PHILADELPHIA — When we’re not listening to the amazing speakers or checking out the plethora of breakout sessions, we wander over to Exhibit Hall B here at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. There are rows upon rows of booths with everything from Catholic publishers like Our Sunday Visitor to religious orders to purveyors of rosaries and T-shirts featuring images of Pope Francis.
One young man had a simple black banner that declared OneBillionStories.com. “We believe that every one of the world’s one billion Catholics have a story to tell,” he told me. And of course, being a journalist who loves personality profile pieces, I had to agree. They’ve got a camera crew ready to record pilgrims’ telling how they encountered Christ but they’ve also been recording stories elsewhere.
Next, I spied a booth where the exhibitors are hoping to draw support for Catholic missions in Russia. Decades of oppressive communism had crushed the Church, but never quite extinguished the flame. Now, missionaries are working to revive the faith in the former Soviet Union. The colorful nesting dolls on display right next to the gorgeous icons of the Blessed Mother made for a vivid presentation and I toyed with the idea of buying a doll. But my backpack is getting heavy and I’ve already got more pope props than I can possibly carry.
At the Salesian booth, a young woman was using a puppet to engage a few young children who watched in rapt attention. It was really more like one of Jim Henson’s muppets and I noticed the kids were entranced by the demonstration.
Then I ran into the Phelan family. Mike and Sharon are here with their six children, some of whom have been attending the youth conference. Mike leads the marriage and respect life office for the Diocese of Phoenix and Sharon directs marriage prep at the All Saints Newman Center.
“It’s an overwhelming affirmation of the mission the Church has for the family,” Mike said. “Every color and nationality is here and it’s just smiles everywhere.”
Sharon agreed. “There’s great enthusiasm and joy for our Catholic Church. I didn’t anticipate what it would feel like to be around so many of my fellow Catholics who are just so energized and on fire for Christ.”
Follow Joyce Coronel on Twitter at @JoyceCoronel.