Participants listen to a speaker at the Catholic Life Congress, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for the New Evangelization. (Sarah Webb)

“Happy feast day!” was the greeting of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to the approximately 900 women and men who filled the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints, at the Mass to begin Catholic Life Congress 2014, which would continue across the street at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel.

(See a photo gallery of scenes from the congress here.)

While we think of saints as holy men and women who have been vetted by the church and officially declared to be in heaven, that is not the original meaning the word, as the archbishop reminded the congregation. “It was used by St. Paul and others to designate members of the church,” he said.

Considering the chilly, nasty weather last Saturday and the fact that most members of his congregation were professionals — not in the sense that they earn their livelihood by proclaiming the faith but are volunteers who profess their faith through their teaching ministry — the catechists are very much saints in the Pauline meaning of the word.


“These are parish leaders and regular parishioners who are asking for ‘A New Pentecost and a New Evangelization,’ and I think the Lord is going to do it,” said Meghan Cokeley about the theme for the congress that was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office for the New Evangelization, of which she is the director.

“We have speakers who are nationally and internationally known and really in love with the Lord and his church,” she said.

Keynote speaker Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) struck a note of optimism, telling his audience, “You and I were made for greatness.”

Keynote speaker Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) struck a note of optimism, telling his audience, “You and I were made for greatness.” (Sarah Webb)

In spite of the turmoil so prevalent today, “Bad news is great news for people called to greatness,” he said. “Think about Martin Luther King Jr. — if it were not for the civil rights crisis in his lifetime he would have just been another preacher from the South and you and I would have never known him. He walked into the crisis of his day and tried to live the life God called him to live and he became a great man.”

Martin’s group FOCUS, which was founded in 1998, is having a great year, he said in an interview. It is on 99 campuses including Temple University in Philadelphia. It has 15,000 active members and 15,000 alumni and it expects 10,000 to attend its national convention in Nashville this year, he said.

His own life changed as a student at Louisiana State University and that is the group’s aim for today’s students, not through direct campus ministry but by encouraging students to participate in Catholic activities.

During the lull after his talk, Immaculate Heart Sister Alice Marie Daly, the director of religious education at Philadelphia’s St. Francis de Sales Parish, said she thought his talk was “excellent and inspiring. The way he expressed it made us see we are all involved everywhere.”

As is the general rule for such events there were a number of exhibiters representing various Catholic entities. Jim Fitzsimmons, president of Malvern Retreat House, manned their table and said the congress “is really (doing) what we are trying to do at Malvern — re-energize people to go back to their parish and continue in their own ministry.”

Edwin Winter, who came in from the archdiocese’s oldest parish, St. Thomas the Apostle in Glen Mills, was attending his second Catholic Life Congress.

“The folks are wonderful, the exhibiters are really friendly,” he said. “I’m looking forward to bumping into old friends. I hope they have it again next year.”

Also speaking at the congress, in a reprise of his talks at the Oct. 31 Archbishop’s Day for Teachers and Administrators, was Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, founder of the Magis Center for Reason and Faith, who effectively argues there is no contradiction between science and religion.

A Spanish language keynote presentation was given by Msgr. Eduardo Chavez Sanchez of Mexico City, who had been the postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Juan Diego.

The entire event was “a good lead-up for the World Meeting of Families,” said Bishop John J. McIntyre, who oversees the Secretariat for Evangelization. “I thought Curtis Martin was dead-on and a very engaging speaker who motivated everybody.”