By LUISA ZALZMAN, Special To The Bulletin | Published July 7, 2011
Organizers at this year’s Eucharistic Congress allotted a much larger space to this year’s Spanish track, based on overflowing attendance in this track over the past few years. Following the procession and morning Benediction, attendees flowed into the newly expanded space in even greater numbers, filling it with a multitude of enthusiastic Catholics.
Jairo Martinez, director of the archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, said, “We are so glad with the turnout Saturday—this year we had twice the space compared to 2010—and it was full. What a blessing.”
An estimated 5,000 people participated in the Spanish track, which had an atmosphere of enthusiasm and eagerness to listen, learn and be inspired. A visit from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama was complemented by live music courtesy of the Emmanuel music ministry.
Martinez said, “In general everybody was so thankful for the congress as a great opportunity to have the Catholic Church together with all our diversity but united around Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The procession is a great moment to show the love and respect for his presence. It is a very moving, simple, but great, action.”
He added, “Each year the Eucharistic Congress is the only opportunity to get together as one community of faith with our bishops, clergy, and the people of God. It always reminds me of when Jesus fed the five thousand.”
Even amid anxiety of the impact Georgia’s immigration law HB 87 would have on the Spanish-speaking community, turnout remained strong.
HB 87, which is currently being appealed, would more forcibly penalize undocumented residents living and working in Georgia.
“The fear factor has been introduced,” explained Joe Kriegel, executive director of Catholic Charities Atlanta, when describing the effect of the current law, which went into effect July 1.
Despite fears, people came.
“I was surprised to see a lot of people,” said Marcela Galvez, a parishioner at Divino Niño Jesus Mission in Duluth. “I thought there would be less people because of the situation.”
She continued, “A lot of people are scared. Many probably came by MARTA and a lot maybe came with their church, in a truck or minivan. Everybody is very sensitive, but most people have big faith and just learn to pray.”
As she stood watch by the track’s entrance, she said that this wasn’t her first congress. “I love it; I learn a lot.”
The Spanish track began promptly at 11:30 a.m. with Angel Rafael “Cucho” Garcia serving as the master of ceremonies. Garcia had high expectations for this year’s track as he thought the guest speakers were extraordinary.
“Our invitees bring to the table different perspectives and backgrounds that will make this track very appealing. I think it brings us an opportunity to renew our faith and increase our devotion for the Eucharist,” he said.
With Christ Everything Is Possible
“Yes, you can!” was the phrase used by Father Pedro Nuñez to inspire the people who gathered during his talk. Father Nuñez, a native of Cuba who now serves in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, opened his session inviting everybody to pray daily. His ministry includes a teaching program in Spanish on Eternal Word Television Network.
“When you pray, the doors in heaven open to receive multiple blessings from our Lord who loves us unconditionally,” he said.
Father Nuñez’s talk reminded people of the need to have God always by their side, giving them the strength they need to conquer any obstacles.
“I know Jesus, and if you have him within you, anything is possible,” he expressed enthusiastically.
He then proceeded to speak about the importance of the Eucharist and reaffirmed to the audience the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. He encouraged the attendees to reflect on the purpose of their lives and to go beyond what they think God is asking of them.
“Use the Bible daily to be inspired,” he said.
Recounting personal anecdotes, he urged people to fight relentlessly with great faith and trust in God.
“God never gives up. God is love!” he said with joy.
Daniel Campos, a native Peruvian who attends St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek, said that one of the things that impressed him the most about the talk was that he definitely felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. He also added that he had seen Father Nuñez before on television and he always seemed very calm and collected on the screen, but today was different.
“Without a doubt, Christ spoke through him,” he concluded.
A Treasure Of The Church
Speaker Father William Canales moved from Nicaragua to embark on his missionary experience in the United States. His main purpose was for his audience to have a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist.
“The Eucharist is the essential way and the strength to transform the world from its base,” he said. He talked about the spiritual fruits of the Eucharist and explained how these fruits make people stronger.
“The Eucharist brings us closer to God. The Eucharist pulls us apart from sin and gives us the strength not to fall into temptation,” he said.
Father Canales encouraged the community to be charitable and to look for virtue in everybody.
“If we find the virtues, we can find Jesus in every single person we meet,” he said.
He concluded his session challenging everyone to be united, to be one with Jesus, and to let Christ guide their lives.
“Be proud to be a Catholic. Go and transform the world. The harvest is abundant, but it could be even more abundant if we devote ourselves every day to the Eucharist.”
Be Models For Christ
Mario St. Francis, better known as the Techno Missionary because he uses modern technology to evangelize the world, used to be a famous model and actor who, touched by the Holy Spirit, had a change of heart. In his talk, he recounted the journey that led him to be transformed to live a new life guided by God. Money, power and fame led him to a life of superficiality and frivolity. He rebelled against his family and felt invincible. He mentioned that he tried to get out of his lifestyle many times, but the temptations kept pulling him back. He eventually was able to get out, inspired by a priest and a Christian girlfriend.
“The Bible was her inspiration. I wanted to be inspired too,” he said.
He quit his job and started to read the Bible and to pray daily.
“I got inspired by the image of Jesus crucified. How can you not be inspired by that? I knew that God was calling me.”
‘I’m Here To Stay’
The final speaker in the track, Dr. Fernando Casanova-Ramos, is a former Pentecostal pastor from Puerto Rico who discovered the true meaning of the Eucharist and was transformed forever. His new discovery led him to leave his former church and become a devoted Catholic. He fell in love with the Eucharist and urged the audience to be faithful to the Catholic Church and not to be tempted by other churches where they promise comfort and entertainment instead of salvation.
“The Catholic Church has been criticized and ridiculed, but in spite of all this, their members have never given up.”
Casanova-Ramos admitted that he was the most anti-Catholic person before his conversion, but after discovering the truth about the Eucharist there was no return for him.
“I was looking for the real presence of the Lord,” he said.
He finished his session stating that after what Jesus did for all people, each one needs to respond to His greatest act of love.
“We need to decide what we really want. I left what I left behind because I’m convinced that this is the Church of Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but I’m here to stay,” he concluded.