By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published June 22, 2006
In the Spanish-language track of the 11th annual Eucharistic Congress, speakers called on participants to be nourished by the Eucharist and then to go out and live in Christ’s presence with love, charity and concern for social justice—the most powerful witness of faith.
Speakers were Father Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, a leading Hispanic-American theologian, Bishop Héctor Salah Zuleta of Riohacha, Colombia, and Father Mario Vizcaíno, SchP, from the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami.
Among the approximately 8,000 attendees was Venezuela native Marisol Perez, who was attending her second Congress and who sang with the four-parish Hispanic choir, which provided the music for the track.
Like many others attending, it was a “very important” time for her to focus on the sacrament of the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus Christ, and she looked forward to sharing the experience with her women’s prayer group.
“It’s a good moment to be close to my best friend,” said the member of St. Benedict’s Church, Duluth. “It’s like food for my soul.”
The first speaker to take the stage was Father Deck, who is president of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, Calif., and adjunct professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University. He holds doctorates in Latin American studies and in sacred theology, specializing in mission, and was elected the first president of the U.S. Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians in 1988 and the first president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry in 1990.
Speaking of the church’s evangelizing mission in the world, the Jesuit asserted that God’s word must not only reach people in a superficial way but profoundly, in their hearts, bringing people to experience conversion and encounter the love of Jesus.
While in the past Hispanic Catholics in Latin America and in the United States were supported in their faith or led to Catholicism by the church-going culture, today they must live out their faith despite the culture, he said. One secular pressure that has influenced many men and women is that they have come to view sex as merely a pastime or entertainment instead of a precious marital act of union, Father Deck said.
“We can no longer depend on the presence of the grandmother to remind us of Catholic values and Catholic faith in the world we live in. Every person has to develop a relationship with God and orient his life toward Christ,” he said. “We must study and learn and use powers of reason that God has given us to understand and live our faith. … It’s a question of knowing God through formation, catechesis and Bible study.”
Parishes must continually plan programs to encourage growth in adult faith, he said. “It has to do with a process of spiritual formation. It won’t happen if the community doesn’t establish a plan of formation, training leaders.”
They must carry out concrete acts of justice, love and mercy as eucharistic people, and through the sacrament God will empower them, he continued, quoting the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, that “love is manifested more in deeds than in words.” He noted that the biggest criticism of Christians is that they talk of holiness, but don’t live that way, and said there are many irreligious people who are more Christ-like than those who profess the faith.
“If we are eucharistic people, we are also the presence of Christ,” he said. “If you are united with God through Communion, you carry God with you, and the question is about how you live.”
The first step in evangelization is making the decision to dedicate one’s own life to God and to examine one’s values and make changes needed to better serve him. Working to transform families, communities and social structures is not about the church playing politics, he said, but about advocating for just policies in light of the Gospel.
“The Good News of Christ—and the church—teaches that following Christ leads us to be concerned not just for ourselves but for others and, above all, for the poor. … If we don’t worry about the conditions in which we all live, what type of love do we have? … What Jesus said is that what you do for the least of these, you did it to me,” he continued. “This love is manifested in acts. It was manifested in that God sent his Son to be our Savior and redemption.”
And he continues to come physically in the Eucharist where the faithful can experience his love for them. “Have you fallen in love with Christ?” he asked.
“The Eucharist is precisely the way in which God insisted on being with us, and he continues again and again to be present in the Eucharist,” Father Deck said. His eucharistic presence motivates believers to take on the challenges of Christian living and leads one to respect and dialogue with non-Catholics and to be open to rays of truth and work of God in other religions.
Bishop Zuleta continued on that theme as he spoke of how the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith, a gift from Christ left first to the apostles and then to all the faithful to bring them to celebration, adoration and contemplation.
The bishop said that Catholics who receive the Eucharist die to themselves and are renewed through Christ. “A life of witness to the Eucharist is a life of dying to ourselves for others as Jesus did in instituting the first Eucharist.”
Referring to the encyclical “Church of the Eucharist” and the apostolic letter “Mane Nobiscum Domine,” published for the Year of the Eucharist from October 2004-2005, he spoke of how Pope John Paul II largely dedicated the last year of his life to this sacrament and its centrality and transcendence to instill within believers a burning desire to draw closer to God in this “marvelous gift the Lord has left for us.”
Referring to Pope John Paul’s teaching, he said the Eucharist is a mystery of light illuminating one’s path through the saving power of Christ. “It can fill one’s existence with light at a time when so many people live in darkness.”
The Eucharist is at the foundation of the ecclesial unity of the church and preserves it, he continued. He explained that the Eucharist is a way of life that passes from Jesus to the Christian, and through the Catholic’s faithful witness passes also into the society, promoting, above all, communion, peace, solidarity and service in the edifice of a more fair and fraternal society. Tenacity is needed to endure frustration and sacrifice and to resist seeking happiness only in pleasure and other temporal secular values and instead striving for the transcendent values through piety, a gift of the Holy Spirit.
In obedience to God “it’s a way of life that leads us to abundant living” and victory through God’s grace. Bishop Zuleta said it is critical that the faithful pass on the truth of the faith to future generations in the face of moral relativism, in which there are no absolute truths or permanent religious visions, but rather behavior based on circumstances, opinions, desires and other factors.
Father Vizcaíno, founder and executive director of one of the nation’s eight regional offices for Hispanic ministry, called the Eucharist the summation of all Jesus taught and gave of himself throughout his life. Through the Eucharist, the faithful live in communion with him in sacrificial love to be a gift for others, just as he was with God.
“He ritualized his life so we can be in contact with his presence, so his presence can be real,” said the Cuba native. “The Eucharist is the presence of the sacrifice of Jesus for love, and it is the foundational act of our faith.”
He asked attendees to consider on what they set their hearts and minds.
“What is important in my life? What do I dedicate my time to?” he asked. “Am I an instrument bringing Jesus to the world? You must keep progressing and perfecting your faith so that we follow Jesus more faithfully. The more we know Jesus, the more we can love him, the more we can follow him.”
Touching on the contentious issue being debated in Congress of immigration reform, Father Vizcaíno asserted that surely Jesus, who reached out to sinners, the lowly and outcasts, and who told the Good Samaritan story, would have shown compassion to those sinners who broke the law not to get rich but to survive. He challenged those who follow Christ to do likewise, even as they support tough reforms to control illegal immigration. He also pointed out that the Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt following Jesus’ birth, living in a foreign land, and quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy that it is necessary to care for the stranger, the voiceless and the widow.
“If we want to be the voice of Jesus Christ, we have to follow the life and teachings of Jesus,” Father Vizcaíno said.
Attendees received booklets with the pastoral letter in English and Spanish written by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah in March in support of immigration reform. Finally, the Miami priest thanked Archbishop Gregory, who, when serving as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, approved a joint pastoral letter with the Mexican bishops on the need for humane comprehensive immigration reform. As Pope John Paul II said, “We don’t only belong to the church, but we are the church that continues the work of Jesus Christ,” he concluded.
Rocio Huitrun, who came to the Congress with about 50 others from St. Peter Church, LaGrange, was grateful for the expression of support for undocumented immigrants who are coming “not to cause problems or nothing, only to work.”
“So it’s very good if they are helping or praying for us,” said the Mexico native, wearing a shirt reading, “I love my Catholic faith” in Spanish. “There’s no work in our countries, and we need to find work. We don’t want to steal anything, we only want to work to help our families.”
She also appreciated the opportunity to come again to the Congress this year with her family.
“When I prayed the rosary, I felt so different today,” she said. “I really want to be better for my life with my family and for peace in the world.”
Following the closing Mass, California native and St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner Margarita Marquez spoke of the blessings of the day for her family. She first attended the conference five years ago and after that started to bring her three children. While her husband had to work this year, she was delighted that her children were so eager to return to the all-day conference.
“Camila was a baby and we took her to daycare and she fell in love with that. The boys, 12 and 13, they fell in love with it. Every year this is what they look forward to,” she said. “We just learn so much year after year. … I encourage people to come and learn and see what it’s like.”
Her daughter had fretted that morning that the family was running late and that she might not get into the children’s track. But fortunately she made it and even had her picture taken with the archbishop. And “I still want to go when I’ll have first Communion,” she said.
Marquez especially liked the message about making a continual, intentional effort to study and grow in faith and about witnessing to the faith by example. She recalled Father Father Deck’s story of a damaged statue of Jesus with the hands missing, and a sign beneath it stating, “You are the hands of Christ.”
“That is a great message, it makes you think why am I in this world?” she continued. At St. Thomas the Apostle in Smyrna, she added, they’ve also learned from parochial vicar Father Jaime Molina how to be better examples for their children. “With his evangelization, with his teaching, we’ve learned so much as a family. He leads the way. You don’t say ‘do it.’ You show them how to do it.”
Leonardo Jaramillo, director of Hispanic youth and young adult ministry, said Hispanics were deeply moved by the sight of so many priests and seminarians gathered at the Congress with the people, and by the pageantry, procession and colorful and reverent display of religious imagery and icons. In the Hispanic track, they were gladdened to have a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe gracing the stage, and nearby another painted by two young Hispanics with a dove, chalice and paten, he said.
One participant told Jaramillo that the day was a time of “great spiritual relief. ” And he said one undocumented immigrant remarked that the Eucharist brought her “great comfort” amidst the political debate on immigration and that she’s glad that for her soul, “the church is a refuge.”