By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published June 17, 2004
In the lively Spanish section of the Eucharistic Congress, speakers encouraged Hispanics to continue formation in the faith to fully embrace it while praising their particularly reverent and devotional strain of Catholicism, which serves to enrich the American church.
Among them were former super middle-weight kickboxing champion and Marine Johnny Romero, who wore a tie with Jesus’ face and a large red cross on it. Mimicking the punches and kicks he has done to keep his large, tall frame in top physical shape and shouting as he paced, Romero challenged them to intentionally nourish their souls as well as their bodies by visiting the “spiritual gymnasium” for disciplined prayer and study.
“In the spiritual battle the Bible says we have to prepare ourselves … We have to go to the spiritual gymnasium … The great vitamin of mortality is to understand the gift of the Eucharist and go to confession,” both of which help one to overcome sin, he told the enthusiastic crowd.
Gaining momentum as he spoke, he cited Scripture pertaining to the Eucharist including Exodus 12; 1 Corinthians: 10-11; and John 6.
“We must be leaders in the Catholic Church in teaching devotion to the Eucharist,” he said. “We need to be leaders in our Catholic community, to share our values.”
Priest liaison to the Hispanic Apostolate Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez estimated that this year the Hispanic track drew some 6,500 Hispanics, who were led in song by an upbeat choir composed of musicians from six parishes around the archdiocese. Speakers this year, in addition to Romero, included Bishop Felipe de Jesús Estévez, STD, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami, who was born in 1946 in Cuba and arrived in the United States as a teenager. He went on to earn a doctorate from Gregorian University in Rome, and he also learned English, French and Italian. The emcee Angel Garcia, a member of St. Benedict Church, Duluth, introduced Father Duvan to the cheering crowd.
Giving the morning talk was Bishop José Gomez, STD, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Denver, where he serves as vicar general, moderator of the curia and as a pastor. He holds a doctorate in moral theology from the University of Navarre, Pomplona, Spain.
In his talk, Bishop Gomez spoke about how receiving the Eucharist in daily Mass growing up led him to consider the priesthood. He began going to daily Mass after going one time to a 7 a.m. service with his father where he was struck by the large number of attendees. And as his mother suffered with cancer, he watched how his father went to daily Mass to pray for her.
“After 25 years as a priest, I still go to daily Mass.”
He challenged them to consider anew their Christian vocation, and to change the world like the apostles did, even with all their imperfections and sin, by responding to the Holy Spirit and Christ’s call within.
“We’re all called to holiness. It depends on the love of God we have. It doesn’t depend on social status but on our relationship with God. Today at the Eucharistic Congress … reflect on your personal call, your Christian commitment and think ‘how am I to respond to the personal call of Jesus?’” he said. “We all have an obligation to know the life of Jesus Christ; make it ours and practice it.”
He reminded them that having faith expressed in love means living it in mundane daily life, dealing with difficult people and responding with it in both sad and happy times, in health and in sickness. And as Catholics they are called to participate both in their church and in the community, he said, and to share their faith with others. Many of the great saints of social causes, like Peruvian St. Martin de Porres and Mother Teresa, had strong devotion to the Eucharist.
“If people see our faith, people will be interested in God…”
Opening the afternoon track, Bishop Estévez spoke about a worldwide renewal of eucharistic devotion in the church and how this devotion is manifested in the church nationally. He spoke of how the feast day of Corpus Christi originated in the Diocese of Liege, France, in 1246 and then spread throughout Europe in the form of public processions. Pope Urban IV extended it throughout the Western church in 1264. In the early 1900s, Archbishop Juan Bautista Castro of Caracas, Venezuela, developed a vast eucharistic apostolate of great scope in all of South America whose effects have endured through today, he shared.
Last year the pope wrote the encyclical “The Church of the Eucharist” in order to bring to light unacceptable practices surrounding the sacrament in order to maintain its central splendor in the church. Last April, “The Sacrament of Redemption” was published concerning customs regarding the Eucharist and how they must be observed and other practices that must be avoided to maintain reverence. And finally the pope has convoked the XI ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2005 with the theme “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.” And this October in Guadalajara, Mexico, the 48th International Eucharistic Congress with the theme “The Eucharist: Light and Life of the New Millennium” will be held. He said Atlanta is a great example in the movement.
“In sum, the interest of the youth in adoration, the sense of the seminarians and new priests drawn by the centrality of the Eucharist in their lives, the impact of the apostolic movements and new communities focused on the Eucharist, the impacting experience of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Padre Pio, Chiara Lubich, Pedro Poveda, Mother Trinidad of the Holy Mother Church, to only name a few, points out that also in the first decade of the 21st century is a moment of profound eucharistic renewal with great promises for evangelization of the nations,” Bishop Estévez said.
He then spoke of a recent analysis by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago concerning the dangerous situation confronted by the U.S. church, where the climate of “public conversation” emphasizes individual rights to the detriment of the common good, harming the institution of marriage and the faith through the courts, state bureaucracy and the media, that at times manipulates the public through biased reporting.
“Now the right of sexual freedom is the base of personal freedom,” he said. The church also suffers from the pressure of divisions, polarizations from within, turning it into an ideological battlefield, even involving the sacrament of holy orders. But with their increasing presence, nationally, Hispanics are already making a considerable and positive impact on the church.
“It’s your critical conscience and pastoral leadership needed for the passing on of our faith to communities, families and future generations.”
He concluded by referring to how even after Christ’s resurrection, he had to encourage the discouraged apostles of Emmaus.
“Faith, light shine through the darkness; love conquers the world closed to the transcendence; the Eucharist is always viaticum for the journey,” he said. “…At times the North American church suffers from the dangers of the organization, the corporate, from models of the dominant culture. Isn’t it worth it that we insist that the church be the church of the Eucharist?”
In his talk, Romero spoke of how he had drifted away from Catholicism through anti-Catholic proselytism, having been born in the rough neighborhoods of San Fernando, Calif. But while going through training for the Marines he went to a Mass that touched his heart. Friends then invited him to a Bible study where “I fell in love with Jesus Christ for the first time,” he said, noting how among all the prophets and religion teachers through the centuries Christ was the only one who was both human and divine and who was resurrected to new life.
“I was separated from the Catholic Church, my roots in the Catholic Church, but I was so excited to read the Bible and understand doctrine.”
But by “the grace of God” he found an educated Catholic who led him back to the Catholic Church.
“It’s important to know that belief in Christ is the first step. Only in the Catholic Church are we going to find the great gift of the Eucharist,” he said, but they can still love their Christian brothers and learn from them. “The church of the New Testament is the Catholic Church … In all the other (Protestant) churches, Christ isn’t present in physical form … Thanks to God an educated Catholic had the love of God to share with me what God has given us. Jesus Christ wants an intimate relationship with us.”
He spoke of how the Eucharist unifies the body of Christ. “When we participate in the Mass we are with our Mother and St. John at the foot of the cross,” he said. “When we are at Mass the church in the sky, the angels and saints in the sky who are adoring Jesus Christ, we’re united with them.”
While many Protestant churches are around 500 years old and the Orthodox Church split in 1054 from Roman Catholicism, “the only church that is over 1,500 years old is the Catholic Church.”
He encouraged fathers to be spiritual leaders in their households. “If us fathers aren’t being spiritual leaders of our house and leading (families) to church Jesus Christ is going to ask ‘what are you doing with the families that I gave you? Did you share faith or do what you wanted?’”
Romero closed shouting “In his name,” to which the crowd responded “Gloria.”
“To his mother,” received the response, “honor.”
“To his people,” “¡Victoria!”
Archbishop John F. Donoghue, Bishop Kevin Boland of Savannah and Msgr. Paul Reynolds made an afternoon surprise appearance in the track where they were greeted with cheers.
“(You have) my gratitude and appreciation for what you do to serve the church in the archdiocese,” the archbishop told the crowd. “You’re a wonderful example to so many others. Your faith and determination to serve the Lord is an example for others and I thank you all for giving us all that kind of encouragement,” Archbishop Donoghue said. “I’m amazed to see so many Hispanic Catholics here this afternoon. It’s a wonderful sight.”
German Abreu, coordinator of the Hispanic ministry at St. Patrick Church, Norcross, was among more than 50 Hispanics that came from his parish, many wearing Kelly green shirts with the parish name on them. “I think this is one of the most important events especially for Catholic people to share this moment to hear about our Lord, to communicate better with each other, to share especially in our community, to know each other better, to be one church, no matter the language, race, color and religion,” he said. “For me it was a wonderful day because it was the first time, and (I appreciated) everything I heard from the priests, the archbishop and the persons. They talked about (how) we have many Catholic people that don’t believe holy Communion is the real body and blood of our Lord Jesus.”
He said his parish holds the successful RCIA program in which those who’ve been away from the church and haven’t received the sacraments receive formation. He added that he wishes that the Siglo Católico Spanish Catholic newspaper would be more widely distributed, as it no longer comes to his parish but is an important tool to unite the larger Hispanic community.
Also from St. Patrick’s, Milagros Gonzalez, who was recently confirmed into the church through their RCIA program and was married in the past month, said that the Congress “has helped me to increase my love for the Eucharist because now I’m learning more things about the meaning of that. I’m making a goal to bring my husband” next year, as he doesn’t attend church regularly. “I’d like him to feel the same happiness I feel.” She sat by a classmate from Mexico she had assisted in the RCIA program, who can’t read but is learning the faith.
While he belongs to a Baptist church, Alejandro Guillem, 20, came with his mother, who converted to Catholicism, to learn more, noting the difference in devotion to Mary and the use of images in worship.
“I like to hear the preaching, all they have to say. I feel joyful, happy,” he said. “I’m thinking, analyzing, understanding things, what ways are good.”
His mother, Gloria Recinos Palacios, attends St. Peter Church in LaGrange, and converted to Catholicism after receiving prayerful support from a Catholic church in Mexico during an illness. Now she is hoping for her son’s conversion along with returning to Mexico in five years to reunite with family there. She feels the Catholic Church is the only true church and that “there is no other.”
“Now the Catholic Church is the fulfillment of my life,” she said.
Father Duvan, who recruited 500 from his parish San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park, said in an interview after the event that he was delighted by the participation of Hispanics even while admitting that he had promised the archbishop an even larger crowd. “I promised the bishop around 12,000—maybe not this year…but next year,” he said. “This was wonderful and good, and we feel our community supported us. Each parish was present, continuing to grow in numbers. It was a good sign that the Hispanic community wants to participate with all communities in the archdiocese and we feel like one church.”