Underneath a bright sun and blue skies, spiritual and faith-filled workshops and liturgies highlighted at the San Gabriel Regional Congress Oct. 18 at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente.
The warm vibe also translated into the day’s fellowship moments and musical interludes that rode the wave of learning, supporting and sharing.
At the morning opening prayer service, Msgr. James Loughnane, episcopal vicar for the San Gabriel Region, thanked participants for the work they do in their parishes and reminded them of the “great impact you can have in your community. We all need to be evangelists for others.”
Religious Sister of Charity Edith Prendergast, director of the Office of Religious Education, presented an inspirational talk on the theme of this year’s Congress: “Abundant Love.” Giovanni Perez, ORE consultant for Elementary Catechesis, translated her talk in Spanish for the bilingual audience.
Sister Prendergast reminded participants of God’s infinite love for “each and every one us,” and that most of the time, we have only “touched the hem of God’s love. Today, take the opportunity to sink deeper in that love, this love that calls each of us by name.
“Our world is hungry for the light of faith,” she continued. “Will you become that dazzling light so someone can see the face of God in you?” The energized audience members responded with a loud, “Yes!”
Soon, enthusiastic participants delved into their workshop offerings which ranged from deep theological discussions to concrete ways to create engaging religious education and faith formation practices.
Held appropriately in the high school chemistry room, “How a Scientist Views Religion, God and Belief” invited Rabbi Michael Lotker, a trained physicist, to share his insights into the evidence for God’s existence, the meaning of sacred texts, and the big question of how a good God allows evil and tragedy into the world.
Through statistical probability, Rabbi Lotker described the existence of Earth’s position in the universe as well as attributes that make this planet welcoming of life. “The probability that our universe — and this Earth — exists is astonishingly small,” he said. “We are exactly in the right place. Exactly. I have no problem as a scientist to say that an organizing intelligence created this universe and life as we know it.”
Nevertheless, he encouraged participants to reflect on the nature of doubt and pointed to the Exodus story. Here was a people who witnessed miracle after miracle but who quickly turned their back on God to worship the Golden Calf.
“If it was impossible for that generation to have perfect faith, think of how hard it is for us?” Rabbi Lotker mused. “God wants us to have doubt. It’s the essence of what it means to be human.”
Douglas Leal, formerly ORE coordinator for Adult Faith Formation and Young Adult Ministry, discussed ways that teachers, youth and liturgical ministers can reach out to young people in the manner of Pope Francis. “Ministering to Millennials: Pope Francis is Our Guide,” was a lively discussion on barriers that those born between 1981 and 2000 have toward organized religion.
A lack of spirituality isn’t decisive, remarked Leal, who pointed out that 92 percent of millennials call themselves spiritual and pray at least once a month. “These are people in your pews,” he said.
Pope Francis’ spirit of honesty and his pragmatic approach appeals to millennials, Leal noted, and church leaders should follow his lead for listening, his nonjudgmental nature and openness to doubt and change. Remember, he added, that faith is a journey, not a destination, and that saying, “We don’t have all the answers,” is very appealing to millennials.
“Draw upon our Catholic traditions that recognize there are many ways to be holy,” he continued. “Above all, you have to walk the walk. Millennials will know when something isn’t authentic.”
The best way to reach millennials is to get them involved in tangible endeavors like food drives, tutoring programs, service projects. “Our faith is not just a personal relationship with Christ,” said Leal. “But it’s about changing the world with charity and justice as a community. That’s what Pope Francis is doing.”