At the 24th annual Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (RBTE), held May 26-29 in St. Charles, Ill., such long-time exhibitors as Franciscan Media and Eerdmans were absent this year, bringing the number to 31, down from 38 last year. Just 12 exhibitors were publishing companies; others included vendors of religious goods and articles, which now make up about 60% of the inventory of the average Catholic store, according to RBTE organizer and co-founder Bob Byrns. Some 40 buying stores were represented, he said, about the same as last year; attendee numbers were not available at press time, mid-show.

Still, said Michael Lawrence, Orbis sales director, on Wednesday the 27th, “This first day has been very good--we took as many orders this morning as we did over two days last year.” He and others lauded the move from Pheasant Run’s cavernous Expo Hall to a ballroom in the hotel. “The scale fits and it feels full,” said Lawrence.

Liberation theology is definitely having a moment; the beatification ceremony of Bishop Oscar Romero drew thousands in San Salvador on May 23. That attention was felt profoundly at Orbis Books, which was founded in 1970 to translate into English the works of such Latin American liberation theologians as Gustavo Gutiérrez. The pope invited Gutiérrez to an under-the-radar meeting at the Vatican in 2013, breaking the 35-year opposition of the Church hierarchy to what it viewed as a communist-inspired movement. In March, Orbis released a new book by Gutiérrez, On the Side of the Poor: The Theology of Liberation, coauthored by Carl Gerhard Mueller. Orbis publisher Robert Ellsberg also was quoted in a May 23 Times article about Romero.

But the book drawing the most interest at their booth, Lawrence said, was Phyllis Tickle: Essential Spiritual Writings. Tickle’s terminal illness had been made public the week before; she was a long-time presence and frequent speaker at RBTE over the years.

Gregory Pierce, publisher at ACTA, said of this year’s RBTE, “I think lots of things are moving in a good direction. I met with 15 stores today, and there is a much better spirit than last year.” Pierce affirmed the value of face-to-face interactions in the business and said, “I’m hoping the word gets out. There’s still a real need for this show.”

At a Tuesday session for retailers, Pierce introduced his new Literary Portals to Prayer series, which he termed “literary lectio divina” (devotional reading). Culling the work of authors in the public domain, each book is a 120-pp., gift-format compilation of 50 passages—by such authors as Shakespeare, Elizabeth Gaskell, Melville, Dickens, and Robert Louis Stevenson--laid out on a two-page spread side-by-side with a relevant quote from ACTA’s Catholic edition of The Message Bible. “The books are all autobound to lay flat, and we’ll sell them in the gift market as well as to bookstores,” said Pierce.

The Association of Catholic Publishers presented its 2015 Excellence in Publishing Awards on Wednesday. Liturgical Press, with seven winners, and Pauline Books and Media, with four, had the largest number of winning titles. Tied for Book of the Year were Chosen: This is Your Catholic Faith, a multimedia Confirmation preparation program from Ascension Press, and Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser (Image Books). Fourteen other publishers received awards for their works, among them Pope Francis: Life and Revolution by Elisabetta Pique (Loyola Press) and Oscar Romero by Kevin Clarke (Liturgical Press).

Prior to the show ACP announced the election of three new board members: Tom Hawley, v-p of operations at GIA Publications; current ACP treasurer Tom Shumate, CEO of Franciscan Media (formerly St. Anthony Messenger Press); and John Thomas, director of Liturgy Training Publications.

As he works to keep the struggling trade show going, Bob Byrns said he has reached out to shrine shops—stores at popular Catholic holy sites and churches—to encourage their attendance and offer RBTE as a place for them to meet as a group. He continues to woo other Catholic associations and vendors. “I’m always looking at partnerships and at alternative dates and locations,” Byrns said.