By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published June 16, 2005
In the Spanish track of the 2005 Eucharistic Congress, speakers urged the more than 7,000 Hispanics attending to offer themselves completely to God in the Eucharist and to be transformed and nourished anew through Christ to carry out their unique missions in North Georgia.
A backdrop of flags from over 20 Latin American nations and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe framed the session as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory raced into the hall from the main track in English and welcomed attendees.
“It is so important that this Eucharistic Congress provide a warm and welcoming place for our wonderful brothers and sisters in the Hispanic community. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to be with you,” the archbishop said. “I hope this day will be a time of great affection, sharing and joy for all of you—muchísimas gracias!”
Hispanics from many nations, ranging from fully bilingual professionals to those who speak no English and who are illiterate in Spanish, prayed “el rosario,” sang “La Gua-da-lu-pa-na,” and chanted “Viva Cristo Rey.” A Hispanic choir led lively liturgical songs. Father José Duvan González, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, who grew up in a family of 14 children singing serenades in cantinas and on sidewalks of Colombia to help support his kin, sang, “Eucaristía, milagro de amor, presencia del Señor (the Eucharist, miracle of love, presence of the Lord).”
He asked for prayers for priestly vocations; he said that four Colombian priests have recently been recruited and will come to the archdiocese this year, and men are now being recruited from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. In the future he hopes priests may come from Brazil and El Salvador.
He challenged attendees to consider “what am I going to do with all God gives me?” There are now more than 20 movements or organizations in Spanish in the archdiocese in which to get involved, he said, and 54 churches with Hispanic ministries. He said there are now 30 Spanish-speaking Hispanic priests and more Anglo priests learning the language, such as Father John Kieran who spent six weeks this year in a study program.
The emcee for the Hispanic track was Angel Garcia, a member of St. Benedict Church, Duluth. The crowd was youthful and spirited; young couples held hands, mothers rocked their babies, one toddler wandered into an aisle twirling two strands of rosary beads, and one first communicant pranced through the aisles wearing a long satiny white dress with a bow in the back, white sandals with little heels and hair tightly pulled back above her ears, from which dangled small hoop earrings. Popular T-shirts included one honoring Pope John Paul II reading “Papa! ‘Totus Tuus,’ Be not afraid.”
Father Benjamin Bravo-Perez, a professor at the Pontifical University of Mexico and at the Center of Superior Religious Studies, spoke of how immigrants must remain faithful to the Eucharist as they leave their homelands and establish new lives in the United States.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, apostolic nuncio in the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, spoke of the great encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” Pope John Paul II left the church to help reflect on and more fully experience the Eucharist.
The Ohio native, who was secretary to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said the pope described how the church lives in the Eucharist in the daily experience of faith but also in the core of the mystery of the church.
As Jesus fulfills his promise to be with his followers in various forms until the end of the world, one experiences this presence with a “unique intensity” in the Eucharist, said Archbishop Broglio. But to receive this gift one must bring one’s whole self to the table.
He spoke of how man is made in God’s image but is stained by sin for which Jesus came as the way to redemption. In baptism Christians become children of God and recipients of his grace and in the Eucharist they offer themselves and participate in Jesus’ total act of self-giving.
“What begins in baptism grows and reaches its fullness in the Eucharist. For that St. Paul says that we must offer our lives as a pleasing sacrifice to the Father … With the bread and wine, we present our life so that Christ takes it and offers it to the Father, in such a way that the sacrifice of Christ is an offering of his life and of ours … Our life, of insignificant value, united in Christ becomes in the consecration forming only one sacrifice, of Christ and us. We ask to participate in his divinity.”
One must approach the Eucharist with an attitude of gratitude and devotion for this gift, he continued. And while one strives for a better life in the United States, the Catholic’s highest goal must be to reach eternal life. “The Eucharist puts us in contact with this life, brings us to enjoy union with Christ and all the church of the living, the suffering and triumphant. When we celebrate the Eucharist we are in the presence of the entire communion of saints.”
Eucharistic adoration is born in the Mass and leads one back to it, as one prays before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as a friend and presents one’s problems.
“All that is beautiful and produces an immense fruit. As we have just said, these intimate periods with the Lord increase our love and consequently our service,” said the archbishop.
God doesn’t need anything from us but chose to come dwell among us so that we might be able to give ourselves back to him through Christ, he further explained.
“Jesus is interceding for us in heaven and wants to do it sacramentally in the adoration chapel. He is consecrating all human activity, recapitulating all that is occurring in the universe and presenting it to the Father. For this he is in the center of every church and community to make palpable his mission to unify the divided, to heal the sinful, to sweeten the bitter, to give eternity to our joys and sorrows. The shrine has to be the center of the community, and the priest is there to make Jesus present in it,” he continued. “We know that he is walking with us, and we desire to open the doors of our heart, at times very hard, and of our lives, so that the Lord, who opens our mind, our eyes, our hands, warms our hearts to know him, living, conqueror of death and among us.”
In Mass they are carried to “the liturgy of heaven” and are sent forth with hearts aflame in service to others, practicing love without limits, compelled by Christ’s charity to reach out to everyone from marginalized workers and the elderly to babies born into poverty and alienated youth.
Father Elkin Fernando Alvarez Botero, the local secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Bogota, Colombia, also spoke of “the immense value of Jesus’ sacrifice in the Eucharist” and how at the eucharistic banquet Catholics are called to “authentic Eucharistic spirituality.”
“The love of God must transform our lives in society,” he said.
He further emphasized how they must go forth and practice the highest form of love, to wash the feet of the poor and of one another, just as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. And one must continually live in love, manifested in tangible acts of charity, justice and kindness toward others, regardless of whether they show any response. The Eucharist also serves to unify the family, he said.
“It’s important for us to edify the community as part of our eucharistic commitment … The Eucharist reminds us that the faith is lived in community, and while we follow Jesus as individuals, we follow in communion with others,” he continued. “We are all important. We all fulfill a mission … The love that is lived in the church, the family, must extend out to others in need. We all as Christians must practice charity. Nobody is so poor that he can’t help someone even more poor.”
Msgr. Otto Garcia, vicar general and secretary for communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., spoke about the effort Catholics must make when coming to the liturgy, and how all other church activities, whether a youth group or marriage renewal movement, lead the community to celebrate together the Mass.
“In liturgy the work of our salvation is brought to fulfillment, above all in the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” he said. “It’s the work of salvation, so that all feel, experience in their lives the salvation of Christ.”
He reminded them that the liturgy is always a learning experience.
“The liturgy is one of the privileged places to learn something about the faith through the preaching of the word, the homily, the symbols. All that participants do in the Mass means something. In going to daily Mass we can be aware of all that is being done, what we are offering to God and what He is saying to us through the liturgy.”
Because the Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist are intimately connected and “both parts are extremely important,” he criticized how some arrive at Mass late just before Communion or leave right after it. “How many times have we listened to the word of God and had a discovery and experienced a change or new understanding?”
Msgr. Garcia spoke of how Jesus was observing a traditional Passover meal commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt at the Last Supper, but altered it when he said, “This is my body that will be given up for you.” This “changed the reality of life, set us free to act.”
He described the Eucharist as a taste of heaven.
“The very sacrifice of Calvary gives us strength to face our challenges. We all have our challenges. When we take Communion we’ve received Christ, but, in fact, Christ is also receiving us … He becomes flesh to feed us, but also this church of Atlanta is going to rise up to the presence of God, we are going to rise up to heaven,” he said. “We have to understand this mystery we are taking (and gain) a more profound understanding of this mystery that we celebrate at least every eight days.”
Finally he told a story to illustrate the communal aspect of the sacrament, speaking of when he had to inform children of the sudden death of their mother. “Immediately we celebrated the Eucharist, and I said, ‘The moment in which you will be closest to your mother from now on is when you’re taking the Eucharist.’”
Attendees Silvia de la Torre-Vargas and her husband Gonzalo, members of Holy Cross Church in Atlanta, found the whole Congress to be nourishing.
The Congress “fills me with life and energy,” said Mrs. Vargas. “It’s a battery for the new year that increases my faith. God has given me the desire to know his word and to know about the faith. All this strengthens you from the fatigue of daily life … Jesus gives us himself (in the Eucharist) to fulfill our mission in the world.”
Alba Marina Peláez from Colombia was grateful to have the section in Spanish and to have a priest from Colombia, Father Guillermo Córdoba, who understands her background, at her church, the mission of St. Benedict, Duluth. She attended similar events in Colombia.
“It’s very important to have the possibility to be close to the church and to have Mass in my church, to have the Eucharist in Spanish and to be with others living in situations like me.”
Bernabe Hernandez, holding a book by evangelist Alan Ames, first came to the Congress two years ago, at a time when he wasn’t practicing his faith. The Mexican immigrant, who lived previously in North Carolina, attended some youth retreats and gradually got involved in St. Helena Church, Clayton, and began to experience conversion.
“I like it because I come to learn more, to listen to all the priests, to know more about the love of God. I like to read. Before I didn’t think about these things. Before I had a lot of vices, drank a lot, and now I’m drawing closer to God, I’m in the choir at church,” said the 22-year-old. This event “is something different that you don’t find on the streets. It’s something pure that is the truth. This is not a lie; it’s the truth. I’m trying to change my life. I want to be better and know the faith more and be close to the Eucharist. This is very important to help me maintain the values I have.”
Cecilia Aguilar of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna came with her two daughters and five grandchildren and said that the Eucharist is a source of healing for her from abdominal pain she has been experiencing. She also attended a healing service at her parish. “I feel a lot better. I have pain, and I feel it calms the pain.”
Costa Rican David Ampuero and Carlos Monge from Peru, friends who met at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, arrived together in time for the closing Mass and were impressed by the many races and cultures of those in attendance, which they see as a strong witness to other religions of unity in diversity. Monge drives from Decatur to the monastery where he’s deepened his faith, given up smoking two packs a day, and found “an incredible peace” and the power of prayer “that renews you like an oxygen balloon.”
Ampuero also spoke of the fruits of prayer and particularly likes to attend healing Masses.
“At first it seems that prayer isn’t going to help, but then one is surprised to see progress in that one becomes stronger and more spiritual to heal and help others … In prayer one can cure many illnesses, of the spirit, of the character, physically.”
He described the Eucharist as the “very essence of the faith,” and a form of meditation.
“Jesus likes when we sing to and praise him, when we meditate to him—they are very powerful, different forms of prayer,” he said. “We can be very egocentric and God is in charge and we have to let God manage our lives … Life is marvelous. I feel happy.”
Father Duvan was joyous to see so many uplifted by the Congress and was delighted with the largest Congress turnout yet. “For us it was unbelievable to see the big community there because really we promoted it just in the last month.”
“It was a good opportunity to share the faith, to be together, to feel like one church, unity in diversity,” Father Duvan said.