By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published March 26, 2009
14th Annual Eucharistic Congress
Friday-Saturday, June 12-13
Georgia International Convention Center, College Park
Friday, June 12
5:30 p.m. Doors open
6:30 p.m. Mass
7:45 p.m. Healing service
8 p.m. Revive! for young adults (concurrent)
Saturday, June 13
7:30 a.m. Doors open
8:30 a.m. Opening procession
10 a.m. Adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tracks
5 p.m. Closing vigil Mass
From the joyful reunions and communions with old and new friends to the quiet personal moments spent before the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, Catholics from the Southeast will again have the opportunity to gather in a splendid display of faith for the 14th annual Eucharistic Congress.
This year’s event, entitled “As Grain Once Scattered,” will take place on Friday and Saturday, June 12-13, at the Georgia International Convention Center, adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Admission is free.
Held the weekend of Corpus Christi, the Atlanta Archdiocese marks this special feast of the church’s calendar to recognize the fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus to remain tangibly present to his people through the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.
Selected by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, this year’s theme comes from a passage in the Didache, a manuscript of the early church fathers that is often referred to as “the earliest catechism in the church,” according to Deacon Dennis Dorner. The passage alludes to the gathering of the church worldwide into one body in God’s kingdom through the saving power of Jesus Christ.
Even in its 14th year, there is nothing monotonous about the event.
“What’s amazing about the congress is that it never feels routine,” said Deacon Dorner, who is in his fourth year on the organizing committee and now its chairman. “Every year there is so much energy and freshness. It clearly comes from Christ himself and people’s love and devotion to the Eucharist.”
Speakers Include Local, International Luminaries
Evidence of the fruit of previous congresses is the presence of Greg and Jennifer Willits among the list of this year’s speakers. Shortly after attending their first Eucharistic Congress in 2002, the couple from Conyers launched their ministry, Rosary Army, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making rosaries and promoting and praying the rosary. From Rosary Army podcasts, they moved to creating a video series, “That Catholic Show.” Today they have their own satellite radio show, “The Catholics Next Door,” that airs on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM.
“It was at that first Eucharistic Congress that the concept of eucharistic adoration truly came alive for my wife, Jennifer, and me,” Greg Willits wrote in an e-mail. “To me, the Eucharistic Congress gives us an opportunity each year to experience what I consider to be a rarity, especially in the South: to be gathered with tens of thousands of Catholics for the sole purpose of growing closer to Jesus in the Eucharist. Each year we attend, something special happens. We’ve never walked away from a Eucharistic Congress thinking, ‘Well, that was a letdown!’”
Each year the congress seems to be “better than the last,” said Willits, the father of five. “We are continually amazed at the ways God continues to feed us … each year.”
Also on the list of speakers is Cardinal John Foley, a Philadelphia priest who served Pope John Paul II in communications and now is grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, serving Christians in the Holy Land; Archbishop José Octavio Ruiz Arenas of Villavicencio, Colombia, the vice-president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Frederick Berretta, a passenger on U.S. Airways flight 1549 that safely landed in New York’s Hudson River in January.
Event Expected to Attract Thousands
As in recent years, 20,000 to 30,000 people from around the southeastern United States are expected to attend the congress, which is open to the public. No tickets are required and parking is available at the convention center. Carpools and bus arrangements are encouraged.
New this year, the Atlanta Archdiocese will “get with the program” by offering a Facebook page on the congress, Deacon Dorner said. “It’s the way so many people communicate these days.”
People can visit Facebook to ask questions or leave comments. Archdiocesan seminarians are managing the site.
Close to 600 volunteers will be needed to bring the congress to life, and Deacon Dorner asked that individuals consider “giving back” and experience the congress “in a different way but still in the presence of community” by serving as a volunteer.
There is a “great sense of real joy” working to put on an event like the congress, he said.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. on June 12 for the Friday night Mass, which will be celebrated at 6:30 p.m. by Msgr. Richard Lopez, for 28 years a religion teacher at St. Pius X High School and also chaplain at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home. A healing service with Father Tim Hepburn will follow the Mass at 7:45 p.m. The priest, who is chaplain at Georgia Tech, has served in healing ministry through the Catholic charismatic renewal and through ministry to teens and young adults for many years.
Parallel to the healing service, young adults, single or married, from the ages of 18 to 40, are invited to attend a special young adult track called “Revive!” This evening of inspirational music and speakers includes Jesse Manibusan, Batiste, Maria Clara Naranjo and Chris and Michelle Benzinger.
On Saturday, June 13, doors open at 7:30 a.m. The day begins with an opening procession of representatives from parishes, schools and ministries at 8:30 a.m., followed by adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at 10 a.m. Archbishop Gregory will welcome participants and introduce Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, who will address the audience. Bishop Blair serves on the Committee of Doctrine as well as the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Young and old will find a place to be inspired in the various tracks that begin at 11 a.m., including tracks in Vietnamese and in Spanish, a deaf track, and tracks for teens and for children.
In the general track, in addition to Cardinal Foley, the Willits and Berretta, speakers include EWTN’s Teresa Tomeo, host of “Catholic Connection,” EWTN producer Father Andrew Apostoli of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and Lino Rulli, also a Catholic host on Sirius XM.
Joining Archbishop Ruiz Arenas in the Hispanic track will be speakers such as Father Domingo Rodriguez-Zambrana, ST, an award-winning writer and lecturer, as well as Dr. Oscar Henao, founder and director of the international Bible school Yeshu´a, and Father Pedro Poloche Rodriguez.
The Vietnamese community will welcome Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh of Kontum, Vietnam, who chairs a Vietnamese bishops’ evangelization committee, and Father Thomas Nguyen Van Thuong, who directs a seminary there.
Father Thomas Coughlin, the first deaf priest ordained in North America and now part of a religious institute in formation known as the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate, will lead the deaf track.
Children from five to 11 years old will be entertained by Christ Music Kids in the track for kids. Children must be present when parents register them Saturday morning. Space is limited. Registration forms may be downloaded from the Web and completed beforehand. However, there is no pre-registration.
This year’s teen track for sixth- through 12th-graders will feature Catholic singer-songwriter Jesse Manibusan, Curtis Stephan and Band, Lisa Epperson and Oscar Rivera.
Close Of Congress Includes Moving Vigil Mass
After the conclusion of the tracks, the community will come together for the Corpus Christi vigil Mass, which will be celebrated at 5 p.m. Cardinal Foley will be the homilist.
As in previous years, all children who received first Communion in the archdiocese this year are invited to lead the procession into the vigil Mass. The children are asked to wear their first Communion apparel and gather prior to the procession. This year, altar servers from across North Georgia are again invited to process in at the start of Mass. Seating will be designated up front for first communicants and altar servers.
While the sacrament of reconciliation will be available, those attending are encouraged to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at their parishes prior to the event if possible. This will allow priests to spend part of their day experiencing the congress as participants.
Food and drink will be available for purchase throughout the day and vendors will be on hand selling Catholic items and books.
The Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel, located at 4711 Best Road, College Park, will again offer a special nightly rate of $99 for those specifying they are conference participants, and transportation will be provided all day between the hotel and convention site.
Deacon Dorner commented on the overwhelming response to the congress that has drawn up to 30,000 people in past years.
“The Eucharistic Congress is the most wonderful opportunity for the community to come together—especially a community with all the diversity (of Atlanta)—and see the Spirit alive in the church.”