New speakers, a morning opening liturgy instead of an evening closing service, and more exhibitors offering educational materials are some of what participants will experience at the San Pedro Religious Education Congress Sept. 29, which has grown from a “mini-congress” held in Artesia’s Holy Family Parish in 1984 to an all-day event at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower.About 1,400 bilingual (English/Spanish) registration guidebooks were mailed and organizers expect to see an increase of participants, most of them representatives of the 68 parishes in the region, said Karina Plascencia, San Pedro regional coordinator of the Office of Religious Education. About 1,100 participated in 2011.The organizing committee would like participants to leave this year with a “zeal for God” to help others grow in their relationship and knowledge of God, said Plascencia. That was what inspired this year’s theme: “Serve God with zeal!” (¬°Sírvele a Dios con fervor!), since the committee had in mind the celebration of the Year of Faith (starting in October), the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the call for “a new evangelization.”Planning of the annual congress started a year ago, when the 22-member committee met to review and discuss ideas provided by participants in their evaluations from the 2011 event. In January, the committee began working in earnest to decide on the theme, choose speakers from a large data base shared by all regions (that includes an array of areas of expertise in English, Spanish and Tagalog), and decide what other changes are needed to increase participation.One of the main changes this year is the liturgical service, which will open the day, replacing the closing liturgy that had been celebrated for the last six years. At the end of the service, Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis, presider, will present the second annual Excellence in Catechetical Service Awards, to honor outstanding catechists in the different parishes in the region.About 73 speakers will facilitate 90 workshops (52 in English, 38 in Spanish) distributed in three tiers, with topics addressing ecclesiology, music, theology and stewardship, among others.The first sessions start at 10 a.m. and the last end at 4:15 p.m. with a 75-minute lunch break where participants will have the option to purchase food from several food trucks (another new addition to the event). The young adults’ choir of St. Athanasius Church in Long Beach will perform during the break.The Youth Track will include themes such as “Teens Getting in(to) the Liturgy,” “Just Listen: Hearing God’s Voice in a World of Noise,” and “R U Plugged In?”From the grassroots“When it comes to religious education, a lot of things that end up happening begin at the grassroots,” said Plascencia, who has followed in the footsteps of her late mother Carmen, a former speaker and committee member. “When there’s a need and a will — and obviously God always has a play in this — we become resourceful.” The religious education congresses have always responded to needs of the time, said organizers. Committee member Caren Rios, religious education director at St. Cornelius Church in Long Beach, recalls attending her first mini-congress in 1984 at Holy Family in Artesia. Even then, she added, interest on the use of media in the parish environment was starting to grow. “There were workshops to show how to use the popular media to get to youth and to more parishioners,” said Rios, who this year will be in charge of pre- and on-site registration.The San Pedro Congress moved in 1987 to St. John Bosco High; a year later it was moved to St. Joseph High School in Lakewood. Then it was back to St. John Bosco, and then to St. Matthias High School in Downey, where it was held for the next 20 years, until 2011 when it returned to St. John Bosco.The trend with exhibitors has also changed, said Rios. In the 1980s and 1990s interest was placed on textbooks, whereas today there is interest “in everything” because the content shifted from catechists teaching in the classroom to addressing spiritual enrichment for all parishioners, based on current social issues.With an increased flow of the Spanish-speaking communities in parishes, gradually the committee added more workshops in Spanish, and then started the youth track aiming at high school students.Although the congress’ primary audience is parish ministers from the San Pedro region, in recent years more participants hail from Orange County or from other pastoral regions.For more information about the San Pedro Religious Education Congress, go to, email [email protected] or call (562) 630-6272. Online registration is still open at $30 per participant.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0928/spcongress/{/gallery}