By ANDREW NELSON AND GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writers | Published June 12, 2015
COLLEGE PARK–A lively and joy-filled room of French-speaking Catholics danced and clapped as they moved with an excited faith.
A priest from the Ivory Coast, Father Leon N’Zi, led the session in their native tongue on the opening night of the Eucharistic Congress. Speaking through an interpreter beforehand, Father N’Zi said he would encourage the audience to remember that God’s love for his people started at the world’s creation, continues to the present, and the Eucharist is a “demonstration of God’s love for his people” into the future.
“All the time, God is faithful. God’s faithfulness doesn’t start with us; it starts from a long time ago,” he said.
The Eucharist is not a representation, but real, he said.
“Bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. They do not constitute a sign, as a flag is,” he said.
To open the time of prayer on Friday, June 5, Father Henry Atem carried a large sunburst-shaped golden monstrance into the room at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway hotel holding the Eucharist. The Newnan pastor, who is a native of Cameroon, led people in spontaneous prayers in French, concluding with the Divine Praises. People knelt on the floor, some with their arms raised and open wide.
Folly Somado-Hemazro came with his wife and two children. A parishioner of St. Patrick Church in Norcross, he is a native of Togo, West Africa, pursuing a doctorate in business administration from Walden University online.
Singing French-language hymns and praise with so many other French-speakers brought him joy.
“You just do it from your heart. You are singing with body and soul” when you worship in your native tongue, he said.
He was visibly exhilarated as the event ended. “I am just full of joy. I am excited. I am so excited,” he said.
‘Everything is in the Eucharist’
A native of the Ivory Coast, West Africa, Father N’Zi received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from the Catholic University of West Africa. In February of 2004, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. He served as a parochial vicar and was in charge of youth ministry and religious education programs from 2004 to 2010.
A member of the Catholic charismatic renewal since his teens, Father N’Zi has served as a leader and teacher in several renewal movements and has been a guest speaker at Catholic conferences in Europe, Canada and Ivory Coast. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in contemporary theology at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada.
Father N’Zi said the presence of God is dynamic and transformative. God’s Spirit never changes, only people do, he said, so for something new to happen, you have to change your mind and build your faith and hope. People can draw close to Jesus and receive comfort from the Son of God, who knows what it is like to live on this earth. He left the Eucharist, “where God manifests his weakness by taking on human poverty.”
“It gives you hope for a better tomorrow,” Father N’Zi said.
“Remember Christ is the hope of glory. Everything is in the Eucharist (if it is received) with faith. One can find the Holy Ghost in the Eucharist. The Spirit of God moves inside you when you take Communion,” he said.
About 225 people from French-speaking nations in Africa and the Caribbean came to the Francophone session.
Beatrice Rouamba, a native of Burkina Faso, West Africa, said she left her homeland as a refugee and lived first in England. A parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, she has lived in Atlanta since 1999.
She said the speaker “was wonderful because he kept it very simple. He used those local phrases in the colloquial way we speak to each other. … That helped get his message across.”
Very animated and holding a notebook where she had taken pages of notes, the consultant said the priest told them they “need to take it seriously when we take Communion.”
“When (Jesus) comes into our hearts, he transforms us. We need to take it very seriously,” she said.
Everyone has difficulties and problems, she said, but the priest told them “those things don’t really matter so much.”
“The more we take Communion, the more our hearts look like Jesus Christ,” was the message, she said.
Also, God “never gives up on us. … He loves us and has a plan for us.”
“We’re not our past. We’re not our problems. We’re not what people think about us. … Through Communion and taking it seriously, we discover who we are.”