VICTORIA, Texas — For decades the Diocese of Victoria has announced date, theme, lineup, speakers and so on for its Catholic conference each fall.

The big news this 33rd year is that the diocese is having a conference, especially when surrounding dioceses have canceled similar events, according to Christella Alvarez, director of the Office of Catechetical Ministry in Victoria.

“Communio: Together with Christ” is the theme for the 2020 conference to be held Oct. 17. And it is undergoing some very big changes to meet the needs of the faithful.

“It is going to be different. It is going to be a challenge. It is going to be exciting,” said Alvarez.

First of all, it is not going to be in one central location. Instead, the conference committee is selecting multiple sites in different areas of the diocese that can accommodate an in-person/virtual hybrid conference. The committee has discussed the importance the conference as a chance to have people come together. But in light of the pandemic, the need to be innovative with the format was evident.

Patsy Krenek, parish catechetical leader at Holy Cross Church in East Bernard, said she’s excited the diocese is providing something to educate catechists, parents and anyone else who wants to learn more about their faith. She has been a regular participant in the conference and said it has been a great way to learn.

“That was the time I could go meet people from other parishes. I got inspiration from being around others,” she told The Catholic Lighthouse, Victoria’s diocesan newspaper. “And it’s only a one-day commitment.”

Although the large gathering was a blessing for her, she appreciates the fact that it has had to be modified as she is currently working on how to organize the fall faith formation in her parish.

Alvarez admitted she was surprised the committee chose to have the conference. She asked the committee members to give input on whether it should be canceled or changed to a virtual format and everyone agreed to go forward with some sort of virtual format. For her, she said, that was a sign from God the conference must go on.

The committee decided smaller groups could meet in various locations around the diocese and participate together with social distancing in place. The plan is to have three locations for workshops in English and two locations for Spanish.

The format could even be beneficial to those who prefer not to drive long distances. And because surrounding dioceses have canceled their conferences, some Catholics in those areas might want to join at a site within the Diocese of Victoria.

“That’s a whole new angle and a whole new possibility for us,” Alvarez said.

A finalized list of locations and speakers will be released in the near future. Once the diocese releases the list of conference sites and opens registration, those who want to attend can choose where they want to go since each will offer the same workshops.

Victoria Bishop Brendan J. Cahill will offer the keynote address, said Alvarez.

“There will be workshops from dynamic and faith-filled presenters and virtual vendors throughout the day,” she explained. “The pastor from each location will offer a closing address and a blessing at the end of the day to send us forth to continue bringing the ‘good news’ by accepting, listening, relating and helping one another each day as we offer God’s love and hope in the world in which we live.”

The this is a time of “epic change in our world,” she said, pointing to the global coronavirus pandemic and spread of COVID-19 and record unemployment as well as “the education of our children being challenged, and the ungodly violence and torture of human beings in our country and around the world.”

In addition, there are “the challenges immigrants are facing, racial intolerance and social injustices for so many of God’s people,” Alvarez said.

She and the others organizing the diocese’s the 33rd annual Catholic conference are hoping that “with God’s grace,” the gathering “will provide an opportunity to remember who we are as church, that we are a community of believers of all races, ages and genders.”

“We are ‘Communio: Together with Christ,'” Alvarez added. “With prayer, our supportive bishop and dynamic conference committee members, we are preparing for a conference unlike any in the past.”

Jones is editor of The Catholic Lighthouse, newspaper of the Diocese of Victoria.