Great Conference for Those Who Serve the Evangelical and Catechetical Ministry of the Church
I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend the St. John Bosco Conference for Religious Educators on the campus of the venerable Franciscan University of Steubenville, which lies, to steal the mildly sarcastic words of the conference host Professor Ronald Bolster, "on the banks of the beautiful Ohio River".
The conference, which ran in a new format to accommodate the continued growth of the better-known youth conferences, was a little bit of a change of pace for all of us who have been attending for years. This was my sixth consecutive Bosco Conference, which is in its 20th year overall. It was however a great opportunity to be joined by about 500 people from all over the world (two nuns from Australia won the "award" for farthest travel) who are serving the Church in this ministry.
This years' conference theme was entitled "The Evangelizing Church: Equipping Catechists for the New Evangelization", and it was clear from the very beginning that this particular theme was going to be strongly emphasized.
Each day of the conference involves Holy Mass as well as other time for prayer individually as well as a group (Including one evening of Holy Hour and Eucharistic Procession), and a nightly keynote presentation, in addition to the classes for those in certification tracks. Taking advantage of the well-known and well-stocked bookstore is always a highlight of the trip for most, as are visits to the Portiuncula Chapel, an approved Plenary Indulgence site, along with a moment of somber prayer at the Tomb of the Unborn, whose small perpetual flame reminds all who come the university of those victims of abortion buried within it, as well as the need for each generation who walks the hallowed ground of the campus as a student or a pilgrim, that so much more work is needed in our battle against the Culture of Death.
This year's keynote speakers were all excellent as usual. Professor Bob Rice, a well-known Catholic musician and speaker, opened the conference with a powerful reminder of the need to never forget that all of us must engage in "Preaching Christ Crucified" in whatever capacity we are asked to pass on the Faith. His testimony of the importance of drawing close to the Father's love, through his experience as an adopting father was especially moving.
The second night's keynote was given by well-known author and presenter Sherry Weddell. Her presentation, "God Has No Grandchildren: Forming Intentional Disciples in the 21st Century" was a sobering look at the reality of the decline of those who are active "disciples" in the Church, but it was also an encouraging challenge for all of us to go out and draw the seekers of the world into the arms of Christ's Church. I admit I really didn't know what to expect when I heard last year they had booked her. I was familiar with her book, but not much else, and she didn't fit the mold of the typical keynote presenters at past Bosco Conferences (Bishops, Professors, Diocesan Directors). Her balance of a clearly polished presenting style and her challenging but positive honesty about the state of the Church was however wonderfully encouraging.
The final two presenters continued the challenge for us to remember that one of our biggest responsibilities as Catholics is to evangelize others. Whether that means as a spouse and parent, as clergy or religious, as a parish volunteer, or a blogger in cyberspace we all have this same call. Speaker Andre Regnier, director of Catholic Christian Outreach (sort like Canada's FOCUS) gave a powerful presentation, weaving together the need for each of us to never stop growing in holiness with a beautiful dissection of how the so-called "Francis Effect" of our current Holy Father is simply a result of the fruit of so many seeds planted by St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Finally, the eminent Dr. Petroc Willey, Co-founder of The School of the Annunciation and former consultor to the Synod on the New Evangelization, sent everyone off from the conference with the clear reminder that Evangelization begins at home in the family. Dr. Wiley is perhaps the foremost expert on the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world, but as he challenged us to never forget, just as he mustn't: he is first a Son of God through Baptism, and second, a husband and father in a domestic church, and only by cooperating with grace in those areas first, could he ever hope to continue his current ministry.
For most, the conference closed with a beautiful liturgy offered by Franciscan Fr. Dan Patee, Ph.D. the Chair of the Department of Theology at the university. However, those who had earlier flights were treated to a nice Wisconsin touch in closing as Fr. Nathan Reesman, Administrator at St. Francis Cabrini in West Bend and a regular spiritual director on Relevant Radio, offered the closing "traveler's Mass" early in the morning in the Christ the King Chapel.