Like countless other events scheduled around the globe, the annual Napa Institute summer conference will look very different this year. The 2020 conference was originally scheduled to be an in-person event in California’s Napa Valley in July, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was changed to an online conference, to be held Friday and Saturday, August 14 and 15.
The Napa Institute, founded in 2011 by attorney and entrepreneur Tim Busch and Father Robert Spitzer, SJ, seeks to equip Catholic leaders to defend and advance their Catholic faith in “the Next America,” today’s emerging secular society.
This year’s conference is titled “Finding Hope in the New America,” and its speakers will discuss issues related to faith and culture, some speaking to participants live and others delivering pre-recorded presentations. Speakers will include Cardinal George Pell—who will speak on his time in prison before his release earlier this year—as well as Ross Douthat, Scott Hahn, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Bishop Robert Barron, Ryan T. Anderson, George Weigel, Arthur Brooks, Robert P. George, and many others. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas will be given the “St. Thomas Aquinas Award for the Defense of Moral Truth,” and there will be two live-streamed liturgies offered by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland. The bishops will offer their Masses at missions within their dioceses; Bishop Barber’s Mass will be at Mission San José in Fremont; Archbishop Cordileone at Mission Dolores.
Registration for the conference is $189; participants may also host a “watch party” for $1,000, which includes cigars and a case of Busch’s Trinitas Cellars wine.
Busch, founder of the Busch Firm and CEO of Pacific Hospitality Group, is involved in many Catholic apostolates and charities. In 2016, the Busch Family Foundation donated $15 million to the Catholic University of America (CUA) to assist with the operational needs of the School of Business and Economics and other university academic programs.
Tim Busch spoke with CWR about this year’s Napa Institute conference.
CWR: You’ve been doing the summer conferences for nearly 10 years. Why do you want to do these conferences, and what benefits have you seen?
Tim Busch: Our purpose of presenting the conferences centers around what we call our “three pillars”: liturgy, faith formation, and fraternity. This year, liturgy will be a challenge, as we’ll have to live-stream our two Masses, and it won’t be the same as being there in person. Our fraternity won’t be as strong either, but we do have multiple watch parties that I think people will enjoy.
Our real strength this year will be our faith formation. We have speakers who are off the charts. Had we done only an in-person event, we wouldn’t have secured many of these speakers. One positive of the pandemic has been that we’ve been able to improve the virtual aspect of our conference. We will reach over 1,000 people this way in 2020, and as the talks will be available online for two months after the conference, perhaps another 5,000 to 10,000 will participate as links are passed around. We plan to be back in Napa for an in-person conference in summer 2021, but we’ll continue to offer virtual access to our conference talks in the future as well.
CWR: Who do you think ought to participate?
Busch: Leaders of lay apostolates and serious Catholics who want to grow in their faith. At a price point of $189, it is very affordable. I think people will find the talks are amazing.
CWR: Your original plan was to do an in-person conference in July. Why did you decide to do an online conference in August instead?
Busch: We made that decision late in the game, around the Fourth of July. We had 325 people signed up, and expected more. But the California state government went into Lockdown 2.0, and we had many restrictions placed on us. We could have done it, but we were getting a lot of complaints at the municipal level. We could have worked around these complaints, but we didn’t want the hotel tainted with the perception that it had violated the rules and regulations of the city.
We decided to go digital, but we needed more time to prepare, so we pushed the conference from July to mid-August.
CWR: Evangelism is a strong theme of the conference. Many in our country have drifted far from God; are you optimistic that we will be able to return?
Busch: Good and evil ebb and flow in societies. A crisis, like the pandemic, has the potential to bring people back to God. After 9-11, churches were jammed. The solution to our problems begins with an embrace of the Gospel. As St. Josemaria Escriva said in The Way, “These world crises are crises of saints.”
Evangelization is certainly a big theme of our conferences. Our goal is to encourage and help prepare participants to engage in one-on-one evangelization, as they did in the early Church. In a world of chaos, many will seek order and meaning, which the Church alone can offer. It is up to us as individual Catholics to be ready to help those seeking truth to find their way to Christ, and to the happiness only He can provide.
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