The L.A. Religious Education Congress--an annual gathering of Roman Catholic educators, lay ministers, members of religious orders, Catholic youth, and laity—met March 18-20 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The gathering, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, drew more than 40,000 attendees to an extensive slate of workshops, performances, and special events, as well as a growing book exhibit.

Sr. Edith Prendergast, Director of Religious Education for the archdiocese, who oversees the Congress, noted that the number of book publishers and tech companies exhibiting has steadily increased in recent years. “The exhibits fill very fast, and we carefully vet everyone, as well as the authors we invite,” she told RBL. Publishers can pitch to have their authors attend, but the archdiocese selects them, and authors are re-invited based on attendee evaluations.

The Congress has long been a place for curriculum publishers to display and sell their wares, but it also has become increasingly important for publishers of trade books for the Catholic audience.

Reflecting an aggressive move into the Catholic market, HarperOne was there for its second year. Harper publishes a Catholic edition of its NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) of the Bible; it was giving away a New Testament sampler with a foreword by Jose Gomez, the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Making one of the first public appearances in his new role, Gomez moved through the crowds meeting excited attendees. HarperOne’s star Catholic author, James Martin, spoke and signed books at the meeting (see separate story in this issue).

Also newer to the Congress is Paraclete Press, which has exhibited for the past five years, according to sales manager Brother Richard Cragg. Although not a Catholic publisher, its books are ecumenical and many have Catholic appeal. Cragg pointed to their twin gift books, I Will See You in Heaven (2010; about dogs) and the new I Will See You in Heaven Cat Lover’s Edition (April). Also popular are My Baptism Book (2007; 50,000 in print) and My First Holy Communion; 2010). Both are now out in Spanish editions.

Wm. B. Eerdmans, in its 7th year at the Congress, was exhibiting its acclaimed children’s books, and sales rep Charles Luska pointed to its line of board books by Sabrina Bus (illustrated by Xavier Deneux) including Hail Mary and Our Father, as favorites among Catholics. Although Eerdmans’ roots are in the Dutch Reformed tradition, the house “gradually became more ecumenical over the past 30 or 40 years,” according to Luska, “and we are doing more Catholic books.” Eerdmans marks a milestone this year, its 100th in publishing.

Doubleday, which has long had a strong Catholic publishing program, was in its 17th year at the Congress. In the wake of the recent reorganization of religion publishing at Random House and the retirement of the Doubleday Religion name, the imprint was rebranding under the Image name, a familiar one to Catholics since 1954. Pointing to the large and enthusiastic crowds, executive editor Trace Murphy said, “Anyone who thinks the U.S. Catholic Church is dying should come here and look around.”

Michael Lawrence, national sales manager for Catholic mainstay Orbis, said, “Most of the speakers here focus on spirituality and prayer, so our books on those topics are doing well.” He added, “There are a lot of old liberals here, so our social justice and reconciliation books have been selling.” Orbis is also seeing a boost in sales of its John Paul II: The Encyclicals in Everyday Language, in advance of his beatification on May 1.

The current pope was getting plenty of attention: At the bustling Ignatius Press booth, Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (Mar.; reviewed in this issue) was selling briskly. The book has attracted wide media attention for the pope’s reiteration that the Jews were not responsible for Jesus’ death. Jesus of Nazareth currently has 150,000 copies in print.