By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 12, 2015
COLLEGE PARK—Young and old representing many ethnicities and walks of life gathered Friday, June 5, for the opening Mass and healing service of the 2015 Eucharistic Congress to further explore their calling as everyday missionary disciples connected together and nourished by the Eucharist, the real presence of Jesus Christ.
On a sunny afternoon as people streamed into the Georgia International Convention Center, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory acknowledged how the congress has become “an important part of the identity of the Atlanta Archdiocese.”
“Atlanta really knows how to put on a Eucharistic Congress,” he said, smiling. He welcomed newcomers as well as repeat attendees and offered his wish before proclaiming the 2015 congress officially open. “May we be one with each other in the presence of Christ.”
Led by the choir from Prince of Peace Church, in Flowery Branch, the opening Mass began with main celebrant Bishop David P. Talley presiding, accompanied by brother priests and deacons.
After readings from Tobit and the Gospel of Mark, Bishop Talley began his homily, noting the saint of the day, St. Boniface. The English-born Benedictine monk left the safety of the monastery to reform the church in Germany. Like the apostles, St. Boniface’s calling to follow Jesus Christ eventually led to his martyrdom, yet his sacrifices yielded much fruit.
The bishop said, “The powerbrokers of (Jesus’) day asked, like those of our day ask to you and to me, as do your neighbors and ordinary people who work with you, they ask us—sometimes in sincerity and occasionally with scorn—who is this Jesus of Nazareth and what’s he about?”
Bishop Talley explained how to respond to this “great question,” explaining that “he is truth incarnate, and he instructs us.”
By his wounds, we are healed and redeemed, he added.
For Christians, Jesus continues to guide their way. “The risen Lord gathered his apostles. He told them: ‘I will be with you always.’”
He accomplishes this through the holy Eucharist and other sacraments, the bishop said.
“Jesus is the Lord of our lives, calling each of us as missionary disciples by his way of living, loving and serving. Will the church say ‘Amen?’”
The congregation responded enthusiastically, “Amen!”
Intercessions included prayers for clergy, world leaders, and those carrying a heavy cross. Petitions also called to mind the suffering poor, the persecuted, an end to offenses against life and a strengthening of the archdiocesan family’s zeal to proclaim the Gospel.
Bishop Talley continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, carefully incensing the altar as prayers lifted to heaven.
The multitude of young and old came forward to receive the Eucharist. Before departing, Bishop Talley reiterated, “So, when your friends ask you—‘Who is Jesus of Nazareth?’—say, ‘He is the Lord, and we are his body.’”
Ames leads healing service
Given the gift of healing, Alan Ames returned to Atlanta for his third healing service as part of the Eucharistic Congress. Born in London in 1953, Ames was a member of a motorcycle gang in his youth and engaged in violence and alcohol. After his marriage, he moved to Australia with his family. The turning point of his life happened in 1993 when he saw his past life displayed before him and experienced how his sins and wrong ways had hurt God. He returned to the sacraments and to the Church. He then discovered his gift of healing, which he shares with people around the world.
“It’s wonderful to be back here,” Ames said as the crowd quieted and the service began.
Healing pours forth from the sacraments, Ames said, and had already begun that evening through the Eucharist and for those who had received the sacrament of reconciliation.
“(The Eucharist) is the greatest healing prayer of all with the greatest healer of all,” he said.
Ames described the love of God for each person.
“For many Catholics, many Christians, God is distant, judgmental. But God isn’t like that. God blesses us every moment of our lives. He’s calling out to you. In every minute Jesus stands, calling ‘I love you. Love me.’ He’s pouring out his divine love, reaching out his hand hoping you’ll walk with him. He has a passionate love for each one of us, wanting to give all he can for us to be happy, to have full lives, to be successful.”
“When you love him, you allow him to lift you up and sanctify you,” Ames said.
Jesus understands the difficulties of each person’s life, but it is still necessary to persevere through them. The apostles are good examples of Jesus’ fidelity.
“They saw and talked to Jesus. They heard his message, and yet one of them betrayed him, another denied him, and the rest of them ran away. Their weaknesses took hold.”
But Jesus promised them aid in the form of the Holy Spirit, who “gave them the grace and love needed to live the way of Jesus. As it was with the apostles, it will be the same with us.”
Ames recommended praying every day for help from the Holy Spirit.
“Every day should be our Pentecost,” he said.
He also recommended coming to Mass frequently both for oneself and for others.
“In the Eucharist we find the strength we need because we find God,” he said. “We empty ourselves to become the tabernacle of the Lord, like Mary.”
It is then possible to go out into the world allowing Jesus to reach others.
“He uses us to magnify his love and to bring others to him,” Ames said.
During Mass, he said, place in the chalice your fears, prayers and crosses and also those of others. “As the priest raises the chalice toward heaven, those people are raised, too. When the precious blood washes over us, all of our fears disappear and we know we are protected.”
Ames then transitioned into the time for healing prayer. The Blessed Sacrament was carried in, and shortly thereafter he prayed over the assembly before praying over individuals who formed lines in front of the altar.
Multiple times Ames crossed in front of the altar, praying a moment with each person and marking the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads or on their photos of loved ones. Ushers and volunteers from the crowd stood behind each person as Ames prayed over people, some eventually resting in the Holy Spirit on the floor.
Benediction took place toward the end of the healing service, as still more people—parents with their little and grown children, grandparents, singles and couples continued to come forward; some first-timers approached with curious smiles.
A Marian statue placed to the side of the altar attracted the attention of a small group during the healing service. An elderly woman blew kisses toward the Marian altar and others gazed at the piece of art depicting the Blessed Mother. Janice Givens was one who knelt before Mary, clothed in white with a golden crown.
“You could feel her love and presence,” Givens said. The placement was perfect, she noted. She was off to the side in the shadow of the crucifix—signifying how Mary humbles herself and draws people to God. “She leads people to her Son yet never wants to take away attention from him.”
‘I love to see … the universal church’
As the healing service ended, young adult Obi Agu sat with family and friends. He began attending the event three years ago and credited his sister’s experience in Nigeria to prompting him to seriously explore God.
“I saw how my sister was changed spiritually. … I wanted to put more of God in my life,” he said.
Calib Butz, 15, is a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Church, in Woodstock. Calib had an invitation to go to Stone Mountain Park that evening but opted for the healing service. He was content with his decision and described a sense of peace and of “no worries” after being prayed over by Ames. He, his parents, Karen and Kevin Butz, and older brother, Michael, have a long history attending the congress.
Karen Butz said, “We’ve come since we were here with babies in backpacks.” Her husband added, “It basically strengthens my faith, and I love to see all the people in the universal church.”
Also present at the healing service was Nancy Palmer, who has had a “long journey” with rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 16. Seated in a wheelchair, the mother and grandmother explained her battle with the condition.
“I started having (hip and knee) replacement surgeries at 40. I didn’t know then that they only last about 10 years,” she said.
Having prayed many times for physical healing, Palmer now gives her afflictions over to God. “God knows what my desire is.”
More important to her than her physical healing is the interior, spiritual health of those she loves. “If I had a choice, I would ask God to heal my family.”
Smiling, even under the weight of sadness, she admitted, “I’m not always a fan of free will; sometimes I wish God had made us more like sheep!”
As the convention hall emptied, Palmer left that evening surrounded by good, supportive friends.
Linda Smith understands the profound importance of spiritual healing as she has trained prayer teams for past healing services. She is a member of Holy Trinity Church, in Peachtree City.
“The need may be for the healing of memories, past hurts, relationships, emotional and inner healing,” she explained in an email after Friday’s event. “Many times these may be greater needs than physical healing. And the greatest healing of all is spiritual healing, the conversion of heart and receiving God’s love and mercy.”
As in years past the crowd demonstrated “the unity in diversity” that is a visible image of the Church—the body of Christ.
“The sacraments are always a powerful encounter with Jesus. As Alan said during his talk, the Mass, the Eucharist, is the most healing prayer of all. Many are touched and healed during the Mass,” Smith said.
Reports of healings usually surface over time. “I believe that any time we pray for healing, God heals … in the way that he knows the person most needs to receive healing,” she said.