With registration “well beyond” where it was this time last year, the archdiocese’s upcoming Religious Education Congress looks to be another blockbuster event, gathering participants from 47 states and 17 nations to the Anaheim Convention Center March 13-16.

Opening with Youth Day, already filled with more than 15,000 registered teenagers, Congress 2014 continues with three days of workshops, liturgies, entertainment and exhibits, centered on the theme, “Hope: A World Afire.”

“This Congress in particular speaks of hope that’s ‘in bud’ right now because of the presence and charisma of Pope Francis [who] somehow has engendered a sense of hope in all of us,” said Religious Sister of Charity Edith Prendergast, archdiocesan director of the Office of Religious Education.

“This same pope,” she added, calls us to faith in action. He [refers to] faith as the dazzling light at the center of all of us and how we need to go deeper to be in touch with this light. He sends us to set the world afire, to bring the gifts of the Gospel [rooted] in the vision of the new evangelization, which speaks about the relationship with Jesus Christ as central to all that we are and all that we do. This Congress comes from that kind of spirituality that grounds us in the Gospel vision and tradition.”

Among the more than 200 speakers coming to share hope and the evangelizing mission of the church, said Sister Prendergast, will be Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez-Maradiaga, a member of Pope Francis’ curial inner circle, who will present workshops in English and Spanish on “Living the Mission of Jesus in our World Today.”

Keynote speakers include Father Robert Barron (Saturday), founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire, Dr. Carolyn Woo (Sunday), president and chief executive officer of Catholic Relief Services; and Msgr. Eduardo Chávez Sánchez (Sunday) speaking in Spanish on “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of Hope.”

A short list of new speakers and their topics this year at Congress includes Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, “The New Evangelization: Called to be Holy;” Diana Macalintal, “Prayer: Turning the Ordinary into Extraordinary Moments of Grace;” Father Michael White & Tom Corcoran, “Growing a Healthy Parish;” and Belfast-based Passionist Father Gary Donegan and Brian McKee, “The Passion Calls us to be Peacemakers.”

“A spirited opening” rite and welcome on Friday morning, said Sister Prendergast, will include Congress’ many participating artists. Additionally, arena performers Santiago Fernandez and friends will lead “a musical journey” through Latin America celebrating faith and life (Friday night) and Ceili Rain will perform Celtic pop-rock music (Saturday night).

For the first time ever, there will be an art exhibit of liturgical sculptures in the arena lobby by sculptor Karen Schmidt, who creates statues that convey spiritual truth through symbol, gesture and form. In the Sacred Space area, in addition to the chapel and labyrinth, visitors can walk “A Journey of Hope Along the Migrant Trail: A Via Crucis,” featuring an artistic display of artifacts left behind by undocumented men and women who traverse the U.S.-Mexican border.

Adjacent to Sacred Space, Congress attendees may receive the sacrament of reconciliation administered by 50-70 priests at a time over two days. “The response that I’ve seen so far has been wonderful,” said Father Christopher Bazyouros, ORE’s young adult/adult faith formation coordinator. “A lot of priests are really making an effort to come and help. Even though they may not be attending sessions in Congress because of pastoral responsibilities, they still want to be able to share that ministry with people, and they know that a lot of people there appreciate the opportunity.”

A number of liturgies are offered each day, with Archbishop José Gomez presiding at the 5:15 p.m. Spanish Mass on Friday and the closing Mass in the arena on Sunday. Presiders also include Cardinal Rodriguez-Maradiaga (5:15 p.m. Saturday Mayan Mass), Bishop Joseph Nguyen Tuoc (5:15 p.m. Friday Vietnamese Mass), and Orange Bishop Kevin Vann (8 a.m. Sunday Mass).

To help participants navigate the convention center, this year’s improved mobile App will provide specific locations for speaker presentations and exhibitors as well as maps. Recharging stations for iPhones, iPads, tablets, etc. will be located near the author signing area. Live streaming of Friday’s opening event will be broadcast live on the screens in Hall B and will also be available along with other weekend arena workshops and liturgies at www.RECongress.org.