By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 3, 2008
A surprising hush fell over the crowd of nearly 800 children as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory processed into the Kid Track carrying the Eucharist in a beautifully ornate monstrance.
The children, ages 5 to 11, remained silent as the monstrance was placed on the altar and as Archbishop Gregory addressed them directly.
“My young friends, the Gospels tell us that Jesus had a very special place in his heart for children,” the archbishop said. “He often found himself surrounded by children.”
The archbishop also mentioned the importance of the visit of the Eucharist, calling it “very special” and then blessing the crowd by making the sign of the cross with the monstrance.
Archbishop Gregory was not the only one who recognized the importance of the visit to the youngest ones attending the 2008 Eucharistic Congress June 21. Some of the adult volunteers thought the moment was beautiful and the most touching part of the day.
“The most wonderful thing we can teach Catholic children is love, devotion and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” said Lucia Baez-Lozondo, a parishioner at St. Michael Church, Gainesville, and a volunteer in the Kid Track. “When you understand it is him (Jesus) from when you are little, you will never forget.”
After Archbishop Gregory led the Divine Praises, a young child approached the altar to present a spiritual bouquet to Atlanta’s archbishop. A large smile formed on the archbishop’s face as the child thanked him for everything he has done for this community.
The child also explained how the children prayed several decades of the rosary for him, including one that afternoon, and how each leaf on the bouquet represented one of their intentions.
The reverent atmosphere continued as Archbishop Gregory proceeded out of the hall, but once he left, carrying the Eucharist to other places in the Georgia International Convention Center, the fun and faith-filled energy returned quickly as the crowd erupted into applause.
The day was a blend of light and serious spiritual messages, full of prayer, song, crafts and several visits by the Donut Man, an energetic and catchy character played by Rob Evans, whose evangelical work with children over 20 years led him to become a Catholic in 2006.
The Donut Man kicked the day off with Bible-based sing-a-longs, telling many stories from both the Old and New Testaments. The children took to him immediately and clapped and sang along on cue.
Between songs, the Donut Man would provide a spiritual lesson, which would be featured in the next song. During his first appearance, he asked all the children to raise their hands in the air.
“Did you make your hands,” he asked. The children replied with a loud, “No!”
“Who made your hands,” the Donut Man continued. “God,” the kids shouted.
The Donut Man asked the children to repeat after him: “God did not make my hands for sin. God made my hands for him!”
With that, he began playing a song that repeated the lyrics, “I could clap for you all day.” The crowd happily sang and clapped along.
While many thought the Donut Man got his name because of all the doughnuts he gave out to children as rewards, such as those who jumped the highest and fastest during the song “Jumping Up and Down,” the musician and spiritual entertainer made sure to explain to the crowd why he chose the name.
“The doughnut is like our heart,” which is missing a piece in the middle, he said. One of his first songs included the line, “Life without Jesus is like a doughnut; there’s a hole in the middle of your heart.”
The children were not the only ones enjoying the entertainment. Several of the volunteers were dancing, jumping, singing and clapping along with all the activities.
Anne Vencill, a middle school religion teacher at St. Joseph School in Athens and a parishioner at the University of Georgia Catholic Center, volunteered at the Kid Track for the third consecutive year.
“I know what it’s like to need volunteers … and I always had a really good time,” she said. “Of the three times I’ve volunteered, this has been the best. It is very well-organized.”
While many of the volunteers help out for the children’s sake, a few come for a different reason.
Lorraine Kiernan said she volunteered for the Kid Track “so that other parents can receive the formation the Congress offers.” A mother of five, she said her children attend Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, a private Catholic school, where she feels the family is offered excellent formation opportunities. She came by herself to the Eucharistic Congress to serve so other families would have the chance to experience the annual event knowing their children were enjoying their own track.
The Donut Man took the stage one last time to end the day as parents began to line up outside the hall to pick up their children. But before they left, the Donut Man left them with one last message.
“God’s help is just a prayer away,” he said.