Expressing solidarity in their shared ministry of witnessing Christ to students, a group of nearly 40 parish catechists and elementary school teachers from St. Didacus in Sylmar were among hundreds attending the San Fernando Religious Education Congress Sept. 20.

Held at Bishop Alemany High School — where the St. Didacus crowd fellowshipped under a shade tree during a lunch hosted by parish catechists — the “Go Out With Joy!” themed-event of English- and Spanish-language workshops, prayer and liturgy drew more than 1,000 participants and an additional 500 online viewers watching live-streamed presentations.

Centering on the theme taken from the day’s scripture with a nod to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (Joy of the Gospel), the three live-streamed talks discussed “Encountering Joy in the Liturgy;” “The Joy of God’s Love;” and “The Joy of Forgiveness.” Morning keynote speaker Bill Huebsch, author of “The Joy of the Gospel: A Group Reading Guide,” asked participants to look at how God’s call to ministry and service is enacted in their daily lives.

“How we respond to that call determines our joy,” said Huebsch. In a surprise tribute to Religious Sister of Charity Edith Prendergast (archdiocesan director of religious education) Huebsch noted that Sister Prendergast’s willingness to always respond to God’s call in her ministry has made her a world leader in the church.

“All of us are called in this ministry to be people of joy,” said Sister Prendergast in remarks after she was presented with a framed blessing written in her honor. “That joy comes from our encounter with Jesus. If Jesus is at the center of our lives, then we’ll be able to face all the difficulties and all the wonderful experiences of our lives because we’ll be held by a power greater than ourselves. And when I look back over my years, it’s that power of God at the center of my life that has helped me.”

“You are all in this room because you are called in a special way to teach the faith in our church,” said Dana Couso, director of religious education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Santa Clarita, to a packed classroom in her morning workshop titled, “How Are We Using Our Gifts to Spread ‘The Joy of The Gospel’ to All Those We Teach?”

“Understanding the great love that God has poured forth to us through his Son Jesus Christ and using the gifts that He has given us through the Holy Spirit, we share that love to all those that we teach,” said Couso, who counseled catechists to have a “holistic” family-oriented approach that can provide an “open door” for lapsed-Catholic parents of religious education students to come back to the church. 

In his workshop on “Evangelization: The Church’s Best-Kept Secret,” St. John’s seminarian Parker Sandoval addressed today’s challenge of transforming parishes into communities of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. “The best catechists are the best witnesses and the best witnesses are proclaimers [that Jesus Christ is Lord]. We have to take that risk of proclaiming,” said Sandoval. “It’s all about Jesus, and if we’re not proclaiming him, we’re not evangelizing.”

Lee Miguel, confirmation catechist from Mary Immaculate in Pacoima who has attended the San Fernando Congress for ten years, told The Tidings that she keeps returning “for the joy and the learning and the sharing, and then going back to the kids and helping them and showing them that God loves us.”

Theresa Gross, 50, director of religious education at St. Didacus who has attended the regional congress since she was an 18-year-old parishioner at Guardian Angel, said it’s important for catechists to attend to be up-to-date in their training. One “very important” thing she herself learned during a morning RCIA workshop was that special ed children can join RCIA.

As she sliced avocados for the group lunch, Gross said she was thrilled the school teachers had accepted the catechists’ invitation to share a meal of Mexican sandwiches. “I’m very happy that the school teachers joined me for the torta,” said the smiling DRE.


To view the congress’ live-streamed talks, visit the San Fernando Region’s YouTube channel: SFPROMedia.