So often those who teach and work with the young are reminded of the importance of being the message in religious education since the young can see transparency very easily. The Santa Barbara Religious Education Congress, held Oct. 11 at Bishop Garcia Diego High School, was a wonderful reminder of the need to be what one says he or she believes.

A first reminder came from Religious Sister of Charity Edith Prendergast during her reflections on the day for the opening liturgy of the congress. “Our theme — ‘Belong to Christ’ and ‘Live as Christ’ — offers both comfort and challenge,” said Sister Prendergast, director of the Office of Religious Education.

She told the nearly packed high school gymnasium that comfort and challenge were essential. “It is a comfort to believe that we belong to Christ and it is a challenge to live as Christ,” she said. But faith provides the way to do both.

“Through our baptism we are clothed in love, steeped in grace,” Sister Prendergast said, quoting Julia of Norwich: “God is our clothing. In his love he wraps and holds us — he will never let us go.”

This is a consolation, she added, in times of darkness or anxiety. “It means that within us there is a living power, the Holy Spirit — the Divine Force that turns self-effacing women like Mary and fearful men like Peter into apostles who can change the world.

“That same Spirit lives in us. The challenge for us is to live as Christ, to be visibility points of God. But it is a struggle in a culture that tells us to measure our successes by what we have instead of who we are. Pope Francis reminds us that the world is hungering for the light of faith — a dazzling light that helps us see at a deeper level. Let our lives speak words of hope and joy.”

The Santa Barbara Congress offered several dozen workshops in English and Spanish that addressed the breadth of parish ministry, as well as spiritual and personal growth topics. Presiding at the morning liturgy was Father Cesar Magallon, associate pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santa Barbara and, prior to his ordination in 2013, a parish DRE at St. Gertrude the Great Church in Bell Gardens.

The morning liturgy included two young ladies participating in the liturgical dance. For Jasmine Gomez and Elyde Hernandez Camarillo, liturgical dance is a brand new experience which they have found — as Sister Prendergast would say — “like a dazzling light.” Their movements on the floor of the gym spoke “words of hope and joy.” 

Jasmine and Elyde attended with Catherine Conneally-Salazar, the Catholic chaplain from the Division of Juvenile Justice, Camarillo, and a graduate of Visitation School in Westchester, St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey, and Loyola Marymount University. 

After the liturgy Elyde shared what it meant for her to dance at the Congress. “This is the first time I have danced publicly,” she said. “At first it was hard, but I have gained more confidence in life. The fact that I am doing it for God brings me peace.”