By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published June 16, 2005
The doors opened in the early evening, and the people streamed into the great hall, ready to be filled and inspired by prayer, seeking whatever solace they could find.
Those attending the Friday evening healing Mass and prayer service at the Eucharistic Congress included the young and the old and the middle-aged, families and singles, most walking in quietly with anticipation, some in wheelchairs and using other ambulatory aids, some with obvious physical needs while still others carrying less visible scars. A young boy lovingly walked in and out of the hall with his active and adorable baby sister, who has Down syndrome.
The special healing Mass and service took place June 3 at the Georgia International Convention Center as part of the weekend’s spiritual renewal for the archdiocese. This service, which was offered for the first time this year at the Eucharistic Congress and featured noted speakers Father Kevin Scallon, CM, and Sister Briege McKenna, OSC, lasted from 7 to 11 p.m. and brought in an estimated 8,000 attendees.
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory welcomed the people who had convened for this first Mass of the weekend, particularly those who were there for the first time and those who had traveled far to get there.
In particular, he gave credit to his predecessor, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, who had started the first Eucharistic Congress and had encouraged the continuation of the renewal.
“I have heard of the great outpouring of faith at the Eucharistic Congress,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Archbishop Donoghue has made this the ‘decade’ of the Eucharist.”
Father Scallon, who has a full-time ministry to priests along with Sister Briege, celebrated the Mass along with a number of priests from the archdiocese. The liturgy was highlighted by lyrical praise and worship music provided by Mary Welch Rogers and a contemporary music group composed of musicians from St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, and St. Augustine Church, Covington.
In his homily, Father Scallon shared remembrances of his boyhood in Ireland, “formative memories” that shaped his adulthood. He remembered the example of his father and the people at his church who lined up to receive holy Communion. His father, he said, came back to kneel down in “fervent thanksgiving … a witness of a father to his children.” This silent witness, Father Scallon said, “marked my soul.”
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Father Scallon said, “Jesus made his sacrifice into a prayer and that prayer is the Holy Eucharist … we’re here to celebrate the love in the heart of the Eucharist.”
Father Scallon encouraged the assembly by asserting that “our faith is in Jesus, who taught us the tenderness, the gentleness … we must never doubt the love that Jesus has for us. There is no trouble that we can’t go to him with.”
He added the reminder that “the love of Christ must shine forth from every one of us.” In prayer on this feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Father Scallon said, “Allow me to be the love for your heart for every person I meet from this day forward.”
He asked the people to be “the living presence of Jesus … the love of the heart of Jesus that never ends.”
Father Scallon, whose ministry is based in Palm Harbor, Fla., works in conjunction with Sister Briege, a noted healer and author, who spoke during the healing service that followed the Mass. Born in Ireland, she became a nun at the age of 15. She was instantaneously healed of rheumatoid arthritis at 24 during a celebration of the Eucharist and later received the gift of healing for which she has become renowned.
In her talk, Sister Briege spoke about the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. “Look at the monstrance. Look at Jesus. Remember he is completely present. Ask Jesus for whatever graces and healing. He will hear us.”
She said that Pope John Paul II had called for a special Year of the Eucharist because the Eucharist is “no longer the center of people’s lives … people don’t believe in the real presence.”
Sister Briege charged the gathering with a fervent affirmation of Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection. During the Mass, she said, we are present at Jesus’ victory. “We Catholics are actually present at the event. There is no time in Jesus.”
“When you receive the Blessed Sacrament, you should expect miracles, miracles of grace … Jesus always answers your prayer—not always the way you want, but you won’t be disappointed.”
She challenged the crowd to “go every day to Mass … it will change your life.”
Focusing on the gift of the Eucharist, Sister Briege said it is “the sacrifice of Calvary, a communion and reunion with Jesus, and the real presence of our Lord.”
During the Benediction that followed Sister Briege’s talk, Father Scallon took the monstrance into the crowd for the most intense and moving part of the service. As he moved through the thousands of people gathered, their arms were outstretched and all knelt in prayer and adoration. Sister Briege continued to pray aloud during this time, mentioning the many prayers and supplications of the faithful.
Rocio Medrano and Kenneth Freidank, who are members of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, attended the healing Mass and planned to return for Saturday’s events.
The couple met 10 years ago in Madrid, eventually married and now have a 4-year-old son, William. Freidank, a recent convert to Catholicism, deciding around the time of Pope John Paul II’s death to join the church, is drawn to the respect and reverence of the Catholic Church and its liturgy. “It has been a rebirth, absolutely a rebirth.”
He comes from a Protestant background and looks forward to events like the Eucharistic Congress that nurture his faith. “As a new convert, everything for me is something I want to do.”
Medrano, who has a background in film, commented that healing continues to occur today. “God can heal us physically and our souls as well. Together, these two things combined, He can make big things happen.”
Nancy Palmer, a parishioner at All Saints Church, Dunwoody, also attended the healing service and said that Sister Briege was “awesome.”
Palmer said that the healing service was for everyone because everyone “wants to be healed.” As you look at the Eucharist, Palmer said, “You look at Christ. And Christ is looking at you. You look, and you need your heart healed … everything she was saying was in my heart.”