Catholic publishers returning from the L.A. Religious Education Congress, held March 14-16 in Anaheim, Calif., and sponsored by the Los Angeles Office of Religious Education, uniformly reported good energy and sell-out sales at the gathering of more than 39,000, most of them laypeople responsible for parish religious education.

Two talks given by James Martin, a Jesuit author and media commentator whose Jesus: A Pilgrimage (HarperOne, Mar.) debuted on bestseller lists, including PW's, attracted 5,000 people, said Roger Freet, executive editor at HarperOne. “Jim was signing Jesus books the whole time,” Freet said. “We were scrambling to get more books.” Harper publishes Bibles for the Catholic market as well as trade titles. “We continue to invest in the Catholic market,” Freet said. “It’s a vibrant community.”

Even though it was only a mock-up, people couldn’t keep their hands off the soon-to-publish first book by Pope Francis, Church of Mercy (Loyola), scheduled to release on Easter, April 20. “We could have sold that book many, many times,” said Vinita Hampton Wright, senior trade editor at the Jesuit-run press. They did sell out of Mercy in the City by PW contributor Kerry Weber, and Wright reported great interest in Spanish-language products. Our Sunday Visitor said its speaker and expert on Hispanic Catholics, Hosffman Ospino, who teaches at Boston College and has researched U.S. Catholic parishes, was well received; Ospino gave one of his two presentations in Spanish.

Ave Maria Press sold out of six books it brought, among them three by one of its speakers, psychologist and spiritual guide Robert Wicks, including his newest, No Problem: Turning the Next Corner in Your Spiritual Life. Karey Circosta, sales and marketing v-p, was one of several who characterized this year’s congress as energetic. “I’ve been at Ave Maria 11 years, and this was one of the best ones I’ve seen,” she said.

Penguin Random imprint Image Books celebrated its 60th anniversary with a reception and successful sales at the event, bringing three major speakers. “We sold out of many of our books, but Sacred Fire by Father (Ronald) Rolheiser was the biggest success,” publicist Katie Moore told PW. Keynoter Robert Barron, author of Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith, which is also a 10-part DVD series, drew a standing-room-only crowd for his talk.

ACTA Publications was pleased by the reception of its Bible, a Catholic/ecumenical edition of The Message, the popular Bible paraphrase developed by Eugene Peterson. “We were pleasantly surprised to find how many of the Congress participants knew and liked the original Protestant edition and were delighted that there is now a version with all the deuterocanonical books of the Catholic Bible,” said president and publisher Greg Pierce.

Unsurprisingly, the mediagenic new guy, Pope Francis, elected almost exactly one year earlier, was a big draw for publishers who have titles about him. “Images of Pope Francis and books about him abounded everywhere,” said Michael Lawrence, national sales manager for Orbis Books. Francis of Rome and Francis of Assisi: A New Springtime for the Church by influential liberation theologian Leonardo Boff will be available from Orbis in August.

RECongress is the largest annual gathering of Catholics; last year’s attendance was almost 38,000.

At the end of February, Catholics gathered--and publishers exhibited--on the other coast at a newer gathering. The Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore, organized by the Association of Catholic Publishers, among others, drew nearly 1,400 parish leaders and educators. Therese Brown, general coordinator of MAC and head of ACP, noted that attendance at the Baltimore Congress exceeded last year’s by almost 20 percent.