Religious Education Congress 2023: Embrace Grace

By Bro. Al Vu, SDB

Over the course of three days, February 24-26, 2023, thousands descended upon Anaheim, California for the annual Archdiocese of Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. It is the largest gathering of Catholic educators, catechists, and ministers in the nation. This year’s theme: Embrace Grace fueled the many workshops, presentations, and keynotes. In his keynote, Bishop Joseph Espaillat, an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of New York, made his message very clear. “My intention is to light a fire — a fire in us,” the bishop shared with the packed assembly that gathered in the arena.

Like we have done for so many years, our Salesian province was present in the exhibition hall.

This year the booth focused on three specific areas:

1) Sharing the current scholarship of Don Bosco’s educational method through the work of Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez SDB who offered resources in Spanish and Sr. Mary Greenan FMA who walked educators through a process of practically applying the Preventive System in their ministry.

2) Offering an opportunity to learn about Don Bosco’s spirituality, in particular his devotion to our Blessed Mother by inviting congress participants to write prayers of petition for the needs of young people within their ministry.

3) Being an area for resources. Those that encountered our booth were fired up with God’s grace found in the many ways Don Bosco’s way of evangelization and education can be lived out today.

Alumni from our Salesian presences from around the world immediately identified with the grand image of Our Lady Help of Christians that anchored the booth and served as a focal point. Throughout the weekend, many flocked to her and prayed under her mantle. A number of newcomers were moved by her image and wanted to know more about this beautiful lady and her role in Don Bosco’s work among the young. It was an opportunity for us to share Don Bosco’s devotion to our Blessed Mother and how she was at the heart of his ministry.

With the help of Fr. Alejandro and Sr. Mary, we were able to engage with various educators and catechists in presenting an updated understanding of the Preventive System. Those that came in for short chats with our Salesian experts were appreciative for the connections made. The simple booklet that we offered was an additional resource that congress goers took away in order to delve deeper into our spirituality and educational methodology.

Overall, our intentional focus made our exhibit booth more cohesive and intentional. All the while it was a space for our Salesian family to re-connect and meet. Our Salesian presence at this conference over the past 30 years has been welcomed by so many. Paul Escala, superintendent for Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said it best when he stopped by our booth: “My heart is always Salesian and I am grateful for the charism of Don Bosco. It truly has been a grace that God has given to me in my life.”