By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
RADNOR – “Disciples on the Journey” was the theme as catechists, teachers and parishioners came together for Catholic Life Congress held Nov. 8 at Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor.
“First of all, we are disciples of the Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son of Mary,” Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Maginnis said in his homily during the opening liturgy. “Second, if we are disciples on the journey then we are disciples who are to work together and therefore we should always be trying to do our best to work together.
“Third, if we are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of His message, and of the Church He founded, then we should all be on the same page.”
All of the more than 1,300 participants at the Congress certainly seemed to be on the same page. This was emphasized by the enthusiasm shown during the lively keynote address presented by artist and Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath, through a Power Point presentation of his iconography.
Brother Michael has the unique ability to see the humanity in the sacred. A prime example is his rendering of a double image of Christ and St. Joseph. To the left, a strong St. Joseph embraces the child Jesus. To the right the adult Jesus embraces the elderly Joseph. The message is familiar: the child becomes the parent.
In Brother Michael’s images (more of which may be found on our web site, cst-phl.org) the humanity is presented with touches of humor. A close look at an image of Christ the Good Shepherd reveals one protected lamb sticking his tongue out at the snarling wolf. An image of Ireland’s St. Bridget also shows a glass of beer. According to legend, the hospitable saint turned water into beer to give to unexpected guests, reminiscent of Jesus’ miracle at Cana. Bridget, Brother Michael said, “welcomed the poor 24/7.”
It was a good beginning for a Congress that saw scores of workshops and sessions of interest to those in the various services and outreach programs of the Church.
Catholic Life Congress is presented each year under the sponsorship of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Evangelization, and has been steadily growing.
“This year is our best,” said Maryanne Harrington, director of the archdiocesan Office for the Formation of the Laity. “I think people come year after year because we come together and experience that fullness of the Church, the spanersity of the Church, the joy and enthusiasm in serving the Church. I think it sends them back to do their ministry filled with that new spirit that comes from gathering as a community.”
“It’s always excellent,” said Patty Vrabel, who teaches fifth grade at St. Joseph Parish, Downingtown. “I come every year. This year’s speaker is a wonderful guy. I have several of his books.”
A recent innovation is the emergence of special attention to Hispanic outreach. A separate Spanish keynote given by Hosffman Ospino, a theology professor at Boston College.
Ospino cited the demographic changes in the Church, especially in the West, with Hispanics now 43 percent of the Catholics in the U.S.
“Certainly, as we continue to offer these events and involve the Hispanic community we will have a better process and a better way to transition into the population shift we are facing in the Church,” he said.
“It’s very important right now. Some of our (Hispanic) people would not yet have made the transition to fully understand and converse in English,” said Msgr. Hugh J. Shields, archdiocesan Vicar for Hispanic Catholics. “It’s going into the first language of the people’s heart and drawing them closer to God.”
Fernando Figueroa, a lector and member of the pastoral council at Sacred Heart Parish, Royersford, opted for the English-language keynote.
“I’m here because they have sessions on how to have an efficient and effective pastoral council and I want to learn more about that,” he said. “All of the sessions are great; I came last year as well.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.