By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 3, 2004
The 2004 Eucharistic Congress will be a reunion of the far-flung Catholic family of the archdiocese from Blue Ridge to Warm Springs and from Athens to Rome. Those whose native tongue is Tagalog or Vietnamese, Korean or Creole, will mingle with people with a Southern drawl or Hispanic accent.
The June 12 event at the new Georgia International Convention Center in College Park is a celebration, on the solemnity of Corpus Christi, of the central Catholic belief that Jesus truly offers himself in the Eucharist as spiritual food and drink. The Congress is also an event where some of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in North Georgia, who pray alone and in their parishes throughout the rest of the year, can gather to worship at one Mass and to be strengthened by the faith and presence of the larger community.
It is vibrant with colorful banners and pristine with dozens of children processing in their white first Communion finery. Bursts of spontaneous, joyous singing before the morning procession starts stand in contrast to the silent, prayerful cadence as thousands reverently walk behind the Eucharist or kneel in prayer during the closing Mass.
Families come, buses and car caravans arrive from parishes, and individuals, who are searching for a deeper faith experience or to reconnect with a stronger faith time in their own lives, often come on their own.
“Of all the devotions we have during the year, in parishes and in the archdiocese, this is, by far, the most powerful for me—and for many who attend,” said Archbishop John F. Donoghue, who has made eucharistic teaching and devotion central in the archdiocese since he was installed 11 years ago.
In the final week before the 2004 Eucharistic Congress, the archbishop spoke a strong word of encouragement to invite all to attend.
“Last year we had about 20,000 people. We hope to have that many this year or more,” he said. “I do want to encourage them to come.”
Entrance to the Congress is free. No tickets are required and there is ample parking at the Convention Center. While no child-care is provided, families may keep young children with them throughout the day or register children entering kindergarten through fifth grade in KidTrack. A Teen Track is also held, along with a Young Adult Track the previous evening.
The archbishop spoke of the various dimensions of the Eucharistic Congress: speakers who challenge, teach and inspire the audience; the diverse tracks that have been planned to meet the needs of different age groups and cultures; the public statement the event makes of faith in Jesus in the Eucharist; and the coming together of the body of Christ in this archdiocese.
“People come from all over the archdiocese. We are one with each other, as well as one with the Lord,” he said. “This brings people together.”
He is grateful that Catholics have responded appreciatively to the emphasis upon church teaching on the Eucharist, which he began as a Eucharistic Renewal in 1996. This is the 10th anniversary of the starting of perpetual adoration here in 1994, and he has found that Catholics deeply appreciate the Corpus Christi event and it appears to be an unprecedented point of unity.
“People are enthusiastic,” he said, with gratitude. “They think it has done a great deal to enhance their love of Christ in the Eucharist. I hope it will continue for many years.”
Both the speakers’ personal faith stories about the importance of the Eucharist in their lives and the theological guidance given in homilies benefit those who come, including himself, Archbishop Donoghue said.
“Our Holy Father has said we can’t ever let this (belief regarding the Eucharist) be watered down or diluted,” he said. “We have to know theologically what the church is teaching about the Eucharist.”
He is also grateful for those who work each year to make the Eucharistic Congress come together. Hundreds of volunteers assist and a steering committee spends months pulling the event together. “They put in lots of hours. They do it joyfully,” Archbishop Donoghue said.
From year to year, more and more people have wanted to be involved in the event and this has led to a diversification of tracks and the addition of new elements.
This year, REVIVE! a Young Adult Track, will be held from 8-11 p.m. on June 11, while on June 12 there will be a General Track, Hispanic Track, Teen Track and KidTrack, as well as sessions in Vietnamese. The sacrament of reconciliation is offered throughout the Congress in various languages.
The homilist for the morning service of adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is Savannah Bishop J. Kevin Boland. The celebrant and homilist for the closing Mass for Corpus Christi is Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, N.J. Archbishop Donoghue will speak at the opening and closing of the Congress.
The theme this year is “To Live in Christ Jesus,” the episcopal motto of the archbishop, and was chosen by the steering committee to honor the archbishop, who turned 75 last August, and to mark the 10th anniversary of perpetual adoration at the Cathedral of Christ the King.