By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 16, 2005
In the Year of the Eucharist and on the 10th anniversary of the Eucharistic Congress in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, tens of thousands of people came together at the Georgia International Convention Center June 3-4 to experience a revival of their faith.
For the first time a healing Mass and service was held on Friday evening, June 3, along with REVIVE, the annual Friday night Congress event for young adults. About 12,000 people attended Friday events.
On June 4 the Congress began with a eucharistic procession and ended with a vigil Mass, with special tracks in between in various languages and for various age groups. About 30,000 people attended on Saturday.
Jane Brown, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, said the healing service, led by Sister Briege McKenna, OSC, was moving.
Father Kevin Scallon, CM, who celebrated the healing Mass, later processed among the people carrying the monstrance, while Sister Briege prayed for the needs of those present and those held in the hearts of people there.
He would at times stop in front of one person and bring the Blessed Sacrament directly in front of the individual at eye level. Those who experienced this were moved to tears, Brown said. “It was a very powerful evening.”
Just being a part of the congregation, some visibly ill or with children who were sick, helped Brown because she could put the challenges in her own life in better perspective. “It raised me above self-pity.”
Sister Briege, who spoke on the topic of the Eucharist and healing, said that people should not look to her for healing but to Jesus.
The opening procession June 4 of some 125 banners made and carried by representatives of virtually every parish and mission, as well as by schools, ministries, ethnic groups, spiritual organizations and departments of the archdiocese, presented a rainbow of Christian iconography, Scripture and mission statements sewn into fabric and carried with enthusiasm.
Singers from the Cathedral Contemporary Ensemble led by Elyn Macek provided music throughout the procession and adoration.
Brown said the hour-long opening procession is always a highlight for her as the breadth and diversity of the church in the archdiocese comes to life.
“I was struck with the universality of the church. Every language … every ministry came through (the convention center). No matter how many times you see that procession, it just overwhelms you. To see how the Catholic Church touches everyone and the good the church does—the news will never tell you that. You certainly see that,” she said.
She was also struck at seeing the many seminarians of the archdiocese. “You know the archdiocese is alive. You know what Archbishop (-emeritus John F.) Donoghue started has reaped many benefits for the archdiocese. I sure hope (the Congress) continues.”
At the end of the procession of banners, Bishop F. Joseph Gossman of Raleigh, N.C., homilist for the morning service this year, carried in the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament, which was placed on the altar for a period of adoration.
He then spoke, touching upon personal loss and the intersection of the mystery of the Eucharist with human life and death.
In an encyclical on the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II expressed a great desire “to rekindle profound amazement and gratitude” at this sacrament in which “the Risen Christ becomes really present and the work of our redemption is carried out,” Bishop Gossman said.
“The Eucharist is not one gift among many received from our Lord, but is the gift beyond all others, the gift of Christ, the infinite self-expenditure of God, of His person, as well as His saving work,” Bishop Gossman said. “Nor is it a gift of the past.”
Just a few weeks ago, the bishop said, his only brother, Bill, died suddenly at the age of 72.
Experiencing the finality of his brother’s death, the abrupt absence of a brother who “had shared my life for 72 years,” made him comprehend more how much love Jesus showed in leaving behind this tangible way to apprehend him.
Jesus “knew how we could feel, understood that we who would be besieged by doubts, racked by insecurities, isolated by feelings of abandonment and loneliness would need in our lives something tangible that we could see and touch and feel,” Bishop Gossman said. “And so He left Himself, His Real Presence, body and blood, soul and divinity.”
In the Eucharist “Jesus, crucified and risen stands in our midst, as he did with the eleven in the upper room, as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as he did with John and Peter on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius.”
The priesthood, which Archbishop Donoghue and Bishop Gossman both entered 50 years ago, offers no greater joy than celebrating the Eucharist, he continued.
“Here is the heart of our priesthood. Here is the heart of our lives. For no matter what other work we may do, what tasks we may perform, at some point we will gather the people of God, to share with them a thanksgiving around an altar, where the work of redemption is accomplished and we are made one with God and with each other in Christ.”
Since Jesus first commanded his apostles “Do this in remembrance of me,” the Eucharist has been celebrated far and wide, in each succeeding generation, on every continent and among many races and peoples, he said.
And in all the ups and downs of human life, “this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need—from infancy and before it, to extreme old age and after it.”
“Human beings have found no better thing to do for kings at their crowning or criminals going to the scaffold; for the proclamation of a dogma or a bride and groom in a little country church; for the wisdom of a mighty nation or an old woman afraid to die; for a good crop of wheat or the soul of a dead lover … one could fill pages and pages with the reasons the Eucharist has been celebrated and not tell a hundredth part of them.”
Although a priest for 50 years and a bishop for 37 years, he let insights of children he has known speak succinctly of the mystery of and reason for Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist.
A 3-year-old taken to church for a visit with Jesus after shopping with his grandmother ran to the front and announced to her happily, “It’s OK Grandma! He’s here! His light’s on!”
Bishop Gossman concluded, “I know, believe and experience with a conviction, amazement and gratitude that increases with each passing day, each passing year, what the Holy Spirit whispered to Patrick when he was only 3. It’s OK. He’s here. His light’s on.”
The theme of the 2005 Eucharistic Congress was “We are the Lord’s,” a Scripture from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that is the episcopal motto of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Welcoming the participants, Archbishop Gregory pointed out that the 10th Congress was taking place on the 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of Archbishop Donoghue “whose pastoral zeal and vision began these Eucharistic Congresses.”
As the Blessed Sacrament was carried to an adoration chapel for the day, and as participants dispersed to a variety of halls where programs in Spanish and Vietnamese and American Sign Language and special sections for children and for teens were being held, he said, “May our time together be blessed with joy and hope.”
In the general track, speakers included Jeff Cavins, Alex Jones, Alan Ames, Tom Monaghan, Jim Caviezel, and Bob, Mary and Bobby Schindler, the parents and brother of Terri Schindler Schiavo.
As thousands of people came into the cavernous hall to listen to speakers or took the opportunity to go to an area where dozens of priests were hearing confessions, volunteers were the backbone of the event, serving as ushers and security, manning a first aid station, working with children in the KidTrack, and keeping the event humming.
Usher Bruce Reed, who is studying for the diaconate, said he came for the first time and anticipated that the range of speakers would deepen his understanding of the many aspects of the Eucharist.
“Study is a lifelong thing. There is a thirst. You can’t quench it. Everybody’s thirsty, and that’s why we are here,” Reed said.
An insurance underwriter who belongs to St. Joseph Church in Marietta, he has found the more people pick up on how important his faith is to him, the more he is challenged with their questions. He wants to be able to respond and to help those who are searching find hope.
“You have to be ready to give a reason—as the Gospel says—for your faith . . . Everybody out there is searching for something. Many don’t know what it is. The Holy Spirit helps us to give people hope to continue their search.”
Several speakers, including Bishop Gossman and Cavins, spoke of Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans.”
“An orphan is someone who has to fend for themselves because no one has taken the responsibility of caring for them. (Jesus) said, ‘I will come to you. I will not leave you as orphans,’” said Cavins, a Catholic convert who teaches Scripture and the Catholic faith on radio and television and in parish programs. “How will he come to us? He comes to us in the Eucharist.”
Catholics receive this “wonderful gift” which “is the church’s entire spiritual treasure,” not for themselves alone, but in order to become witnesses to the true presence of Christ for others, particularly the outcasts of society, he said.
“If we are the body of Christ, told to go into the prisons, told to go to the outcasts, what are we doing?” he asked. “Why are we not bringing people to the Eucharist and witnessing to people that there is wholeness to be had? I challenge you today to be the body of Christ. ”
Interviewed between speakers, one participant said she had come to celebrate her return to active participation in the Catholic Church.
Elaine Jucha said the many good things in her life, including her “great marriage” and her “great son,” had not filled an emptiness that persisted until, after 30 years away, she came back to the church six months ago. “I have a lot of wonderful things in my life, but still there was a void.”
June 4 is her birthday, and she celebrated by coming to the Eucharistic Congress.
“I need the spiritual guidance. I’m here for a reason, for the strengthening of my soul,” she said. “I was born and raised a Catholic. I drifted away for 30 years. I came back to stay this time.”
A member of St. Patrick’s Church in Norcross, Jucha said she is looking forward with great joy to her marriage being blessed in the Catholic Church. “I have a lot to be thankful for.”
Speaker Alex Jones, a former Pentecostal minister whose studies of Scripture and the early church led him to become Catholic and to bring many in his congregation also to Catholicism, said there are many Catholics who need to be re-evangelized, “who need to hear the Gospel anew.”
Now a leader on the evangelization team for the Archdiocese of Detroit, he said going out into the community and presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have no church and who do not know Jesus is not proselytizing, but evangelization.
“Jesus is the center of our faith. You have to be intentional in going out to people who have no faith in Jesus Christ or who have lost their faith in Jesus Christ . . . There are 300,000 people in the city of Detroit who have no formal church. Are we to leave them alone?” he asked. “Pope Paul VI said evangelization is the mission of the church. That is why we exist. We exist to evangelize.”
Those who do not know where to find the bread of life are starving, Jones said. “We must leave our comfortable parishes (and go out to them) so that they too can share in the blessings of Jesus Christ.”
Alan Ames, an evangelist from Australia who leads healing services in many parts of the world, urged people to come to Mass and the Eucharist daily and to pray at Mass for the Holy Spirit to help them truly celebrate and truly worship.
“If you love your husband or your wife or your children, you want to be with them every day,” Ames said.
People wonder why their faith is weak, yet don’t come to Jesus in the Eucharist frequently, he said. “It’s weak because you are living away from Jesus. Just as your body hungers, so does your soul. When you don’t satisfy that hunger, that’s when confusion comes in. All it takes is for you to come and satisfy your soul in this divine banquet.”
Not only does the daily Eucharist keep faith strong, but it is only through the Eucharist that one can love others as Christ commands, Ames said. At Mass one must offer him or herself to the Lord and “once you do that then God starts to change you in every Eucharist.”
“The way of Christ is to love and to love and to love and to forgive everyone. How many can say they love that way?” he asked. “We have to come to Jesus and lean on him … He looked to God in heaven at all times. We are meant to do the same. We are meant to put others first and put ourselves last.”
Speaker Tom Monaghan told his life story of growing up in a Catholic orphanage, where he received the faith that sustained him, and of stumbling into the pizza delivery business when he and his brother bought a pizza shop in 1960 near the University of Michigan. The man who would become head of the fastest growing restaurant chain in the world, Domino’s Pizza, described his business perils and collapses, as well as his eventual success, and his decision when faced with bankruptcy at one point to contact all his creditors instead and work his way out of the difficulty and eventually pay them all back.
When he became hugely successful, “it went to my head,” Monaghan said, and he had yachts, helicopters, jets, and a luxury lifestyle. He learned firsthand “it didn’t mean anything … What a valuable lesson that was.”
His practice of his faith intensified until he began going to daily Mass, saying the rosary daily and going to confession frequently, he said. He sold his business in order to devote his time and effort to developing a Catholic university, Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., which will emphasize orthodoxy in teaching the Catholic faith and in the life of students on the college campus.
The process is “very difficult,” he said. He urged people to support Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville, another effort to open a Catholic college stressing orthodoxy.
If nothing else, he said, “I hope all Catholic schools that are on the fence will figure out that orthodoxy sells and that is what people want.”
Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schindler Schiavo, said his anger at those who could have helped his sister and did nothing began to block out his faith and relationship with God. While many people tried to encourage him to keep coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, he stopped coming.
He said a television interview he saw of actor Jim Caviezel led him to go to the movie “The Passion” alone, where he wept. On Good Friday he came back to Mass for the first time and he has been able to persevere in faith.
“I am praying to try and understand why my sister had to suffer so much and die in this way,” he said, adding that he and his family have been comforted by the many thousands of letters they have received since Terri’s death.
He also spoke of the parallels that seemed to exist between the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2 and that of Terri Schiavo on March 31.
“Even before her death a special connection seemed to develop between the pope and my sister,” Bobby Schindler said. “And I am sure they are looking down on us today from heaven.”
As he struggled to compose himself, his mother, Mary, came over and stood beside him with her arm around him. People started to applaud, and the waves of applause continued to grow in an expression of solidarity and support.
At the closing Mass Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio to the United States, presented an apostolic blessing from Pope Benedict XVI to Archbishop Donoghue on his golden jubilee.
Music for the Mass was provided by members of the Archdiocesan Festival Choir under the direction of Linda Morgan and Kevin Culver and the Cathedral Girl and Boy Choirs under the direction of Timothy Wissler. The Archdiocesan Festival Choir is made up of vocal musicians from over 30 parishes around the archdiocese.
At the Mass, concelebrated by Archbishop Gregory, Archbishop Donoghue, Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston, S.C., Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, N.C., Bishop Gossman and approximately 55 priests, Archbishop Montalvo said the great sacrament of the Eucharist impels Christians to accomplish the corporal works of mercy outlined in Matthew’s Gospel.
“It is the eucharistic Christ who empowers his disciples to see the corporal works of mercy as a responsibility never to be avoided,” Archbishop Montalvo said.
“It is always to the least of our brothers and sisters that the church of Christ impels us forward … It is a love that remains constant in the face of adversity.”
Following the Congress, participant Hillary Singleton of Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta traced her own desire to come to the event.
“I converted when I was 11, the lone Catholic in a family that was AME, including bishops and ministers. But the first time I went to Mass, I knew that was it, that this was where I was meant to be … I was really lucky my mother felt I was mature enough to make that decision on my own,” she said.
At the Congress she is gratified “to see so many people there united for the love of Christ. … It is renewing because the world seems so secular and so materialistic and sometimes you wonder. You look at TV, you see the newspaper articles, you wonder who is really out there for Christ.”
At the Congress she sees people making those sacrifices just to be there. “I am sure there were people there who took off from work, who had to rearrange their family obligations, to say nothing of those who had to drive a distance.”
This year she said she was impressed by how many more people seemed to be there.
“I hope it was because of the Year of the Eucharist and that people came to be with Christ.”
She did not start out coming to the Congress.
“I heard about the conference when it first began. I said, I’m not going to go out there, that’s what Protestants do, to spend the whole day. It’s too much. I never went. The conference grew. It moved from the Civic Center to the convention center. I finally went. I realized I had friends who were going and who went back every year. I finally went. Yes, it is all day, but considering what he has given us and what he continues to give us, I can spare my day. And now I go every year.”
At a dinner following the Congress Archbishop Gregory spoke of the reason for the Congress.
“To some it may not make much sense—that so much effort and money should go into a two-day event,” he said. “But to us gathered here, it makes all the sense in the world. We are a eucharistic people, and out of love for the Eucharist and to promote devotion among others to the Eucharist, we are gladly bound to do as the Lord asks: ‘to do this in memory of me.’ We are gladly bound.”