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Catholics convene for Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

Sister Sean Patrice stops while on her way to a talk at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress on Friday, March 19, 2010.
Sister Sean Patrice stops while on her way to a talk at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress on Friday, March 19, 2010.
Marla Schevker

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Joe Melendrez prays the rosary every day. From the time the 24-year-old was 15, he felt that God was calling him. He would pray the rosary to achieve a calmness and serenity that only a reflection of Jesus Christ through his holy mother, the Virgin Mary, could bring.

At first, he would pray with his carpool on the way to high school every morning. After he stopped riding with his carpool, he continued to pray the rosary on his own. It wasn’t until Melendrez suggested rapping the rosary at the end of a religious retreat that everyone learned of the unique way he prayed every day.

“You are asking the Virgin Mary, mother of god, to pray with you, now and at the hour of your death,” Melendrez said. “So, when you meditate on the rosary, you meditate on the life and death of Christ. You go through his whole life and see how it relates to you. So when you go deeper into Christ’s’ life you can know him more fully.

“With the rosary rap, you can still go deep, still be routine but still have fun with it.”

LA Religious Education Congress from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Friday, March 19, 2010, Melendrez promoted his newly made Rosary Rap CD at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress inside the Anaheim Convention Center. The 42nd annual congress drew over 40,000 Catholic followers from places as close as Los Angeles and as far away as New Zealand to commune on the one thing they have in common.

“This is the largest congress, not only in the United States, but Cardinal Mahoney at the ceremony this morning said it’s the largest congress for religious education in the whole wide world,” said Sister Rose Dolores Fregin.

Fregin is celebrating her 61st anniversary of joining the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Fregin, 79, said she knew she wanted to go into the convent from the time she was seven years old. As a child she had seen a picture inside one of her mother's Maryknoll Missionary magazine Fregin of a nun with six little Japanese children. From that moment she knew she wanted to do exactly what the nun in the picture was doing.

“Here I was seven and I was thinking that I wanted to teach little children how much God loved them,” Fregin said. “It’s a great life serving the Lord.”

Fregin said she began teaching 40 years ago and has been coming to the L.A. Religious Education Congress for 36 years. She said she keeps coming back to the congress, not just for the bargains she can find in the showroom on expensive or hard to find religious texts, but also for the way the congress makes her feel.

“I love being with so many happy Catholics,” she said. “The feeling of joy and happiness just permeates the place; people that are happy to be Catholic and want to share their love and their faith with other people. This gives me a little taste of what heaven is like with people of all nationalities just trying to learn how better to serve and share Jesus with other people.

“One of the things that I really enjoy is running into students that I taught when they were 11 and 12 years old, who are now here and also teachers."

In addition to the weekend's lectures and masses, there are also plenty of exhibitors, who offer everything from information on religious secondary schools and jewelry to educational materials for teachers and personalized stationary. The booths line every available space of the convention center's exhibit hall.

Mike Raffio, an exhibitor for R.T.L. Benziger, a company that publishes religious education books, said his company comes to the congress every year with new material for teachers. The information, he said, is geared toward teaching and passing on the faith.

“That is what everyone at this whole conference is about and that’s what our churches are about.,” Raffio said. “In addition to worshiping God and being thankful, we are also trying to pass on the faith. If it is important to us, then we want to be able to share that. If we think it’s important and everyone here does, we wouldn’t have 40,000 people show up here every year.“

Joe Melendrez said he appreciates the way praying to the rosary makes him feel and has come to promote his CD at the Religious Education Congress in hopes that others will hear his CD and understand the rosary a little better. Since the Rosary Rap record came out, he drives around in his 2008 Honda Accord and rocks out to his own CD.

“When I’m driving, I call it the prayer mobile and I bump it,” he said. “I know it sounds funny but there are times when I’m just busy and hectic and the world can take over sometimes. I need the serenity and Mary is always there, especially with the Rosary Rap.”

KPCC's Susan Valot contributed audio to this report