Bobbleheads, yes, but not just.
Over at his blog Get Religion, Terry Mattingly–nom de Web “tmatt”–links to an L.A. Times story on the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, which I returned from last week. Mattingly, a religion journo who apparently has never heard of the nearly forty-year-old event, finds the Congress, at least as described in the Times, deeply mysterious:
You see, the event seems really confusing. The whole think seems to lurch past diversity and into a kind of theological buffet approach. Some very serious issues are jammed right in there, along with the silly stuff. Come one, come all.
Positively Joycian. Mattingly asks for some clarification from people who have actually been there, which occasioned the following comment: “This conference is nothing more than a place for the heterodox, the trite and the trivial to gather yearly to celebrate their idea of a church post-Vatican II.” I have no idea whether Thomas Szyszkiewicz has ever been there. (Perhaps he was the dour-looking gentleman using his camera phone to photograph the gay and lesbian outreach booth next to Commonweal‘s spot in the exhibition hall.) What he writes, however, gives the strong impression that he has never attended Congress.
Anyone who has been to Congress (or perused its Web site, where the schedule and speakers have been available for months) knows that there are lectures and exhibits for every kind of Catholic. You can attend a talk on Harry Potter by a Jesuit film critic (I missed it, but doubt it focused solely on the young wizard), and you can listen to Fr. Robert Barron discuss the centrality of the Eucharist in the 8,000-seat arena. You can hear Fr. Bryan Massingale talk about how the church has dealt with the issue of racism since the civil-rights era (as I did), and you can listen to Fr. John Cusick deliver catechetical pointers to a crowd of about 1,000 (as I did). John Allen spoke. So did Timothy Radcliffe, OP, and Kathleen Norris, and a cast of hundreds. (You can find the full listing here.)
Or you can shop the exhibit hall, which also houses everything Catholic under the sun. Interested in stones from the Holy Land? You got it. Vestments? Check. Free copies of Commonweal? Check. Chastity magazine? Check. What about Fr. Barron’s books? Available at the Crossroad booth. Maybe you’re interested in graduate work in theology or ministry–Loyola Chicago is there for you. So is Notre Dame. Feel a calling to religious life? Several booth staffers are ready to discuss your discernment. Maybe your school is in the market for new textbooks. You’re covered at Congress. Or you want to know more about LifeTeen. That’s covered, too.
Point is: 40,000 Catholics show up for Congress (and the vast majority are laypeople, contra the suggestion of the L.A. Times). It’s a big event. It’s a big church. Nothing confusing about it.