By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published April 19, 2007
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory invites young and old, both near and far, to the 12th annual Eucharistic Congress that will commemorate and celebrate “The Food That Endures for Eternal Life”—the theme for this year’s gathering.
The two-day event, which is free and open to the public, will take place on Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9, at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.
“I invite you to come together with family and friends in union with Christ as we experience the joy of sharing our faith and a deepening of our devotion to Jesus,” Archbishop Gregory said in a video that will promote the yearly Congress.
This year’s theme, chosen by Archbishop Gregory, comes from John 6:27: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Among the many outstanding speakers, homilists, musicians and presenters will be Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States; musicians Tony Melendez and Matt Maher; author and commentator George Weigel; Immaculee Ilibagiza, a miraculous survivor of the Rwandan massacres and author; and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the first Honduran to be named a cardinal.
Last year over 20,000 people participated in the Corpus Christi tradition of the Atlanta Archdiocese to reflect on the Eucharist, Christ’s gift of himself to the church that transcends time.
This year’s event will include the third annual Healing Mass on Friday evening, June 8, along with “REVIVE!”—a program for young adults ages 18 to 40.
On Saturday, June 9, a rich array of speakers will educate and inspire the faithful—from children to adults. The Vietnamese, Hispanic and hearing-impaired communities will participate in special sessions given in their native languages and in sign language. There will be an organized program for children, from kindergarten to age 11, as well as a separate track for teenagers.
The Congress will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 9, with a procession into the gathering space of colorful banners carried by representatives of parishes, institutions and ministries residing in the archdiocese, followed by adoration and exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“This pastoral assembly is a vibrant and important part of our Catholic heritage, bringing tens of thousands of Catholics from around the archdiocese and (other) states to venerate Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist, to hear about the many ways that the Eucharist is at the heart of our mission as Church and as disciples, and to be personally nourished by the Eucharist,” said communications director Pat Chivers in a letter to archdiocesan priests and principals.
The keynote speaker for the event will be Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States. As a nuncio, the Italian-born archbishop stands as the official representative of the Holy Father and the Vatican to the United States. Archbishop Sambi previously served as apostolic nuncio in Israel and Cyprus and as the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine. He has also held the position of apostolic nuncio in countries such as Cuba, Algeria, Nicaragua, Belgium and India.
Those joining Archbishop Sambi as speakers for the general track on Saturday include Cardinal Rodríguez, whose efforts to campaign for human rights and the poor, among other causes, has garnered praise from many corners of the world, and Immaculee Ilibagiza from Rwanda, author of the best-selling book, “Left to Tell,” which chronicles her horrific ordeal in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide and how the experience has transformed her relationship with God.
Melendez, a young man who plays the guitar with his feet, became world renowned after Pope John Paul II embraced him in 1987 after his touching performance for the pope. He is a musician and composer and a man of faith. Weigel, well-known Catholic thinker and theologian, has written many books on the faith and on the life of Pope John Paul II, and is one of America’s leading commentators on issues of religion and public life.
Prior to the daylong event on Saturday, all are encouraged to participate in the Friday evening healing Mass at 6:30 p.m. that will feature main celebrant Father Fernando Suarez, a priest from Ottawa, Canada. Born in the Philippines, the priest as a teenager began to understand that God was using him in a powerful way to reach out to people in need. He eventually left a career as a chemical engineer to study for the priesthood in Canada and was ordained in 2002 as a member of the order the Companions of the Cross. Father Suarez began a healing ministry in 2003 that uses his spiritual gifts of healing at Masses, retreats and missions. Father Suarez only prays with people following the celebration of a healing Mass, as he understands that it is the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist who heals the sick and broken-hearted. Many who have prayed with Father Suarez have received spiritual and physical healing.
Also on Friday night, the “REVIVE!” young adult track will bring together an interesting lineup of speakers, among them, Father Leo Patalinghug, a Baltimore priest with a background in breakdancing and martial arts, who is also the executive producer and host of the PBS show “Grace Before Meals.”
Also part of the evening’s program is Matt Maher, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed Catholic artists in the country, who sang his version of “Litany of the Saints” at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto and earned the 2004 Unity Award for Praise & Worship Song of the Year for “I Love You, Lord.”
This year’s emcee is Danielle Chodorowski. She has served for several years in youth ministry and currently works with her husband in career coaching for Catholics.
On Saturday morning after the opening procession, the faithful will have an opportunity to participate in adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament beginning at 10 a.m. inside the great hall of the convention center. Upon the conclusion of opening remarks by Archbishop Gregory after this time of adoration, those gathered will separate to attend the different tracks available beginning at 11 a.m. until shortly before the closing Mass starts.
Among the tracks offered this year, the Hispanic track will welcome Cardinal Rodríguez, as well, and Brother Pablo Maria, a missionary who strives to bring the healing love of Jesus to all, from the poor and homeless to top executives. Also speaking will be Father Manuel Corral-Martin, a native of Spain and a Scripture expert who currently works with the Mexican Conference of Catholic Bishops. Patricia Ramos, news editor for Atlanta’s newspaper 7 Dias, will serve as emcee again this year.
Father Joseph Hoang Minh Thang will conduct the Vietnamese track. He travels to various Vietnamese communities in the United States, Europe and Australia to present Bible studies and retreats, and also prepares for Vietnamese audiences the Vietnamese program of Vatican Radio and Radio Veritas in Manila.
The hearing-impaired will have an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by Deacon Patrick Graybill, a graduate of Gallaudet University who went on to become a performing arts professor and later an assistant professor of the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Now retired, he serves as a permanent deacon at Emmanuel Church of the Deaf, a Catholic church in Rochester, N.Y. He also travels as a missionary for the International Catholic Deaf Association, as well as presents workshops nationally and internationally.
The Teen Track will feature musicians Tony Melendez and Matt Maher, as well as Doug Brummel, a nationally known comedian and storyteller whose presentations stir the hearts and souls of his audience. He travels the United States evangelizing those who hear him with his “Lighten Up!” parish missions and community events. Paul George of Houma, La., who has worked with Life Teen International and now serves as director of ADORE ministries, will serve as emcee of the Teen Track.
Children from kindergarten to age 11 can spend time with “The Cat.Chat Man and Moses the Cat,” enjoying music, captivating stories and fun surprises that will also educate them in the basics of the Catholic faith.
Following the different tracks, all will gather for the closing Mass. Archbishop Sambi will be the homilist and principal celebrant at this Mass. Also, those children who received their First Communion this year are asked to wear their First Communion apparel and gather at 5 p.m. for the procession into Mass.
Food and drinks can be purchased from vendors throughout the day until the start of the closing Mass. There will be plenty of parking, but participants are encouraged to carpool or join others traveling by bus from their parishes.
The Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel, located at 4711 Best Road, College Park, will offer a special rate for those specifying they are conference participants. Transportation will be provided all day between the hotel and convention site. For hotel bookings, call (404) 766-7900.
Parishioners throughout the archdiocese are asked to consider giving a gift of time to make such an event happen by working as a volunteer.
“Volunteers are needed in all aspects of the Eucharistic Congress,” Chivers added in her letter.
Those who are able are encouraged to devote some of their time during the day, particularly to the children’s track as last year the lack of volunteers forced organizers to turn away children. To volunteer, people must complete a downloadable form available on the archdiocesan Web site. For more information on volunteering, contact Marianne Fronek at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (404) 885-7234.
For more information on the 2007 Eucharistic Congress and biographical information on all speakers visit the official Web site at www.archatl.com/congress.