Monday, June 25, 2012

Faith and Freedom in Napa

National Catholic Register

When Tim Busch has gotten good ideas, he’s run with them successfully. In 2010, he got an excellent one that is proving to be a winner for Catholic leaders: the Napa Institute.

The first Napa Institute Conference, which was held last year, attracted approximately 250 people from across the country. For this year’s July 26-29 conference at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., 350 attendees are already expected.

What is attracting attendees?

For one, speakers like George Weigel. For another, the intriguing tagline of the Napa Institute, which Busch credits to Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput:“Equipping Catholics in the ‘Next America’” (via an article Archbishop Chaput wrote titled “Catholics and the Next America”).

In fact, that neatly sums up the mission of the Napa Institute: It wants to equip Catholic leaders to defend and advance the Catholic faith at this most critical time in our country and world through their work — just what businessman Busch has done in a number of ways. He founded the Busch Firm; with his wife, Steph, he founded JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and St. Anne’s School in Laguna Niguel, Calif. With Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, Busch co-founded the Magis Institute, which champions faith and science.

The two paired up again to co-found the Napa Institute.

Conference director Luke Miller already sees Napa’s mission bearing fruit. For example, at last year’s conference, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez spoke about the Catholic Church’s immigrant roots in America that attracted significant attention even in international Catholic circles, including L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper.

“It is exciting to think that a talk given at our inaugural conference gained truly worldwide attention,” Miller said.

Archbishop Gomez challenged attendees to consider the role of American Catholics as “guardians of the truth about the American spirit and our national identity.”

Said Miller: “This role as guardians of the truth about the American spirit and our national identity is now manifesting itself in the legal actions concerning the HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate recently taken by some of the very organizations that sponsored the Napa Institute last year.”

Effects trickled down to the personal level, too. Busch talked one friend into attending last year, and, as a result, the friend, who was already involved with his faith, started going to Mass daily.

“It hits each person differently,” Busch explained. “Everybody is in a different walk in their spirituality.”

Attendee Mark McElrath, president of Catholics at Work OC (Orange County), singled out George Weigel’s talk on Europe, America and politics without God as “a perfect synopsis of what we are facing in the ‘Next America’ culture,” noting the assault on religious liberty by the federal government’s HHS mandate.

“Weigel clearly pointed out that well-formed Catholics may be the last, best hope for leading a renaissance rooted in truth,” McElrath said.

Talks like Weigel’s weren’t the only inspirations and motivations.

“The attention to detail for each liturgical service was impeccable, the reverence inspiring,” he said. “Whether it was Liturgy of the Hours, the plentiful availability of the sacrament of confession, the celebration of the sacred mysteries in multiple forms or the beautiful Eucharistic procession led by the bishops and clergy throughout the resort grounds, each service was clearly representative of our beliefs that Jesus Christ is King of Kings, Lord of Lords and truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Blessed Sacrament and in the gathering of the people.”

“A conference that builds its agenda on the public praise and worship of God as the foundation upon which all education is built is a conference worth attending and, most importantly, learning from,” McElrath added.

Busch said the conference is also “an opportunity to network among Catholics and to meet each other.” Attendees range in age from their 20s and 30s to 80 years old — and come from all over the country.

Busch said 25 Catholic institutions will be sponsoring the conference.

“We want people to see these institutions and have the Holy Spirit guide them to ones to get involved with,” Busch explained. “Really, the follow-up at this time is to go to these ancillary institutions that already have a mission and rely on them to take the ball.”

Said Miller: “By virtue of who attended last year and through the working of the Holy Spirit, the conference has become something of an incubator for collaboration among Catholic apostolates and networking among Catholic leaders.”

This year’s theme — Religious Freedom, Catholic Education, and Faith & Reason — is “very pertinent to Catholics during this tumultuous time,” said Miller. “Our hope is that our attendees and speakers leave with vigor to truly impact the culture in the 30-plus states that they represent, to help turn the tide against our increasingly atheistic and secular society hostile to the freedom and truth that the Church manifests.”

McElrath is returning this year, noting that the “laity needs to engage the secular nature of this culture and actively dialogue with it, even when it does not wish to, particularly when that dialogue carries a cost — to bring the light of Christ and his message of sacrificial, saving love into every avenue of our lives.”

Busch has a further vision for the Napa Institute, too.

He believes the Holy Spirit will guide it, so that “we will have a bigger mission than the annual conference. I envision follow-up conferences in maybe other locations.”

For his part, McElrath looks forward to another conference to be “informed, inspired, motivated and ready for another year of personal conversion and active engagement with the culture in my marriage, my family, my business and my neighborhood.”

Joseph Miller, vice president of partnerships and new ventures for Fellowship of Catholic University Students, will also be returning to this year’s conference. As he said, “The Napa Institute’s program is a great balance of spiritual, educational and social activities. By bringing together leading clergy and laypeople, the Napa Institute helps us realize that the body of Christ is alive and strong in the U.S. Catholic Church. Being surrounded by so many talented and committed souls provided great encouragement to my wife, Roxanne, and me. Anyone who attends will leave with renewed confidence and vigor.”

Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.

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