Matthew Kelly stood on a raised platform in the center of nearly 1,800 people seated around him at tables, filling the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on the overcast morning of Sept. 17. People were still eating their burritos and bagels, fruits on a stick and strawberry parfaits at the ninth annual Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast, when the modern-day evangelist, motivational speaker, author and business consultant began to speak. With his engaging accent, the 40-year-old Australian declared it was good to be part of the “biggest family” in the world — the Catholic Church. He pointed out that there were 1.2 billion Catholics on the planet, including 77 million in America alone. He said that every day the Church feeds, houses and clothes more people; visits more sick and imprisoned individuals; and educates more children than any institution in the world. If Catholic schools in the United State closed tomorrow, it would cost the government $18 billion to educate their students, he reported.Then, however, Kelly cited some decidedly different statistics.“But the reality is that the tide is going out on Catholicism in America,” he declared. “Only 17 percent of American Catholics come to church every Sunday; 29 percent come to church on any given Sunday. And those numbers have been in decline for decades now. So I think the question that we have to ask is, ‘What are we going to do about that? How do we stem the tide and turn the tide?’“And one thing I’m absolutely convinced of is that business as usual isn’t going to turn the tide. In fact, business as usual isn’t even going to stem the tide. What we need are game-changes. We need to start thinking on a completely different level about the way we attract people to the genius of Catholicism, and the way we engage people in the genius of Catholicism.”‘Keep praying for justice and peace’Before the record-setting crowd had sat down for breakfast outside, the decades of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary were led by Auxiliary Bishops Joseph Sartoris, Gerald Wilkerson, Edward Clark, Oscar Solis and Alexander Salazar. Archbishop José Gomez was the principal celebrant and homilist for the celebration of Mass. A combination choir from St. Rita of Cascia, St. Andrew and St. Lorenzo Ruiz Churches, the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University led by Paul Puccinelli had sung.The Prayer Breakfast was the brainchild of Kathie and Allen Lund, and Margie and Tom Romano. The purpose has always been to bring Catholics from throughout the archdiocese together in community to openly pray and celebrate their faith, as well as to offer them an inspiring talk.During his brief homily at Mass, Archbishop Gomez praised the organizers of the Prayer Breakfast. “As we know, it’s a time of great tension in the world,” he said. “So we need to keep praying for justice and peace in our country and in our world…. We need to be united with Our Holy Father in praying for peace, especially in Syria. We pray for all those who are suffering right now, especially through violence and persecution. Justice comes through Jesus Christ. So let’s continue with our prayers….“We know that there are people out there who are lost,” he observed. “We need to reach out to them. We need to bring them the love of Jesus Christ. This is the time for all of us in the Catholic community to proclaim the excitement, the joy of the Scriptures and with enthusiasm take this joy of God’s love to others in our world.”‘Get to know the Good Shepherd’Keynoter Kelly offered a number of concrete ways to do that — from really reaching out to Catholics who just go to Mass on Christmas to having “world-class learning systems” like the video he was developing for Confirmation programs. He stressed that American culture has reduced Jesus Christ to a “candy-coated guy,” when, in fact, he was and continues to be a radical for his time. He urged those attending the breakfast to rediscover the real Son of God by reading the Bible every day.“If you do nothing else in your life, get to know the Good Shepherd,” said Kelly. “Find that deep place within you where you can commune with the Shepherd and something wonderful will happen.” Kali Wade, a 17-year-old senior at Mary Star of the Sea High School in San Pedro and a convert to Catholicism, agreed with Kelly that most people today think of Jesus as this “nice guy” who did miracles and other good things for people. And she could totally relate about reading the Bible every day to learn what he was really like. She had been doing this for months, but admitted getting sidetracked. “I thought what he said about ‘game-changes’ was good,” she said. “We definitely need to start changing ourselves on how we judge others before we judge ourselves; also, how we need to get closer to God. So his message brought a light to me: I’ve got to start.”Two Knights of Columbus members had somewhat different opinions on the speaker’s message. Bob Terry, a financial adviser from Cathedral Chapel Parish in Los Angeles, thought Kelly’s speech was good. “But it’s always disappointing to me when you hear the statistics — 17 percent of Catholics going to church on a regular basis — and that we have to come up with a ‘new dynamic’ to get them to be involved,” he said. “I thought we had a dynamic for the last 2,000 years. It’s Jesus Christ. I mean, I don’t know what more you could do.”Mark Miller, a television writer and director, was struck by something else: “I think one of the key points that he said was how in recent times we’ve reduced Jesus to like our buddy and this kind of cool character. But I liked his emphasis on him being a radical in his teachings and the way he approached dealing with humanity was radical.“And that kind of radicalism has to be within our heart and to be able to be bold enough to do these radical things in this modern day. And you pay a cost. There’s a price for that. Jesus paid a price for it. We all sometimes are looked upon in weird ways. But in the long run, the radicalism is what has to be.” Terry was nodding now. “Dare to care for somebody else other than yourself, because that’s all people care about today is themselves,” he said. “We live in a ‘me’ oriented world. And it’s a tragedy. But we’re here. We get it.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0927/prayerbreakfast{/gallery}