By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 12, 2015
COLLEGE PARK—He may be known as “The Catholic Guy,” but Lino Rulli sometimes doubts God’s presence in his life. That’s why he’s grateful that Jesus left humankind the Catholic Church.
Rulli, host of the popular “The Catholic Guy” show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, spoke to a full crowd of about 300 at “Revive,” the young adult track of the annual Eucharistic Congress Friday evening, June 5. Thomas Clements and band provided praise and worship music, and Andrè Avena served as the evening’s emcee.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory welcomed the young adults to the 2015 congress and told them they are essential to the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s new Pastoral Plan—the vision for the next five years of the Church in Atlanta.
“Our young people are absolutely key because you help us feel more confident about tomorrow,” he said. “That makes those of us who are now in the senior category feel a lot better.”
During his humor-infused talk, Rulli shared personal stories and photos of his own faith journey and focused on the Eucharistic Congress’ theme of “I will be with you always.”
“If you’re anything like me, you know intellectually and theologically Jesus is with you, but you don’t always feel Jesus with you,” he said. “Jesus being very smart—he was God, after all—Jesus understood that before he ascended into heaven, he should probably do something to give us a concrete reminder that he was always with us.”
“What if he left us a Church so that whenever we were lost, whatever we did with our lives, we had an actual reminder that Jesus was with us,” Rulli said. “When I look back at my life, I realize I probably only understood Jesus because of the Church.”
Rulli shared a story of meeting Pope John Paul II and attending a private Mass with him. He recalled being in awe of how focused on prayer the pope was and stayed afterward despite being ushered out so that he could say he stayed and prayed in a room with just the pope and him. However, he got so distracted by his thoughts that he forgot to pray.
“Instead of having a story about how I prayed with John Paul II, I have a story about how I was in a room with him and almost prayed,” he said. “Jesus is always with us. It’s up to us to disconnect from whatever is going on in our lives, whether you’re in a private chapel with the pope or in your bedroom tonight. It’s up to each of us to say ‘I know you’re there, Lord. Let me focus just on you.’”
Confession is ‘greatest thing going’
As the successors to St. Peter, popes are another concrete example Jesus left for his people, Rulli said. Some, like John Paul II, have become saints.
The presence of saints is another “great thing about the Church,” he said, “when we can’t relate to Jesus, when we think he was God, he was so different than the rest of us; he was like us in all ways but sin.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have people who are like us in all things, including sin, but somehow … through God’s grace were able to reach heaven, were able to reach holiness?” he asked. “We call them saints.”
Rulli shared more about his own faith journey. Born and raised Catholic, he rebelled against his faith after he received the sacrament of confirmation. However, when he was in college, he began to find his way back to the Church. In his 20s, he started going back to confession, which he called “the greatest thing going.”
“I see my life as wherever I go, there I am—my sins, my flaws, my mistakes—but wherever I go, there Jesus is, too,” Rulli said. “And when I don’t feel his presence … I can always experience him in his Church.”
He shared some of the concrete ways the Church brings Jesus close to him.
“I can always go to confession when I screw up—and I screw up a lot—I can always go and be reconciled with him. And when I need a little quiet time I can always go to a Catholic church and be inspired by the art, inspired by the beauty,” Rulli said.
“So the very moments you don’t feel close to Jesus, all you have to do is walk into a church, and you have God’s love. You have God’s presence.”
Before he began the satellite radio program, Rulli’s broadcasting work included six years of hosting and producing “Generation Cross,” for which he received two Emmy awards. He is media advisor to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and was an emcee for the archdiocese’s youth rally during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The radio show broadcast from New York for seven years, but Rulli has been on location since 2013, frequently following the travels of Pope Francis or broadcasting from the Vatican. He holds a master’s degree in theology.
Following his talk, many attendees rushed to take photos with Rulli, who patiently posed with each of his fans. Among them was Carter Bays, 16, who traveled with his mother, Cristina, from Augusta to attend their first Eucharistic Congress. Carter has been listening to Rulli on SiriusXM since he was 10 years old.
“It was neat to see him in person. He’s a great storyteller,” he said. “He shows that being Catholic doesn’t mean being boring. You can be fun and spontaneous at the same time.”
Samantha and Joseph Grone, parishioners at the Cathedral of Christ the King, in Atlanta, who both teach theology at archdiocesan Catholic schools, said that they come to the Eucharistic Congress to experience their faith in a unique way.
“It’s really a renewing experience. You get to see the universal Church in a way you’d usually only get to see outside of Atlanta,” Joseph Grone said. “You can see how strongly our faith is lived.”