.- Over 4,000 people flocked to the Archdiocese of Denver for its annual “Living the Catholic Faith Conference” held this year from March 2-3.
The two-day conference – which began as a forum for Catholic educators and has only recently opened to the public – featured Justice Antonin Scalia and noted scientist Br. Guy Consolmango as keynote speakers.
James Cavanaugh, director of Evangelization and Catechisis for the archdiocese, told CNA that organizers added a Spanish Track and “invited speakers that would appeal to a broader audience” in order to reach as many Catholics in the area as possible.
This year was the most attended in the history of the conference, with about 1,500 participants for the Spanish Track and over 1,000 for the Teen Track, which was introduced for the first time in 2012.
During his address, Justice Scalia addressed a large crowd about how Christians are perceived as “cretins” or people of insufficient mental capabilities by “sophisticated society.”
St. Thomas More was a “prime example” of “the Christian as cretin” during his life in the 16th century, Scalia said. Although many martyrs before him died for “noble” causes such as refusing to deny Jesus or for spreading the Gospel, More – according to his peers – died for a papacy that was “corrupt and politicized.”
“But of course,” Scalia reminded the crowd, “More was not seeing with the eyes of men, but with the eyes of faith.”
“He went to his death,” Scalia said, for refusing to reject Christ's teaching that “only the Pope could bind and loose.”
Scalia reminded conference attendees that the mentality is not new to the modern era and cited the story of St. Paul trying to evangelize the Athenians in Acts of the Apostles, but having no success due to their refusal to believe that Christ rose from the dead.
“The 'wise' men of Athens circa AD 50 know just as well as the men of America AD 2012 that people don't rise from the dead,” Scalia said.
Planetary scientist and curator of meteorites for the Vatican Observatory, Br. Guy Consolmango, S.J., spoke about the unity between faith and reason in his talk, “The Word Became Flesh.”
He explained that God is not simply a part of logic, but the source of logic, which refutes the Deistic notion of God as something that was “necessary every now and then to cover the bits of the universe” that science cannot explain.
Although Greek philosophers studied logic and reason, “only the Gospel tells us that Reason itself became flesh,” Br. Consolmongo explained.
When Christ was born, the universe became at that moment “the baby in the manger” which is both “bizarre” and “exciting to think about.”
He said that the Nativity helps “even the most hardened rationalist” understand how God and creation “come together” in the form of the Christ.
Participant Dennis Sponable of Denver told CNA that he believed the content of all the talks during the conference “tied in together really well.”
Although intellectuals tend to see religion as irrational, as Justice Scalia mentioned in his talk, Sponable said he appreciated hearing about how a scientist like Br. Consolmango “sees the beauty of God” in the study of the universe.
Christie Valdez of Ft. Collins, Colo., who has attended the conference since before it was available to the general public, said that she thinks “every year is just as good as the next.”
The conference also featured talks from youth minister Chris Stefanick, Fernando Casanova, Abram Leon and John Allen Jr., as well as workshops which offered practical tips from Catholic leaders such as Dr. Mary Healy, Msgr. Bernie Schmitz, Ben Ackers, S.T.L., Fr. John Riley, Fr. Armando Marsal, Thomas Smith and Mark Shea.
This year the conference included a Teen Track in order to help people recognize that young people are “not just the Church of tomorrow” but “a very powerful part of the Church of today,” Chris Stefanick, director of youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese, told CNA.
“This is a celebration of purity and faith which are really both one yes to God,” he said, “a lot of times kids might feel like they're alone in their faith or in their desire to live a pure life.”
Stefanick said that they had 800 seats for the event, but it was so crowded that a Fire Marshall had to come by to clear to doorways. He said such a large crowd really helped to show teens that “they're obviously not” alone in their commitment to God.
The Teen Track featured Mass, confession, praise and worship and talks from noted Catholic speakers.
Jason and Crystalina Evertt of Catholic Answers gave their testimonies about conversion and chastity and Catholic Answers LIVE radio host, Patrick Coffin, spoke about cooperating with God's plan.
Teen Laura Rosling of Roggin, Colo., who attended the conference with her mother and sister as part of her preparation for Confirmation, said she could relate to Coffin's story about a father who searched for his son after a natural disaster as an example of how God is always faithful.
High schooler Tom Brown of Greely, Colo. said that he “learned a lot” from the Teen Track and that he was still processing it all.