Close to 500 catechists from Guadalupe to Thousand Oaks gathered Oct. 12 at Bishop Garcia Diego High School for the annual Santa Barbara Region Congress presented by the Office of Religious Education. In addition to an opening liturgy and for a wide variety of 34 workshops on a variety of topics (from education and spirituality to liturgy and family life), catechists also listened to presentations that captured not only their attention but the theme of the congress: “Come to Hear, Go to Serve!” Two Santa Barbara women, Rebecca Costa and Lindsey Connolly, spoke of a school they founded, Ecole Destined for Grace, in Mirebalais, Haiti, and of the needs of children in one of the poorest areas of the Caribbean which has experienced many earthquakes that have ravaged the island nation. Each child receives one hot meal a day cooked at the Ecole, said Connolly, “Our mission,” she said, “is to raise Haitian children above the pain and suffering that their country endures and provide a future filled with love, hope and faith. We want to form connections between classrooms and youth organizations here in the states and with our students in Haiti.” The women expressed gratitude to four churches in Montecito for their support through an Oct. 19 “Hike for Haiti” to benefit the Ecole. Participating churches included Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic, All Saints Episcopal, Covenant and El Montecito Presbyterian, with proceeds to be used to rebuild the Ecole’s kitchen. “It is a huge encouragement for students in Haiti to know that children in other parts of the world care about them and their education, too,” said Connolly. At the opening liturgy, Father Steve Davoren, director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (and former pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption, Ventura), spoke of the importance of catechists, about reaching out to the young. “Miracles happen when you reach out to others, for you are the hand of God.” Then Father Davoren related a personal experience from his time as a police officer before he had entered the priesthood. A domestic complaint had been filed at the station and when he and another officer went to check on the situation a little girl answered the door. “She had a face of an angel and a gorgeous smile,” said Father Davoren. He told the adults that he was checking on the welfare of a child. They took him to another room and when they went in the little girl showed them her teddy bears. The officers asked her, “When you are in trouble, what do your parents do?” “They hit me,” she said. The officers noticed that the girl had a red sock on her hand. They asked her to remove it; there was a terrible, horrific scar on it. “I burned my hand,” the girl said. As the officers took her to the Sherman Oaks Burn Center, they asked the girl to draw pictures about happy things; she drew a police car, a little girl and a big tree. Leaving the girl at the hospital, the officers went back to the station and returned with toys they and other officers had bought for her and other children at the Burn Center. Greeting them, the little girl said she wanted the officers to meet a new friend. Along the way she gave other patients the stuffed animals. At the last patient, a young man burned in a house fire, the little girl put a teddy bear on the edge of his bed and she said to him, “Don’t worry. I am here. I will take care of you.” As the catechists listened quietly, Father Davoren told them, “Just remember: the world is filled with scars. You are the hand of God. You are the hand of love. Every time you reach out, you are the hand of love.” Sue Spies, religious education coordinator for the Santa Barbara Region, and a former DRE at three area parishes for 24 years, said she sees the need to meet the many needs of educators — especially, she said, through sharing stories, even if they aren’t as dramatic as Father Davoren’s story of the little girl. “Sharing our stories — our words and our actions — is incredibly important to our work,” she noted. “When people come to something like this congress, they can fall in love a little deeper with their faith; they fall in love with God in a completely different way. We come to hear, and then we go forth to share the faith.” Her advice to catechists: Do what Jesus and his disciples did. “Let his love fill you,” she said, “so that you can go out and let it fill others."

{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1108/sbcongress/{/gallery}