By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 12, 2015
COLLEGE PARK—The Life in the Eucharist ministry, like the Eucharistic Congress, marked its 20th anniversary this year.
The ministry, known as LITE, and the inaugural congress were part of the Eucharistic Renewal initiated by the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta.
LITE director Dottie O’Connor, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, in Atlanta, called both the ministry and the congress a “wonderful legacy” of Archbishop Donoghue.
O’Connor said the renewal efforts were the archbishop’s response to a Gallup poll indicating that only about 30 percent of Catholics were aware of or felt connected to Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. Some Catholics, according to the poll, believed the Eucharist was only a symbol. However, Catholic teaching and belief is that during the consecration of the Mass, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.
Members of LITE teams from across the archdiocese attended a reunion during the 2015 Eucharistic Congress. Gathered in a small room in the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway hotel, adjacent to the Georgia International Conference Center, members recalled the past, heard powerful testimony about the ministry’s impact, and discussed future plans.
In the mid-1990s, O’Connor and Keri Allen, who both worked at that time in full-time ministry at the cathedral parish, learned of the LITE program created by Father Robert Rousseau of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.
The women traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, where the congregation was based, to learn more about the program.
“We brought it to Archbishop Donoghue,” said O’Connor. After his approval, in 1996 the word spread to the parishes, and four teams led by deacons formed to present the LITE seminars at the parish level.
The teams present how the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is integrated into their own lives.
Program helps people ‘make a change’
For Kari Beckman, executive director of the Regina Caeli Academy, participation in a LITE seminar was life changing.
Without a true understanding of the Eucharist, “my soul wouldn’t be right with God,” said Beckman.
When Beckman moved 20 years ago to then small-town Newnan, she decided to go to St. George Church to make new friends.
Parishioners Jane and George Hand invited Beckman to attend a LITE seminar.
Beckman had become a Catholic in another diocese and said she didn’t even know the meaning of the word Eucharist.
“I just went to Communion because that’s what I did,” she recalled.
The seminar was going well and then came time for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
“When people randomly start to drop to their knees, it’s a little weird,” said Beckman. She decided to follow the lead of other participants.
“But I start to cry,” she recalled. A nun attending the seminar told Beckman, “You have the gift of holy tears.”
Beckman said although she was Catholic, she had never learned about Jesus’ Passion and the Easter story. She learned that day about reconciliation, reflected on cooperation with sin in her own life, and took the opportunity to make a confession.
“I was really scared. He gave me the Stations of the Cross,” said Beckman of her confessor and her penance. She continues to pray for the priest daily.
Beckman emphasized that the LITE program shows people what to do once they meet Christ.
“We encounter Jesus, but sometimes we don’t make a change,” she said. “This program does that.”
Beckman told reunion guests, while dabbing tears, that her eight children are here and alive because of LITE.
LITE was the impetus for something big for Beckman, and she knows there are many others who have gone through the seminars and were inspired to start ministries, apostolates or to be teachers of the faith.
“I guarantee it; there’s hundreds,” she said.
Regina Caeli Academy is a private hybrid school operating in the Catholic tradition for home-school families. Beckman said Regina Caeli has programs in six states and serves more than 1,000 students.
Beckman is a parishioner of Our Lady of the Mountains in Jasper, serves on its pastoral council and is active in pro-life ministries.
“This is my family,” said Beckman about LITE.
More witness than teaching
LITE member Maria Smith first became involved while attending St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek. Now a parishioner of St. Monica, in Duluth, home to a new adoration chapel, Smith spends every Friday night before the Blessed Sacrament and her family knows not to schedule anything for her during that time.
“I keep my divine eyes on,” she said.
Smith noted that Blessed Mother Teresa stated it was not her own power that kept her and the sisters going in their difficult work.
“It was daily adoration,” said Smith.
O’Connor said early LITE seminars focused on theology. Originally the teams offered two-day seminars. Then they streamlined the program to be offered in one day.
“We emphasize witness more than teaching,” explained O’Connor.
As O’Connor was earning a master’s in religious education, she had her own “mini-awakening” about the Eucharist. While she had layers of love for the faith, she was not strong on theology.
As she focused on the story of Jesus’ birth and that he was born in Bethlehem, meaning “House of Bread,” and was laid in a manger or feeding trough, she came to an important realization.
“He had always planned to feed his creation,” said O’Connor.
Last year LITE members met with Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor, for guidance.
“We realized we needed refreshing,” said O’Connor.
Bishop Zarama had hosted LITE seminars at St. Mark Church in Clarkesville when serving as the pastor there. He encouraged group members to spend last summer praying and meeting about the direction to take.
“We did just that,” said O’Connor. After consulting with their chaplain, Father Jack Durkin, the group sent out packages to all the pastors in the archdiocese.
As a result, three parishes have scheduled LITE training sessions either this fall or in early 2016.
Members also believe the renewed interest is due to members offering up their sufferings during adoration.
‘Our Lord must not remain hidden’
Maureen Alexander, St. Monica parishioner and LITE member, works closely with parishes interested in the seminar.
Alexander, who was raised in New York, has always felt a connection to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
“I guess I just took to it,” said Alexander. “I always knew where to put my trust.”
She recalled that upon President Kennedy’s death in 1963, within hours she was spending time in prayer at church.
Alexander said LITE has had many blessings during its two decades.
“Several men who attended the seminars over the years and served on the team have gone on to become deacons. We even have a former member who is now a priest in the archdiocese—Father Dan Ketter,” said Alexander.
Several LITE members were featured in a 2011 EWTN documentary, “The King In Our Midst,” which focuses on the true presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. The program is aired several times a year.
A future goal is to have Spanish-speaking teams. Eight people are now receiving training to offer Life in the Eucharist seminars.
Emmanuela Medina, one of the original LITE members and a Corpus Christi Church parishioner, in Stone Mountain, read the words of St. Peter Julian Eymard, apostle of the Eucharist: “Our Lord must not remain hidden. The Sun of the Eucharist must rise to scatter all the shadows of the night, melt frozen souls, and frighten away its enemies if they are not touched by his love.”
“We really want this vision to become a reality,” said Medina.