Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Eucharistic Congress: Remembering the beginning

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 30, 2015

ATLANTA—This year marks 20 years since the first “Eucharistic Congress” was held in Atlanta.

It wasn’t envisioned to be a spiritual weekend attracting tens of thousands of visitors. It grew out of an effort to open a 24-hour chapel for Eucharistic adoration at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

EC2015_LogoArchbishop John F. Donoghue wanted to raise awareness of Catholic teaching about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He believed the chapels and adoration in parishes would open up the Catholic community to this renewal. The chapel at Christ the King opened in June 1994 and quickly Eucharistic devotion spread to other parishes.

Archbishop Donoghue then announced a year devoted to renewing prayer and understanding of the Eucharist. Called “His True Presence—A Eucharistic Renewal in the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” it began on the feast of Corpus Christi, Sunday, June 9, 1996. An outdoor procession led into Holy Spirit Church, where 1,000 people sang, prayed and listened to speakers preaching on the Eucharist.

Other parishes around the archdiocese wanted to institute this type of prayer and a small number began perpetual adoration chapels. Parishes that couldn’t arrange for guardians around the clock instead offered adoration times weekly or monthly.

As more chapels opened, the popularity of the Corpus Christi celebration grew, too. In 1997, 4,000 people came as it was held at the Atlanta Civic Center. Once held in parishes, eventually the crowds required a larger venue. Since 2001, when 12,000 people came, the Georgia International Convention Center has hosted the event.

The Georgia Bulletin asked four leaders who were part of the original group who conceived and worked on the renewal effort to reflect on the 20-year milestone.

What’s your favorite part or image of the annual gathering?

Mary Elkins, who remains one of the chief organizers of the event: “It is definitely the morning procession followed by Adoration and Benediction.  The gathering of all the people processing behind the beautiful and unique banners representing their parish, ministry, culture, native country, and language is truly a glorious display of our universal church. And when the procession is completed and all are assembled in the Exhibit Halls, the Monstrance enters and all drop to their knees on the concrete floor showing respect, honor, and belief that Jesus Christ is truly present!  And as it states in the catechism: ‘For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.’”

Keri Allen, who was asked to start the Cathedral adoration chapel and to serve in the Eucharistic Renewal effort: “Seeing and hearing thousands upon thousands of people praising and worshiping together in unity as the Body of Christ. Hearing the music and the singing, joining voices with all who worship Him here on earth and in Heaven.”

Deacon Lloyd Sutter, who assisted with the Eucharistic Renewal and Congress celebrations from 2001 to 2007: “First, both liturgies: Exposition with Adoration and Benediction; and second, the actual Corpus Christi Solemnity itself, including the two awesome processions involved in the morning and evening. … I am a native Atlantan and a former cathedral parishioner. There were not enough Catholics to fill the cathedral in those days and to see 30,000 people show up for the Eucharistic Congress was mindboggling!”

Father Tim Hepburn, the director of vocations, who served on the Eucharistic Renewal: “The gathering of the church in so many of her cultures and diverse peoples.”

How have the congresses shaped your faith life?

Deacon Sutter: “Archbishop Donoghue’s decision to institute perpetual adoration at the cathedral reinvigorated north Georgia Catholicism and it spread to numerous other parishes. In addition to triggering Eucharistic Renewal, a similar format of Exposition, adoration and Benediction was institutionalized to include not only adults, but also young adults (e.g., Spirit & Truth, Revive/TEC Retreats); teens (XLT); and middle school (Rise Up).”

Keri Allen: “I have realized from the beginning that when God calls you to do something for Him, to serve Him, not only you will be blessed, but many will also be blessed. I have seen how following Him can help lead others to Him. This is why evangelization by all Catholics is so critical to our faith and to the salvation of others. I have been humbled through the experience of being involved in such an important aspect of our Catholic faith. It is my prayer that the Eucharistic Congress will continue to bless Catholics, bring Catholics home and reveal to all that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.”

Mary Elkins: “Just as we plan vacations to rejuvenate our physical and mental self, the Eucharistic Congress to me is a faith vacation that allows me to recharge my spiritual self.”

Father Hepburn: “Every year I have this event that renews my sense of awe at what Christ has done in forming this Church, centered on the celebration of his Eucharist.”

What do you think it means that Atlanta Catholics continue to participate in the annual event? Did you ever think it would make the 20-year anniversary?

 Deacon Sutter: “If, as the Catechism tells us, that the “Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith” (no. 1324), then this now annual event is a spectacular evangelistic event for the Southeast!

Mary Elkins: “I think to Atlanta Catholics it is a Catholic family reunion and they, too, come annually to grow spiritually but also to experience the universal church gathered together. Many people I see only at the Congress once a year as I would at a family reunion, and we look forward to that encounter. Others tell me that it is their first Congress, and they can’t believe they have missed all the Congresses in the past as they just didn’t really know what to expect and couldn’t bring themselves to giving up a weekend, but after experiencing it would now never miss again!”

Keri Allen: “The Eucharistic Congress will continue to bring Our Lord honor and glory. I believe He will continue to be blessed through the praise and adoration of His faithful. Our archdiocese and our city will continue to be blessed and protected by Our Lord, for our reverence and adoration for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I couldn’t imagine it lasting 20 years, and I am grateful to Archbishop Gregory for continuing to give his people this opportunity. I never thought over 30,000 people would attend either. I did learn that if God wants something big to happen, it will happen. I am proud to be a Catholic in Atlanta.”