By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published June 22, 2006
They tirelessly greeted attendees and pointed them in the right direction.
They patiently served the thousands of people who mobbed the merchandise stand, anxious to buy a T-shirt or umbrella with the Archdiocese of Atlanta logo.
They searched for children who’d become separated from their worried parents. They were on standby at the first aid station if needed.
And they did it all with smiles on their faces, many of them for the third or fourth (or more) year in a row.
Sue Stubbs, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, and Eucharistic Congress volunteer coordinator, estimated that about 400 people volunteered at this year’s Congress, held June 16-17 at the Georgia International Convention Center.
Wearing gray polo shirts, the hundreds of volunteers were a visual example of the many people needed to make the congress a success.
“We wouldn’t have a Eucharist Congress without them,” Stubbs said. “They are the backbone of this event.”
Pat Tweed, a coordinator of religious education at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta, was volunteering for the third year in a row at the Eucharistic Congress. This year she assisted with the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities and as an usher at the June 16 healing Mass and the closing Mass on June 17.
“I learn something every year,” she said. “I feel the Holy Spirit guiding me to learn something from coming and to take it back to the people I serve in my parish.”
This year, fewer people answered the call to volunteer and as a result, fewer children were able to attend the KidTrack.
“The KidTrack is a perfect example of how much we need our volunteers,” Stubbs said.
But for those who did serve in the track designed for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, the reward was in the children’s enthusiasm.
This is the second time that Christine Gamache, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta, has served as a Eucharistic Congress volunteer. She especially enjoys her time in the KidTrack.
“This is such a tremendous event for the whole diocese. It’s something that brings everyone together,” she said. “I feel it’s a blessing to be part of such a privileged activity.”
For Gamache, the most special part is when the children experience Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
“Just to see the children and the joy and enthusiasm they have, and when they are visited by Christ in the Eucharist, they show such love and such reverence,” she said. “It’s really beautiful to see.”
Roy Lander, a parishioner of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, also volunteered in the KidTrack.
“One of the coolest things I saw today was this morning when (Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory) came to talk to everyone. There was this little girl just looking at the archbishop like he was a rock star. She knew who he was, and she was just in awe. I thought that was pretty cool,” he said.
Lander, who converted to Catholicism just four years ago, was attending his first Eucharistic Congress and said that next year he would like to divide his time between volunteering and also listening to the speakers.
“It’s amazing just to see the number of nationalities that are represented here,” he said. “It really gives you an idea of the worldwide church.”
Jodie Cox, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta, has been volunteering at the Eucharistic Congress for several years as a VIP host, picking up the speakers at the airport and serving as their guide while they are at the Congress. In the past, he has hosted several archbishops, as well as popular Catholic apologist Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberly. This year Cox served as a host to APeX, the Catholic vaudeville team of Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli, who served in the KidTrack.
“I wouldn’t miss this,” Cox said. “I love being here and seeing the graces that other people receive. You can actually see the transformation take place in people. It charges me in my own faith to see others touched.”