By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 12, 2015
COLLEGE PARK—In its 20 years, the Eucharistic Congress has grown by leaps and bounds, and a few Catholics have been on hand since the beginning to witness the progression.
Mayfern Barron has attended every single Eucharistic Congress since it started 20 years ago.
A parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, she recruits some 35 volunteers each year to help at the congress.
“It’s so meaningful to me,” said Barron. “I feel that we need to support the archdiocese.”
A past president of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, Barron said she heard from a Peruvian mother who attended the congress this year for the first time.
The woman’s daughter was dancing as she went forward to receive the Eucharist from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who smiled broadly at the young girl’s joy.
“That mother was so delighted,” explained Barron. “To that mother, it was so impressive.”
A native of Honduras, Barron always postpones her vacation until after the congress.
“The holy Eucharist doesn’t change. That is the draw for me,” she said.
Congress brings cultures together
Barron feels blessed to volunteer on Friday evening and Saturday each year of the event and believes even poor health would not keep her from going.
“I will be there by the help of the good Lord,” she said.
The nurse and mother of five said she feels holy when she is there and wants all Catholics to experience the congress.
“It gives me a peacefulness. It is so powerful,” she said.
The diverse procession at the congress brings cultures together, said Barron.
“It’s just like a garden,” she said.
At her home, Barron has a statue of the Blessed Mother among the roses and uses the garden comparison to describe the Church.
Any garden with just one type of flower is not special. It’s the different colors of flowers, flowers of different heights, some withering and some about to bloom that make a garden beautiful.
Looking back, Barron recalls the first two years when attendance at the congress was in the hundreds, like a well-attended Mass at a larger parish.
She knows the late Archbishop John F. Donoghue would be “well pleased” with the event’s growth. “I just pray that it continues to grow,” she said.
It’s one of the “best things in north Georgia,” said Barron.
When Saturday’s emcee Russ Spencer, FOX5 news anchor, asked if any attendees had been at the very first congress, Maria Lee of St. Patrick Church in Norcross stood up.
Active in the Korean Catholic community, Lee’s husband served as a translator for Archbishop Donoghue when he gave homilies at Korean Masses.
“I love him,” she said of the late archbishop.
Lee’s favorite parts of attending the congress are the times for prayer and the Eucharistic procession, and meeting up with other Catholics.
“I’ve got a lot of friends over there. I really enjoy it,” said Lee.
Lee and her husband have attended the congress almost every year in the last two decades. She sometimes wears traditional Korean dress, made a banner one year, and has lots of beloved photographs from years past.
Rome liturgy inspired the banner procession
Deacon Whitney Robichaux assisted the master of ceremonies at the first Eucharistic celebration in 1996, held at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, and has been at nearly every congress since then both behind-the-scenes and in liturgical roles. About 1,000 people came to the 1996 Corpus Christi celebration.
He set up the first altar and worked with parishes “the first time we carried banners in.”
A deacon at the Cathedral of Christ the King, he remembers the breakthrough year when attendance skyrocketed, and “the police came in wanting to know what was going on because the Interstate was blocked” with busloads of people trying to reach the congress site.
Deacon Robichaux, master of ceremonies for Archbishop Donoghue for many years, said the archbishop was inspired to add a banner procession to the congress after they witnessed an All Saints Day procession in St. Peter’s Square where banners of saints were carried in and movingly displayed.
Asked to comment on what has evolved from the archbishop’s desire for Eucharistic Renewal, the deacon said, “I think it brought the diocese together. … I think it has had a real impact on the diocese in understanding what the true presence (of Christ in the Eucharist) is all about.”
“It is one of the main teaching elements this diocese has and a way for different communities to come together and concelebrate. You see the Vietnamese communities, the Hispanic communities, the Knights of Columbus, come together and see who they are in the whole community,” he said.
“I appreciate all the effort people over the years have put into it to continue to allow it to grow and be strong. Hopefully the people in the diocese appreciate this opportunity and more and more people will continue to come.”
Archbishop Donoghue “truly had a dedication” to adoration of the Eucharist, he said. “In fact, he was on a schedule at the cathedral for an early morning time for him to come over once a week” and serve as a guardian in the perpetual adoration chapel.
“I think to see this continue would bring him joy,” Deacon Robichaux said.
Gretchen Keiser contributed to this story.