By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2007
Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras told participants in the Hispanic track at the Eucharistic Congress not to work for food that perishes but to focus their lives upon the Eucharist and upon the word of God.
Gesturing animatedly, reading letters that children had sent to Pope John Paul II in 2005 asking him faith questions, and the pope’s thoughtful answers, Cardinal Rodriguez spoke in Spanish to the thousands gathered. The cardinal, a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, also spoke to those attending the general track in English that afternoon.
The congress is important, he said in the Hispanic track, because “(we) have to rejuvenate our spirituality in Christ” and make of (our) lives “ … a true life in Christ.”
It is clear in listening to Scripture that this new life in Christ is a significant change for a Christian from his or her former way of life, he said. In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about Christians being united to a new life in Christ.
“The apostle underlines the fact that we not only have to live the new life, but we have to understand it,” the cardinal said.
Reflecting on the congress theme from the Gospel of John, which speaks of working not for perishable food, but for “the food that endures for eternal life,” the cardinal encouraged everyone listening to take the words of Jesus to heart.
“Jesus tells us what the path is … ‘whoever eats this bread will have eternal life,’” he said of the Eucharist.
“I wish all of you would come to know the Eucharist and center your lives around the Eucharist.”
He said that he does not like to speak of first Communion to children, but rather he tells them that they are “starting their eucharistic life.”
Too often, he said, first Communion can become a one-time occasion rather than the beginning of a life drawing closer and closer to Jesus Christ as it is meant to be.
He encouraged anyone who is not able to receive Communion to come to confession.
Frequent confession is meant for everyone, he said, adding humorously that many people are shocked when he suggests that they need to go to confession. “Are you a saint?” he asks them.
Not receiving Communion for years is like being a “walking cadaver,” he said.
Anyone who is in a situation where they cannot receive Communion for an extended period of time—for example, married outside the church—can still come to Mass and make a spiritual communion, he said. They can also listen to Christ as they study and reflect on God’s word, which is another source of the new life in Christ.
“We cannot be church without the Eucharist. We cannot grow without the Eucharist. We cannot be mature Christians without the Eucharist,” Cardinal Rodríguez said.
A backdrop in the Hispanic track showed the Blessed Sacrament reposed in a monstrance held aloft by the Blessed Mother.
This year’s Eucharistic Congress also marks the beginning of a pilgrimage of blessed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the Atlanta Archdiocese. The next six months will include study of the apparitions of Mary to St. Juan Diego in the 1500s, the importance of her miraculous presence in spreading Christianity in the Americas, and how the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe is relevant in this new millennium. She has been titled the “Patroness of the Americas” and “Empress of the Americas” by recent popes.
The reflection period will culminate in a celebration on her feast day, Dec. 12, when Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will re-consecrate the archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Father José Duván González, director of the Hispanic ministry office, said the Hispanic community eagerly awaits this time of reflection.
Latin Americans, especially those from Mexico, have a great reverence for the Eucharist, he said.
The Eucharistic Congress, taking place at a time when the congressional debate over immigration reform was stalled, provided a special moment for prayer and dependence on God within the Hispanic community, Father Duván said.
While the community received difficult news on the political front, “today is good news for us, for our archdiocese to send the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe” out into the whole Catholic community, he said.
Part of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, when he told her of his worries about bringing her message to those who did not believe him, was, “Don’t worry. I am here. I am your Mother.”
The nearness of Mary as Mother is a very good message to bring to those in the community who are afraid, Father Duván said.
“We need to bring them hope. We need to keep them strengthened in faith,” he said. “We want to be with this community, especially at this moment when they are very worried about immigration.”
As Cardinal Rodríguez finished speaking and left the stage, he was surrounded by a small group of Hondurans, who joyfully embraced him and welcomed him as the shepherd of their native country. The cardinal is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and the first from Honduras to be chosen a cardinal.
Other speakers in the Hispanic track were Brother Pablo-Maria, who has a ministry of evangelization, and Father Manuel Corral, a Scripture scholar who serves as the executive secretary to the Mexican Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Patricia Ramos, a native of Colombia who lived for more than 40 years in Mexico, served as emcee for the track. The journalist, Southeast regional correspondent for Grupo Monitor, a communications network in Mexico, and news editor of 7 Días, said serving at the congress is “revitalizing to my faith.”
“When Father Duván called me, I felt joy in my heart. This is a spiritual call for me when I share my faith with all these people,” she said. “It is a moment for my heart, for my spirit.”
She said that hearing Cardinal Rodríguez was a high point. He was spoken of as a papal candidate in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI. “A lot of people think he is the next pope. Maybe he will be the first pope from the Third World.”
Whoever leads the Catholic Church in future decades, she said, “everybody knows the future of the church is in the Hispanic people.”
Speaking through a translator, St. Lawrence parishioners Alicia Ramirez López and Nell Davis said this was their first opportunity to come to the Eucharistic Congress and they were “here to learn.”
Ramirez López said until she experienced a Christ Renews His Parish retreat she had not been very involved in the church or receiving Communion very frequently.
Now she realizes the Eucharist “is the presence of God.” If she cannot receive Communion now, she “feels a great sadness that she can’t receive. It has brought about a desire to be in a good state to receive” the Eucharist.
Davis, a native of Colombia, said she is consoled when she spends time before the Blessed Sacrament in a perpetual adoration chapel. When she misses her homeland and is homesick, the presence of Jesus comforts her, she said. “It is like going to the doctor and getting a shot and getting immediately better.”
She was moved by the example of Tony Melendez, who composes music and plays the guitar with his feet, evangelizing beautifully without being hindered by the seeming disability of being born armless.
“We have all our limbs, and we sometimes don’t put them all to use,” Davis said, while “someone who has limits can put more to service.”
Both women described the congress as a “very beautiful event.”
Ramirez López said she was moved by the choirs “because they don’t sing to the people, they sing to God.”
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “It makes me very happy.”