Among the nearly 1,000 Catholic religious educators attending last weekend’s San Pedro Regional Congress were many who had attended before. But this year, they weren’t necessarily after the same type of information.

Like Lorena Orozco, a parishioner and confirmation instructor at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Gardena, who has attended the San Pedro Congress for five consecutive years. This year Orozco chose to focus on recharging her own energy and faith, rather than primarily seeking to improve her teaching.

“This year it’s been mostly more for me,” smiled Orozco during a break at St. Joseph High School in Lakewood, site of this year’s event. “I didn’t focus on what to ‘give’ — I focused on how to improve myself, as a catechist and as a Catholic.”

Added Orozco, who attended the Sept. 27 Congress with 10 fellow parishioners: “It’s about reinforcing yourself in order to become better for the rest, and about learning to give in a better way. It’s been a very rewarding experience; I’ve loved it.”

Themed “Amazing Joy/Alegria Desbordante,” the Congress offered more than 80 workshops, included Youth Track sessions for teens and Spanish-language classes on a wide range of topics. Among them: ministering to children, teens and college students; adult faith formation; science and Catholicism; Kabbalah/Jewish mysticism; music ministry; pastoral care for gay and lesbian Catholics; Pope Francis and Biblical literacy.

Mother and son presenters Ana and Eric Gomez discussed the importance of “getting out of our comfort zones” in their workshop, “Are You In or Are You Out? Accepting the Challenge.” Ana Gomez pointed to Pope Francis’ comment, “We should not simply remain in our own secure world … but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep,” as she cited the need to “be catechists” — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and not simply to “work as catechists” in our parish communities.

“We are catechists, everywhere we go,” said Gomez, a parishioner and confirmation catechist for St. Anthony Church in Long Beach. “We have to do it with Christ; He is the one who’s going to guide us. It’s Christ who is in charge.”

Ana and Eric both suggested “preparing the soil and planting the seeds” of faith in those catechists encounter in their daily lives through random acts of kindness, such as smiling and saying hello to a stranger; being there for those in need through presence or prayers; or by openly sharing their faith and inviting people to join them.

“Preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary,” said Ana, citing St. Francis of Assisi.

In her workshop “Integrating Media into Your Catechetical Sessions,” Terri Palmer shared examples of how to utilize different types of age-appropriate media —book passages or Bible verses, DVD movie clips, YouTube sing-along videos, even hands-on crafts projects or in-class games — as teaching tools to help engage and motivate students.

Palmer, who is director of faith formation at St. Augustine Church in Culver City, shared a few specific examples that can be tailored to class lessons, such as movies (“The Nativity Story” or “The Greatest Miracle”), songs (“Mary Did You Know?”), and interactive games (“Catholic Sacraments and Symbols Bingo or Flash Cards,” available online via

For 18-year-old Nick Marquez, a confirmation catechist at St. Anthony of Padua, the workshops taught him specific methods for handling diverse situations with different types of youth, from shy and reserved ones, to the loud and outgoing.

“We learned different ways to make them all feel welcome and want to participate, and to accomplish that, we have to start by making them feel comfortable from the very beginning,” he said. “It’s a great way to get to know them better.”

This year’s recipients of the Excellence in Catechetical Service Awards for the San Pedro Region were recognized during the opening liturgy. Honorees included Irma Ramos, St. Mary of the Assumption Church, Whittier; Kathy Hetrick, St. Cornelius Church, Long Beach; Notre Dame Sister Francis Wahl, St. Helen Church, South Gate; and Karina Plascencia, coordinator for the San Pedro Regional Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.