This past week I had the chance to attend the annual Catholic Media Convention, which, this year, was hosted by the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Heaven knows they need our help down there at this difficult time. Five years following Hurricane Katrina, an oil spill that has changed the face of the Gulf for years to come, job loss, families torn apart - you might say it's the spot where we need prayer more than ever.
About 350 communicators from across North America attended this year's convention. As in the past, some very helpful sessions that allow you to step away from the day to day and look at the big picture. The conference also included a round-table discussion with several bishops from the United States as well as some Canadian content in the form of Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta. He is the Chair of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Social Communications Commission - his American counterparts were present and the exchange provided an excellent dialogue between" for Catholic journalists, diocesan communications directors and the episcopate.
As valuable as the formal sessions at these conferences are the informal exchanges with participants over a meal, at breaks, between sessions and in the evening. I had a chance to chat with many colleagues and we mused over the big issues the church has faced over the last year, most notably, the ongoing abuse crisis, church closures, health care reform (in the USA) and other more local issues. We also discussed many of our "wins" including stories that bring the extensive work of the church into the public domain, a critical part of our work.
We still note that in Canada, with 70 Canadian dioceses, there are only about 9 that have any communications resources whatsoever. It seems that most dioceses, even the smaller ones in the USA, have invested in at least one staffer to oversee communications.
It was also nice to get a chance to meet Archbishop Claudio Celli who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He provided some insightful remarks for delegates at one of the three beautiful liturgies, each held at one of New Orleans' glorious churches that, in many cases, remain a beacon of hope in communities decimated in recent years. See the photo above of the inspiring St. Louis Cathedral.
The joy, warmth and hospitality of our New Orleans hosts won't soon be forgotten. They need our prayers and support - God bless the people there who have been through so much over these last few years.
Next year's conference will make its way to Pittsburgh, while Toronto plays host this week to the annual Diocesan Information Systems Conference - yes, all those IT folks who keep our computers working properly.
It's important to take time for professional development and personal renewal throughout the year. A few days away can generate all sorts of new ideas, provide perspective and, through those we meet, mutual support and fraternity that is essential, especially given these challenging times to communicate as a family of faith.
Photos: Archdiocese of New Orleans