I just returned from my third trip to the Religious Education Congress run by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the Anaheim Convention Center. As an exhibitor, I not only get to talk to people interested in theological studies, but I also get to watch the crowd and listen to the conversations going on in the hall. Plus, I get to drop in on a few workshops here and there. Every year congress is packed. Tens of thousands of people descend on the convention center for prayer, renewal, and some useful resources to bring back to their ministries. It’s all very well done, and the workshops are given by first rate scholars, ministers, and leaders.
This year, though, felt different. There was a different energy in the room, and different questions that were being asked. I couldn’t quite put my figure on it until the closing liturgy. Archbishop Gomez was the presider, and it was his homily that really articulated what I was feeling. He talked about the need to follow the Beatitudes – particularly mercy – and show compassion in our ministries. He articulated that need by speaking about an injustice that acutely affects his archdiocese: current immigration policy. He announced that a group of children in his archdiocese, all of them having members of their families deported, would travel to Rome to ask Pope Francis to speak out on behalf of those families that have been torn apart by politics and ideologies.
This homily, and the blessing of the travelers after communion, epitomized the Francis effect. Archbishop Gomez did not give a homily demanding ideological purity. Nor did it center around traditional social teachings. Archbishop Gomez spoke to and for people, families, and communities. The center of our faith is Jesus Christ, and our relationship with him is what grounds and permeates our lives. But our faith is lived out in the world by interacting with and loving people, particularly the poor and needy. This has been the emphasis of Pope Francis this past year, and we are now beginning to see it realized in the everyday workings of the church. I pray that this homily and the advocacy group are only the beginning of a movement that brings Christ to the real and everyday needs of people.