American Church to hold the many tensions which exist within it without the sense of apparent polarization that often seems to be the hallmark of the Irish Church. Maybe size does matter!

During the Workshop periods, of which there are three each day, we had the choice of 196 speakers presenting 300 sessions from personal growth to music to spiritual topics — in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog. Needless to say we chose topics in English and all our interests from theology to youth ministry and religious education to multiple intelligences were more than catered for. The only difficulty was not having the gift of bi-location.

Congress also offers a number of liturgies of different character reflecting the rich diversity which makes up the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. There were 13 Eucharistic Liturgies including African American, Hawaiian, Native American, Spanish, Vietnamese, Contemplative, Indonesian, Jazz, Misa de las Americas, and Young Adult — as well as evening prayer and Compline and Taize prayer services. All that was missing this year was the Celtic Liturgy which normally attracts a large attendance but we are assured it will be back next year. We didnt quite manage to participate in all these liturgies but between us we made a good attempt and despite the huge numbers in attendance each and every one of us was struck by a real sense of prayerful reflection.

Perhaps the liturgical highlight was the closing Eucharistic liturgy which took place in the Arena, a place usually reserved for basketball games and concerts. The arena was also the venue for one of the final Workshops of the Conference, facilitated by none other than our own Liam Lawton, which almost the entire K&L group attended. It was a tribute to Liams reputation that there was a huge crowd at his Workshop where, through word and of course song, he led us to a deeper appreciation of the grace of each moment. The arena space can accommodate more than 9000 people and it was packed to capacity, not once but twice for Mass on the last day of Congress. The liturgy managed to be both prayerful and joyful, exploding with colour, movement, wonderful music and was indeed a true celebration of our faith. It also modelled wonderfully for us the possibilities of embracing and integrating the customs, prayers and music of those who have recently moved to our country and joined our congregations.

The experience of travelling, sharing meals, accommodation, fun and conversation together for almost a week was most enjoyable and we returned to our desks and our work renewed, refreshed and full of ideas for the year ahead. In the words of Mgr Ray East, homilist at one of the liturgies we are truly blessed beyond belief to have had this opportunity. Next years Congress takes place from February 29th to March 2nd. Full details are available from www.recongress.org.