By Joanna Thurmann
Faith Formation Conference 2015 at the Santa Clara Convention Center would undoubtedly make Pope Francis proud. A sampling of keynotes and workshops echoed his two favorite words, “encounter and dialogue”, and exuded a spirit of radical love, especially for those on the margins.
The welcome of Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey reminded us of our connection to California’s farm land and our gratitude for its laborers in the migrant camps. Their toil, challenged by drought and job loss, fills our tables. We toil in solidarity with them, as we cultivate disciples to recognize and to respond to their plight.
That theme continued throughout the keynotes, twelve workshops on social justice, and numerous sessions on evangelization to youth, young adults, and families. Friday keynoter Joe Campo, focused on the transformative power of authentic encounter. The high point of the conference was a showing of his latest film, The Human Experience, which searches for the meaning of life amid experiences of deep suffering. Saturday keynoter Sister Terry Pickard reinforced the message that such faith-filled encounters bear the most fruit through personal witness. The best practice of evangelization is not proselytizing but powerful storytelling.
Father Jon Pedigo called for a faith lived out in social action. In one session, he challenged the audience to pitch policy changes in active support of the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ and in another to become people of mercy through courageous listening.
Courageous listening and mercy were also the focus of a session on restorative justice by Deacon Ruben Solorio, who drew on parables like the Prodigal Son, the example of Saint Maria Goretti, as well as his personal and ministerial experience in juvenile hall and jail. He said that moving past blame and finding forgiveness can lead to profound reconciliation between perpetrator, victim, and community – a good model in advance of the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Fumi Tosu, music director, cited scriptural examples and his experience at the Catholic Worker to underscore faith as a simultaneous response of “yes” to the Kingdom of God and “no” to empires of injustice and oppression. And Father Bob Fambrini S. J. drew a connection between the Ignatian spiritual exercises and a call to community organizing for change.
On Saturday, San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath welcomed the faithful with a celebration of the liturgy and the excitement continued to build on the second day of the conference.
Following the liturgy, many other sessions in English, Spanish and Vietnamese focused on best practices for evangelization in Catholic schools, parishes, ministries, and beyond. A particularly interesting session by Dr. Elizabeth Drescher relied on her latest research regarding the growth of religious and spiritual unaffiliation in America. Rather than fearing the “None-ing” trend as she terms it, we can see it as points of meaningful connection and fertile soil in the Lord’s vineyard. This is especially timely as Pope Francis calls on all of humanity to cooperate together in the care for our common home.
All-in-all, Faith Formation was a smashing success.
Next year, the conference will be held in conjunction with the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) and will take place December 1-3 at the San Jose Convention Center.