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 | By John Vu

What I saw at the Annual Los Angeles Religious Education Conference

I recently attended the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (LA Congress) at the Anaheim Convention Center. I consider attending this conference, with over 40,000 people wishing to grow in their faith and become leaders, on the same lines as making a pilgrimage. Since graduating from the diocesan Institute for Leadership in Ministry (ILM) in 2017, LA Congress is like a retreat for me, where I am able to grow in my relationship with God, with the Church, and with myself.


Time for Personal Formation

LA Congress starts with Youth Day on Thursday and continues with Adult Days from Friday to Sunday. I have been attending for several years, my first time as a student at the Newman Catholic Center at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California. I will never forget how amazing it was to connect with several famous speakers, musicians, and religious leaders worldwide. Our own Bishop Cantú led a Spanish session this year called Plan Pastoral Nacional Hispano por La Conferencia de los Obispos de Los Estados Unidos or the National Hispanic Pastoral Plan for the United States Bishops.

This year’s LA Congress theme was “Be Loved!” a daring invitation to experience God's unconditional love in every corner of our lives. This beautiful theme resonated in several of the sessions I attended, including Fr. Richard Fragomeni’s “Sacramental Liturgy, Sacramental Reality: Christ’s Eternal Gift and Our Call to Holiness,” Fr. James Martin’s “Jesus Goes to the Margins,” and Greg Walton’s “Issues facing LGBTQ+ families today.”

Inspiring Music and Worship in Liturgy

After a day of attending sessions, all participated in powerful Eucharistic liturgies. To be in communion with so many Catholics under one roof is truly awe-inspiring! On Friday, I went to a Mass with the theme “A Love Full of Action,” which was presided over by Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego. On Saturday, I attended the “Young Adult Liturgy” bilingual Mass presided over by my dear friend, Fr. David Romero SJ. Romero’s homily challenged us to be honest with God about everything.

One of my event highlights was attending the Taizé Service on Friday led by Catholic composer Meredith Augustin. The service was nearly two hours long, thanks to so many people coming out to pray, chant, and, most beautifully, venerate the cross. Before going to the airport, I attended Sunday’s morning Mass presided by Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange.

Catholic Religious Education Shopping, of course…

Outside the official and organized events, I always manage to make my way to the Exhibit Hall, or what I call the “Catholic Mall.” My significant other and I always joke that if you can’t find it there or in a catalog, you will not likely find it anywhere. I’m not kidding when I tell you that they even have a church pew for you set up to sample to sit, touch, and kneel on if you’re in the market!

…but most importantly, it is the people you meet

I love networking with people. Over the years, I have connected with people who have become my friends, my mentors, and my trusted advisors for several of my ministries. This year, I was personally invited to a reception organized by Santa Clara University and the Jesuit School of Theology to help me catch up with colleagues, professors, and staff members involved with the Institute for Leadership in Ministry!

Bringing the experience home

Lastly, the experience continues even after LA Congress as I can bring back the ways I’ve grown spiritually and offer my gifts of time, talent, treasure, and testimony to the diocese, to organizations I am involved in, to my parish at St. Julie Billiart, and even to my workplace. This year was particularly personal to me leading up to LA Congress after the layoffs looming in Silicon Valley. My time was truly a welcome time where I could listen and grow in my relationship with Christ.

I firmly believe that every Catholic, especially those in California, should try to attend this conference. It is an amazing opportunity for every person to form their faith, grow closer to God, to the Church, and to become who God is calling each of us to be.

John Huân Vu graduated from the Institute for Leadership in Ministry in 2017. He serves at St. Julie Billiart and as Assistant Lay Director of the San Jose Cursillo Movement. John is a Product Manager and former Global Interfaith Prayer Chair at PayPal while serving as an LGBTQ+ Advisory Board Member of the San Jose Police Department.

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