A Report From Los AngelesAnyone lamenting the health of the Catholic Church would have been cheered by this year’s Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the largest Catholic convention in the country, held every year since 1967. This year’s gathering attracted nearly 40,000 pastoral associates, priests, deacons, catechists, religious men and women and all manner of lay leaders. Workshop leaders included such Catholic speakers as Richard Rohr, Peter Phan, Helen Prejean, Joyce Rupp, John Shea and Donald Cozzens. Many workshops were offered in Spanish, some in Vietnamese and Tagalog. And the congress’s gargantuan Masses included celebrations tailored for young Catholicswho numbered 15,000and others highlighting the cultural traditions of Hispanics, African-Americans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Hawaiians and Native Americans.
Just as emblematic of the congress’s inclusiveness was the vast exhibition space in the Anaheim Convention Center, which seemed to be hosting every Catholic publisher and manufacturer in the country. It was a visible example of the Joycean description of the church: Here comes everybody. Ignatius Press, featuring books by Pope Benedict XVI and G. K. Chesterton, was a stone’s throw from Orbis Books, which displayed works by Anthony DeMello and Henri Nouwen. At their booth the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-in-the-Woods celebrated the canonization of their 19th-century foundress, Mother Théodore Guerin, a few yards from where the 21st-century archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Cardinal Mahony, used his laptop to answer e-mails from the faithful. And a table laden with traditional medals of the saints was very near the Soft Saints booth, which was offering handmade, stuffed replicas of Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa. The Religious Education Congress is a yearly sign that church unity is not just an eschatological goal, but alsoat least in some quarterspossible in our time.
Impeach the Media?A bumper sticker recently sighted on city streets called for the impeachment of the media. Popular resentment of the media may be rooted in the suspicion that reporting about the war in Iraq, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and other disasters, real or perceived, is skewed by the liberal bias that supposedly dominates the media. It was inevitable, then, that the first reaction from officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to newspaper reports about the deplorable conditions at the center was to dismiss the reports as exaggerated and biased. That defense quickly crumbled, however, as the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, took swift action in holding higher officials responsible. The commander at Walter Reed was fired, the secretary of the Army resigned, and the Army surgeon general was forced into early retirement. President Bush appointed a bipartisan commission to investigate the medical treatment provided to veterans at all Army facilities.
Reports by The Washington Post’s Dana Priest exposed the shabby treatment that outpatients at Walter Reed were forced to endure, living in a crumbling and vermin-infested building. Even worse were the battles with a recalcitrant bureaucracy that the veterans had to wage as they waited for proper treatment. Disabled patients had to submit to early morning inspections and long walks to clinics. It is worth noting that the revelations published in The Washington Post were the result of four months of hard investigative reporting by Ms. Priest, not drawn from confidential sources in the administration.
Lent.comFinding Lent a little stale this year? Looking for creative approaches? You might check out An Invitation to Care for the Earth, on the Web site makingthepartswhole.com. This is an online retreat for Lent, with an environmental focus, made available by the College of the Holy Cross. Each week the site offers brief prayers and reflections about the environment, along with stunning photographs and some questions to ponder. The site is clean and easy to navigate; the photographs alone provide rich possibilities for quiet meditation and reflection on our call to be stewards of the earth.
Another site to visit is livelent.net. Created by the Church of England, livelent invites people to Love Life, Live Lent by being generous to oneself, one’s neighbors and the world. Each day the site’s Join In section suggests a concrete action that readers might take to both further generosity and deepen one’s appreciation of life, such as taking a television-free day and using the time to do something you have meant to do for ages; turning off the tap water while you brush your teeth; ora real challengegiving up your place in line. There’s also a message board whose sole purpose is the sharing of good jokes. Did you hear about the two television antennae that met on a roof and fell in love? I guess their wedding was no great shakesbut the reception was amazing!
Whether your Lenten resolution is to strive for greater generosity, improved awareness of our responsibility for the world in which we live or simply a deeper appreciation of puns, these sites have much to offer.