By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 27, 2014
COLLEGE PARK—The treasure that is the Eucharist heals and empowers us to be Jesus’ disciples, proclaimed Bishop Luis R. Zarama at the 19th Eucharistic Congress’ opening Mass June 20. A healing service followed the Eucharistic celebration.
Prior to the start of Mass, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory welcomed the Friday night crowd that grew to 3,000 as people beat the evening traffic and arrived in waves to the event with the theme of discipleship.
“Thank you for making time in your busy week to come into the Lord’s presence,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Like all Eucharistic acts, our praise to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass is healing.”
The choir from St. Joseph Church in Marietta led the opening Spanish hymn, “Come to the House of the Lord.” The vibrancy of the universal church was evident in the congregation with many nations and cultures represented from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, North and Latin America. Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Lodwar, Kenya, concelebrated the opening Mass.
Bishop Zarama, one of the auxiliary bishops of the Atlanta Archdiocese, addressed the crowd about their expectations for “something good” to happen during this evening of prayer.
Many may be present for healing, bringing their “big list” of requests to the Lord, he said. We must not come as to a funeral, he advised, but smiling because God is love.
“Give thanks to Jesus in the Eucharist,” Bishop Zarama implored. “He is the only one to heal and the most important healing we can experience from him is the healing of heart and mind.”
The Lord calls us to “go and make disciples” but what does that mean, Bishop Zarama asked the crowd.
“We, in our daily lives, have the experience of Jesus calling us. His goal is to make in us his dwelling place … and make us like him.”
We may be more excited if Queen Elizabeth were to invite us to live in her palace, use her credit card and her limo service, said Bishop Zarama lightheartedly. “But Jesus awakens in us a desire to be loved by God.”
Yet, we may fear God, prefer worldly treasures or place conditions on him.
“Love is the only medicine that heals the wounds of the heart,” Bishop Zarama said. “If we’re not open to Jesus then never can the wounds of the mind and heart be healed.”
“We will always be struggling to survive with our life jackets when we have the cruise line,” he said.
The Eucharist becomes essential, he said, and to appreciate that, faith is needed. “We need to see the Eucharist with the eyes of our hearts.”
“When we find our treasure (in the Eucharist), then we can go and make disciples,” Bishop Zarama said. “How? With your presence. Bring Jesus in your hearts. Change your face. Don’t be afraid to smile. When you smile, you have been touched by love. After that, go and make disciples. … Let people see and touch the love of Jesus through you.”
As people came forward for Communion many smiled, including a mother walking behind her husband and three sons, as well as a young girl pushing her grandmother in a wheelchair. Some received a blessing as the number of people who arrived exceeded the hosts consecrated at the Mass. After an apology for the shortage and a blessing from Bishop Zarama, the choir and participants clapped and sang, “Alabare a mi Señor” or “I will praise my Lord.”
‘Do not limit God’
Father Tim Hepburn, archdiocesan vocations director, presided over the healing service with Msgr. Jaime Barona, pastor of St. Michael Church, Gainesville. Father Hepburn reminded the people that “Jesus Christ heals all our wounds of the heart, mind and even, sometimes, our bodies.”
Hundreds of people raised their hands when he asked who among the crowd had experienced healing in the past. He encouraged all present, “Do not limit God.”
“Even if the body hurts, Bishop Zarama encouraged us to find the place where Jesus lives in us. Find the love and joy,” Father Hepburn said.
“One way to do this is to get ready to sing.”
Greg Ferrara and band offered the music during the healing service. Father Hepburn gave a short reflection, explaining that the theme of the congress was only part of Matthew’s Scripture passage about making disciples. He introduced the Spanish phrase “por lo tonto” or “therefore.”
“Jesus said this: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me, therefore, go and make disciples.’ Do you believe Jesus still has all the authority in heaven and on earth?” he asked.
The crowd answered, “Yes!”
“Part of that authority will be experienced by us tonight when we allow him to have authority (over us)—not in an oppressive way. Will you trust him with the things that are hurting you?” Father Hepburn asked.
Again, the crowd answered, “Yes.”
Msgr. Barona followed with words in Spanish, reiterating Father Hepburn’s message and offering his own recent experience of feeling tired and weighed down by stress until a young man came in and simply said, “Father, Jesus loves you!”
“When I said ‘Amen’ something went, a shadow went. … Por lo tonto, he heals wounds,” Msgr. Barona said.
Then Father Hepburn blessed volunteers, who were trained and equipped to serve as prayer teams in various languages that night. Spaced around the periphery of the hall for privacy, the teams prayed individually with anyone who requested prayer.
With the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, in an atmosphere of worship, people approached prayer teams with their burdens and hopes.
‘Jesus healed me’
Parent Theresa An has attended many congresses. That night the parishioner from St. Andrew Church, Roswell, was with her mother, Agatha, and son, Peter, remembering the particular year when her son, now 22, experienced back problems.
“Two years ago he was very sick, but he was healed,” she said. Peter, who has autism, chimed in, “Jesus healed me.”
One prayer team consisted of Gema and Christian Dumitru; Gema came to the United States from Romania in 1991.
“I was raised during a time of lots of struggles and problems,” she said. “I experienced miracles and am trying to do something, to give something back.”
For 15 years their family has attended the congress, with both of them serving the last few years as prayer intercessors. Years ago a neighbor invited Gema to a prayer meeting where she experienced healing from sickness.
“I promised God afterward that as often as I can I would pray (with people),” she said.
Characterizing herself as “very shy,” Gema said she was humbled by the ministry because at first “I couldn’t open my mouth.”
But God helped her climb “another mountain.”
Christian shared his story of being pulled into “the secular life” where he experienced difficulties, but said that he turned back to God after going to a prayer group.
“I love (the healing service),” he said. “I think it really becomes God’s ministry of healing. We really rely on the Holy Spirit to use us.”
His prayers for the people he encounters do not end when the event finishes.
“God puts it on my heart to keep praying for them. It’s wonderful to share in people’s lives; that’s why we’re here together,” he said.
Prayer team member Rachel Watson came from a charismatic renewal background, growing up in the 1970s. She arrived in Atlanta in 2007 and began attending the charismatic community’s monthly Mass celebrated by Father Hepburn, whose efforts she appreciates.
“He’s committed, joyful and tries to be like Jesus from my encounters with him. He’s an obedient priest to the church, to the archdiocese and to the Lord, first,” Watson said.
She sought out a way to participate in the charismatic community.
“I believe in living my Catholic faith,” said Watson, adding, “If you don’t live it, it’s kind of mute. We’re all called to be disciples. We’re all called to the priesthood, with a little ‘p.’”
She attended the Eucharistic Congress for a few years before signing up to serve on a prayer team and spoke of the experience.
“Most of the time you’re giving comfort, love. … It’s incredible when you see the difference in someone’s life when they let the Lord come into it,” she said.
Praying with others is a work of the Holy Spirit, she said. Charismatic and intercessory prayer groups in the archdiocese regularly pray with those in need of individual prayer, she pointed out.
“One of the beauties of the church is that we have the Communion of the Saints, capital ‘s’ and small ‘s,’” she said.