By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published May 20, 2004
Published: May 20, 2004
ATLANTA—When the 2004 Eucharistic Congress opens on June 12, it will be with a procession of thousands of people walking reverently behind the Blessed Sacrament held aloft in a monstrance.
In a very real sense, there has been such a procession in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for 10 years now, of people following Jesus truly present in the Eucharist. It has steadily attracted more and more people, both as individuals and as parish communities, to look upon Jesus in the Eucharist in reverence and in love, to recognize his true presence there, and to respond in faith.
Looking out over the procession at the 2004 Eucharistic Congress, one will see parish banners by the dozens, a diversity of cultures and languages, and people of every age. It will be held at the new Georgia International Convention Center in College Park because this facility can accommodate the size of the gathering, with plenty of parking outside and plenty of room inside for the thousands who will come.
There will be separate tracks for children, for teens, for Hispanics, for Vietnamese, for young adults in their 20s and 30s, as well as a general track. It will be an opportunity for thousands to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. The Congress will culminate in the beautiful celebration of an evening Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi, which has become the largest gathering each year of Catholics in the archdiocese.
But the size, diversity, pageantry and awe of the 2004 Congress really reflect a decade of prayer and evangelization efforts in the archdiocese.
This year, it will be 10 years since the feast of Corpus Christi in1994, when at Archbishop John F. Donoghue’s request, a perpetual adoration chapel opened at the Cathedral of Christ the King. It was a burning desire of the then-newly installed archbishop that the Cathedral have a chapel open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for prayer and adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Hundreds volunteered to serve as guardians, coming from across the archdiocese to spend an hour a week there in prayer.
From that spark, in 2004 there are now 10 parishes that have perpetual adoration chapels, including the Cathedral; Corpus Christi, Stone Mountain; Immaculate Heart of Mary, Atlanta; St. Andrew, Roswell; St. Brigid, Alpharetta; St. Catherine of Siena, Kennesaw; St. Marguerite D’Youville, Lawrenceville; St. Peter Chanel, Roswell; St. Thomas More, Decatur; and Transfiguration Church, Marietta. In addition, about 40 parishes have regular times of adoration weekly or monthly.
Eucharistic Renewal Begins-1996
After the Cathedral chapel was opened, the archbishop called in 1996 for a Eucharistic Renewal in the archdiocese. He wanted to bring Catholics in north Georgia to a deeper understanding and experience of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The renewal officially began on Corpus Christi Sunday, June 9, 1996.
Archbishop Donoghue said that his years as a priest and bishop persuaded him that many Catholics do not know or do not grasp the teaching of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist, namely that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, which becomes his Body and Blood at the consecration of the Mass.
Young people are a particular concern, he said, because if they are not taught the doctrine of the Catholic Church effectively—and also led to experience Christ in the Eucharist—they will lose the essential heart of Catholicism and will, as a result, be lost to the church of the future.
He cited a 1992 Gallup poll that found only one-third of U.S. Catholics who were polled agreed with the statement that when receiving Holy Communion they receive “the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.” This is the teaching of the Catholic Church about the Eucharist.
The archbishop said at one time the practices of first Friday devotions and weekly Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament led Catholics into periods of silent prayer in the presence of the Eucharist and helped instill an awe and reverence for the Eucharist in the young. But those devotions waned following the Second Vatican Council. It is essential to renew forms of eucharistic devotion and educate Catholics of all ages about church teaching on the Eucharist, he said.
An estimated 1,000-1,500 people listened in Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, as the archbishop spoke at the opening of the Eucharistic Renewal, and it was linked from the beginning with evangelization. Archbishop Donoghue asked the archdiocese to make a “special gift” to God of the next year, praying that people who have lost their faith would receive the grace of conversion.
The impact of perpetual adoration was already being seen at the Cathedral in 1996.
“We saw the effect that it was having on people—that it was changing people’s lives,” said Keri Allen, director of evangelization at the Cathedral. “But at the same time we saw the lack of understanding that this was the true presence of Christ.”
The renewal began to use many teaching avenues to inform Catholics about church doctrine on the Eucharist, but the deeper longing was and is for more Catholics to truly experience Christ in the Eucharist. The renewal is not “trying to get back to the nostalgia of yesteryear. We want to take the Catechism (of the Catholic Church) and the Vatican II documents and focus on the Eucharist today, in the 20th century,” Allen said.
Using the work of Father Robert P. Rousseau, SSS, of the Center for Eucharistic Evangelizing in Cleveland, teams of lay people were trained to present “Life in the Eucharist” seminars. The LITE seminars combine teaching with personal testimony, prayer and worship to help adults experience Jesus in the Eucharist, and they are still being offered around the archdiocese.
The first anniversary of the Eucharistic Renewal on June 1, 1997, placed the stark image of a cross with the Eucharist at the center as a dramatic backdrop for Mass and a healing service at the Atlanta Civic Center. Approximately 4,000 people joined in the celebration. Archbishop Donoghue joined by about 40 priests celebrated Mass and Sister Briege McKenna, OSC, led a healing service focused on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“We have spent a year drawing nearer to our Lord and drawing Him nearer to us,” the archbishop said. “Let us make this holy year the first stone in the church of the future.”
Archbishop Donoghue said he hoped there would now be a revival of “charitable works” by the church. To worship “in spirit and in truth” means not only to pray, but to “open our hearts and let flow out around us that wonderful love” God has so generously revealed in Jesus.
The second anniversary of the Eucharistic Renewal was celebrated June 14, 1998. Over 1,000 people gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the King. The opening event of the celebration began outdoors with a procession highlighted by the display of colorful banners, followed by singers, clergy and Archbishop Donoghue, who held aloft a monstrance bearing the Eucharist. Father Richard Lopez, religion teacher at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, was the homilist. Mary Welch Rogers sang a new song she composed for the renewal entitled “He Is Truly Present.”
The third anniversary of the Eucharistic Renewal was celebrated at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, where a procession of people chanting a litany of praise to Jesus slowly entered, preceding Archbishop Donoghue holding the Blessed Sacrament. An estimated 1,100 people came to the service.
Father Benedict Groeschel, the homilist and a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, said that those born in the last few decades are missing exposure to a profound devotion to the Eucharist that has deep roots extending back many centuries in church life. Father Groeschel said belief that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus was unchallenged for the first 1,500 years of Christianity. Corpus Christi was established as a feast by Pope Urban IV, he said, who, as a priest was told by a Belgian nun that the Lord had asked for the church to have such a feast. A number of years later the priest became an archbishop and finally became pope. He then acted on the request communicated to him and obtained the services of St. Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for the church on the Eucharist, which are still sung at Benediction services.
The June 25, 2000, celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi marked the beginning of a new mission called for by the archbishop—to bring Catholics who have drifted away back home to the church.
At the Cathedral of Christ the King, a Liturgy of the Word was celebrated. In inviting back Catholic brothers and sisters who have stopped coming to the sacraments, Father Jack Durkin said it is important to remember the mission is one of love.
“Many people do not come to Christ because they are fearful,” he said. “Those who bring Christ to others must be very careful. They have to see the gentle hands of Jesus in us.”
Father Brian Higgins encouraged Catholics to bring others back to the church “by not only proclaiming Christ, but by also showing them the way, through self-purification, penance and prayer. Dedicate yourself to the practice of attending daily Mass, pray before the Blessed Sacrament and through our greatest intercessor, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the rosary.”
Archbishop Donoghue said the new outreach was entitled “Come To Me,” and was a response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a “new springtime of evangelization.”
The archbishop encouraged the archdiocese to set aside Fridays for fasting and prayer. He urged people to attend Mass frequently, pray before the Blessed Sacrament for the outreach effort and immerse themselves in the Acts of the Apostles.
“Please join me as I pray that each of us may become a true and effective channel of Christ’s peace as we begin our project to bring the vitality of Christ back to those dormant members of his mystical body,” he said.
Fifth Anniversary-2001 Eucharistic Congress
The theme for the feast of Corpus Christi, June 16, 2001, the fifth anniversary of the Eucharistic Renewal, was “Come To Me” and 12,000 people answered the Lord’s invitation.
Held at the old Georgia International Convention Center it was the first daylong event, and included the elements of an opening procession, closing Mass and a gathering of visiting bishops and speakers that have become the model for future Congresses.
Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, who carried the monstrance with the Eucharist into the convention center at the head of the opening procession, then knelt before the Blessed Sacrament while representatives of over 90 parishes, schools, Catholic organizations, groups and ministries, marched in.
The Eucharist is a foretaste of a Scripture-promised heavenly banquet, necessary nourishment for spiritual passage through life, he said, and the Eucharist makes many, diverse peoples, from many nations and cultures, into a unit around one shepherd and one Lord.
Archbishop Donoghue welcomed the gathering, particularly Catholics who had returned to the practice of their faith during the last year. From June 2000-2001, parishes and individuals had responded to his request that they seek out and invite back Catholics no longer coming to church. Some went door-to-door to evangelize and invite Catholics back and others held a parish program that provided a place for returning Catholics to come and be welcomed. These efforts are still ongoing at many parishes.
The archdiocese was placed under the protection of the Sacred Heart by Archbishop Donoghue at the 2001 Eucharistic Congress.
Speakers included the preacher to the household of Pope John Paul II, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, also a Capuchin Franciscan, who spoke on an active relationship with Jesus Christ, fed by the Eucharist, bringing the Gospel to the world and changing the world.
Christian faith is “an encounter with a living person, Jesus Christ,” not just a set of ideas or moral principles, Archbishop Chaput said. “And when we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, it has consequences—very big consequences.”
One way to stay on track is to stay close to Christ in the poor—who resemble the scarred body of the crucified, but risen Lord.
“The suffering among us are not some kind of embarrassing mistake,” Archbishop Chaput said. “They’re Christ’s invitation to each of us to really live, to really believe—to be with him, by serving them.”
Latino speakers addressing about 2,000 Hispanics in their Spanish-language track included Bishop James Tamayo of the Diocese of Laredo, Texas, who invited them to choose to open their hearts to the love of Jesus, whose heart is always open and waiting to welcome, embrace and guide them, and who inspires them to love.
The bishop acknowledged struggles facing Hispanic families, including discrimination and rejection and adapting to a new language and culture. Some families experience domestic violence and divorce. The graces of the sacraments heal wounds and sustain and support families and individuals in daily life. They provide the strength to spread the Good News.
Over 700 teens were roused by the music of Ed Bolduc and Band and also challenged and uplifted through the stories and wisdom of speakers present for the teen track.
The call to be Christ’s disciples wove its way into the presentations of each speaker, starting with Jeff Cavins, a television talk show host of EWTN’s “Life on the Rock.”
“Jesus is not looking for ability; he’s looking for availability,” Cavins exclaimed.
He drew attention to Mother Teresa who went into the streets of Calcutta with the Bible, a rosary, a sari and 45 rupees, but most importantly with a desire “to do something beautiful for God.”
Fed by the Eucharist, Mother Teresa one day found a dying man, in whom she saw Jesus.
“She rolls this man into her chest and says, ‘Jesus, my Jesus, welcome,’” said Cavins. Daily, he continued, she would pray before the Eucharist and go back to the street to serve Christ in the poor.
Describing the Eucharist as “the mystery by which we live,” Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia celebrated the closing Mass.
Each person meets Christ in a personal way, Cardinal Bevilacqua said. ‘He meets us as we are. His presence is ever new, ever fresh, ever inviting, aware, more than we can ever be ourselves, of the depth of our need.”
At the same time, he continued, the Eucharist challenges us “to take the only path that leads to true freedom, the path of freely and totally giving of ourselves for others . . . At Mass Jesus sets before us the criterion, ‘Total self-giving,’ and he says, ‘Take and eat!’”
“We become most truly what we eat,” Cardinal Bevilacqua said. “We experience the exhilarating freedom of being part of something larger than ourselves, something beyond us, something beautiful and transcendent.”
Sixth Anniversary-2002 Eucharistic Congress
At the 2002 Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, president of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses, brought a message from Pope John Paul II.
“As the Church in Atlanta gathers to venerate the mystery of Christ’s real presence in the sacrament of the altar, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, prays that this event will lead to a renewed appreciation of the immense treasures of forgiveness and reconciling grace which flow from the sacrifice of Calvary and are mystically present at each celebration of the Eucharist,” the cardinal said.
Held on June 1, the 2002 Eucharistic Congress with the theme “Stay With Me” attracted approximately 7,000 to 10,000 people, and Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, was the principal celebrant and homilist for the closing Mass.
Archbishop Montalvo also visited the children’s track, where over 80 volunteer catechists worked with 850 children, and the archbishop, a native of Colombia, chatted in Spanish with a group of about 50 children who spoke mostly Spanish. The children’s day focused on the Apostles Creed, learning about God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit through Bible study, arts and crafts and music.
More than 400 middle-schoolers attended a separate track for their age group, and an estimated 1,000 teens flocked to a track where music was provided by Life Teen musicians Tom Booth and Ed Bolduc and Band and speakers included Msgr. Richard Lopez, Father Albert Cutié of the Archdiocese of Miami, Brian Johnson, director of youth ministry in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and Jim Beckman of Littleton, Colo., a Life Teen regional coordinator. Challenging the teens to a deeper faith commitment, the speakers ended the day with a call to them to make a decision to live for Christ.
“They’re not the church of the future. They’re the church of today,” said Barb Garvin, archdiocesan director of youth ministry. “Their faith is alive and real. Lots of kids in this room have a deep faith.”
About 1,500 Hispanics from around the archdiocese attended the Hispanic track where the speakers included Msgr. Arturo Bañuelas, Father Pablo Straub, CSsR, and Father Cutié. Following the flow of the Triduum from Holy Thursday to Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Msgr. Bañuelas offered reflections on living out the paschal mystery in everyday life.
“Being of service—washing each other’s feet—is connected with eucharistic spirituality,” he said. “We do not help others because we feel sorry for them, but because we know it prepares us to see the face of Jesus . . . The deeper our service to one another, the more intense our experience of encountering the Lord in Communion.”
Passionate witness was a hallmark of many speakers as Alex Jones, Scott Hahn, Ph.D., Kimberly Hahn and Father John Corapi, SOLT, spoke of their zeal for the Catholic faith and the centrality of the Eucharist in providing the strength to live the Christian life.
At the same time, church leaders frankly spoke of the need for a revitalization of Catholic faith.
Drawing a parallel between the American Catholic experience of today and the discouraged disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, Cardinal Tomko said, “Our continent, with its consumerist abundance, sometimes seems tired and disheartened in faith. We have not refused the faith, but we have not witnessed to it because such a sacrifice costs us. We have not the courage to offer our faith to others. We are ashamed.”
He concluded his homily praying that “the church living in this archdiocese and on this continent may find herself strengthened for the new evangelization for which the world has need—in the Eucharist… and through the Eucharist.”
When Archbishop Donoghue closed the 2002 Eucharistic Congress he asked Catholics to seek out the unchurched during the coming year and help them to know Jesus Christ.
Seventh Anniversary-2003 Eucharistic Congress
Last year’s Eucharistic Congress, held at the new Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, welcomed between 15,000 and 20,000 people, a record turnout, on June 21.
Benefiting from the larger facility, which comfortably accommodated as many cars and as many people as arrived, the 2003 Eucharistic Congress welcomed larger groups at every track.
Over 950 children took part in the children’s track, while over 4,000 Hispanics attended the Spanish-language track and over 2,000 teens and middle school students heard speakers and musicians of special interest to them. A room was also devoted to a series of Vietnamese Catholic speakers.
The Congress was a panorama of memorable moments: the roar of response when Hispanics were first acknowledged in Spanish by a speaker; the long lines of people waiting to go to confession; the wry humor of former evangelical Protestants and Southern Baptists as they enthusiastically presented Catholic teaching to many cradle Catholics; the reverence of thousands praying together at the closing Mass.
A trailer for the upcoming Mel Gibson film “The Passion” was shown as actor Jim Caviezel, who portrays Jesus in the film, spoke on his spiritual life and devotion to Mary.
A grassroots’ effort to begin a new track at the 2003 Eucharistic Congress for young adults was a rousing success as hundreds gathered Friday evening, June 20, for “REVIVE!” The Spirit-filled evening of praise and worship, speakers and adoration drew about 750 people in their 20s and 30s. Sparked by Mike Judge, co-founder of Spirit and Truth, a weekly prayer group for young adults, the evening was designed to speak specifically to that age group. It will again be a part of the 2004 Eucharistic Congress.
Speakers for the Hispanic track included Father Tom Forrest, CSsR, Father Juan Rivas, LC, and Father Pablo Straub, CSsR.
General track speakers included Scott Hahn, Ph.D., and Kimberly Hahn, Michael Cumbie and Tim Staples, all converts to Catholicism, and Father Ray Harris, chaplain at Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Father Mitch Pacwa preached at the morning service and at the conclusion of the day, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Va., principal celebrant of the closing Mass and homilist, noted the theme of “seek and you shall find.”
“May we ever more deeply find Christ truly present in the Eucharist and may we ever more authentically be his Church in this time and in this place,” Bishop Loverde concluded.
Archbishop Donoghue said that when he requested a perpetual adoration chapel at the Cathedral of Christ the King, his desire was for Catholics to rediscover Jesus in the Eucharist. He did not foresee what would follow. He did not envision the annual coming together of the people of the archdiocese at a Eucharistic Congress.
“I was thinking, if we could get people to give one hour a week in adoration to the Lord, it would change the archdiocese,” he said. “And I think it has.”