By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 18, 2009
Cardinal John P. Foley was quick to note the impressive crowd at the closing Mass for the 2009 Eucharistic Congress.
“I haven’t seen a crowd this big at Mass since Yankee Stadium, and that was for Pope Benedict XVI,” he said, referring to the pope’s 2008 U.S. visit. “This is a tremendous testimony to the faith and fervor of the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
Cardinal Foley, grandmaster of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, celebrated the Mass, along with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, Colombian Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz Arenas, Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and dozens of priests.
The procession began with children who had recently made their first Communion walking down the aisle in their suits and dresses and veils, their hands perfectly clasped. Also in the procession were the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard, who lined the aisles wearing their plumed hats and holding their swords aloft.
Cardinal Foley began the Mass by thanking Archbishop Gregory for inviting him to speak, and Archbishop Donoghue for beginning the tradition of the Eucharistic Congress.
“This is a marvelous event,” he said.
The multicultural, multilingual Mass was projected onto large screens in the enormous exhibit hall, giving the tens of thousands of people who attended a close-up view.
In his homily, Cardinal Foley spoke of the origin of the feast of Corpus Christi. In Bolsena, Italy, in 1263 a priest, who doubted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, was shocked when, during Mass, the host began to bleed. He went to Pope Urban IV, who after visiting the church and preserving relics from the altar, declared a special feast day of Corpus Christi in honor of the Eucharistic miracle. The pope also had St. Thomas Aquinas write special hymns and prayers to mark the feast. One of those prayers, “O Sacrum Convivium,” is especially close to Cardinal Foley’s heart.
“I say the prayer as a personal thanksgiving after Mass, and I believe when we meditate upon these beautiful words, they sum up what we believe about the Eucharist,” he said, reciting the words of the prayer in English. “O sacred banquet in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace, and there is given to us a pledge of future glory.”
“May each of us offer to Jesus each day all that we have, all that we are and all we can be,” he said. “This way, by God’s grace and with the nourishment of his Eucharist, we can change the world.”
The Eucharist is a gift, he reminded the crowd.
“May all of us appreciate the marvelous gift God has given us in his holy Eucharist. May we adore him in this sacrament of the altar. Most importantly, may we receive him in order to give us spiritual strength, to make us witnesses to the world of his love, and to prepare us for eternal life in heaven with Jesus.”
Following the homily, the Prayers of the Faithful were read in various languages, including Latin, French, Korean, Yoruba, Croatian, Chinese and Portuguese.
Archbishop Gregory addressed participants at the end of Mass and spoke of the goodness of God present at the Eucharistic Congress.
“We have all had an experience of joy-filled reflection in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the faces, voices and costumes of all present today.”
The archbishop then went on to thank the many people who had worked to make the congress a reality, and, finally, announced the theme for the 2010 Eucharistic Congress—“To Sanctify the Christian People.”
The theme is closely tied to the pope’s declaration of a special “Year for Priests” beginning June 19.
“The phrase comes to us from the Rite of Ordination of priests, and reminds all priests what they are called to do for the church through their ministry and through their very lives,” Archbishop Gregory said.
The large crowd filed out of the hall after Mass, many tired from a long day, but spiritually rejuvenated.
Sharon Schuhmann, the coordinator of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., said she had been especially moved by the “diversity of people representing the body of Christ.”
“To see so many people coming together for such a marvelous event, it really gives me a great appreciation for our wonderful church.”
Nick and Silvia Smith, with their infant son, Isaac, had spent the day there and were beaming at 7 p.m.
“It is very uplifting, it is very motivating,” said Smith, a member of St. Brendan Church in Cumming. “It is wonderful to see this many Catholics together.”
Joyce Naumis, a parishioner at St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, said though the day had started early, she wanted to stay for Mass.
“We’ve been in community all day, talking about worship and thinking about worship,” she said. “Staying for Mass was like finishing up the meditation with the worship. It was an important way to finish the day.”