By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published May 26, 2016
COLLEGE PARK—It’s time, it’s almost time to gather for the annual celebration of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The month of June and the feast of Corpus Christi together signal that it’s time for the 21st annual Eucharistic Congress, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and hosted by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Auxiliary Bishops Luis R. Zarama and David P. Talley.
This event offers two spirited days of prayer, service, learning, community, worship, and immersion in the Catholic faith. Thousands of Catholics from around the region will convene in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, expressing devotion to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The congress will take place on Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4, at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The free event is open to everyone and typically draws people from all of Georgia and the Southeast.
Archbishop Gregory said, “As soon as May arrives each year, I begin to run into folks from throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta who declare that they are already looking forward to our Eucharistic Congress. This annual celebration has in many ways come to define our local Church in the minds and hearts of lots of people. One doesn’t have to be a traditional or an immigrant Catholic to find our Eucharistic Congress to be an important moment.”
He urged all to attend, “Whether you are a first time participant or have never missed this celebration, I warmly invite you to our 21st annual Eucharistic Congress where our theme this year focuses on the Holy Year of Mercy.”
Mercy is the focus
The theme for this year’s congress centers on the verse, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful,” from chapter 6, verse 36 of St. Luke’s Gospel, reflecting the ongoing Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese and long-time chair of the congress committee, said, “In this Year of Mercy, it only makes sense to mirror what the Holy Father used as a theme.” He said that some of the scheduled speakers were chosen especially to “stay closer to the theme.”
Among the many opportunities offered during the two faith-filled days of the Eucharistic Congress are the opening and closing Masses, a healing service on Friday evening, a vibrant banner procession of churches, schools and organizations on Saturday morning, and enriching talks by renowned speakers in English, Spanish, American Sign Language, French and Vietnamese. A separate track for young adults will be offered on Friday evening, and a track for children, now filled, on Saturday during the day.
Archbishop Gregory believes that the Eucharistic Congress “is a moment for this local Church to rejoice in our identity as a diverse family of faith. There is no question that our multicultural distinctiveness is richly celebrated at the congress. We rejoice that we are a people of God who reflect the universality of the Church of Christ, and the Eucharist itself remains the anchor of our unity.”
To those who have not attended in the past, Deacon Dorner said, “They have no idea what they are missing. This gathering of up to 30,000 people celebrating their faith in word and music and fellowship is so powerful. It is a wonderful testament to the power of God’s infinite love for us … sharing communally in the celebration of Mass and sharing in the Eucharist.”
An opportunity for service
Volunteers are needed at a new congress event this year, the Starve Wars event, taking place on Friday, June 3, before the congress begins, at the GICC.
Starve Wars is a collaborative effort by the Office of Life, Dignity and Justice of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Catholic Relief Services, Helping Hands and the people of the archdiocese. About 650 volunteers of all ages are needed to help pack 100,000 meals for the impoverished country of Burkina Faso, West Africa. Organizers are asking that lay people and clergy, including priests, deacons and deacons in formation consider volunteering.
Meal packing will be divided into two sessions. The first will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and the second will be from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sessions will be in Hall A at the GICC.
In order to be more inclusive, the first session will have Spanish, French, Vietnamese and American Sign Language interpreters and the second session will be set up to accommodate those living with disabilities. Space is limited and registration is required to participate.
An online signup and place to donate is available at http://congress.archatl.com/sessions/starve-wars-service-event/. For more information about Starve Wars, contact Kathy Montag, CRS capacity building specialist, at email@example.com.
An emphasis on vocations
Along the main concourse at the GICC will be tables representing various religious orders, offering the opportunity for attendees to stop and talk and learn about their work and ministries.
“The focus on vocations allows people to interact with a number of religious communities, both men and women,” said Deacon Dorner.
In addition, inside the Exhibitors Hall are vendors from some 26 companies and organizations, with wares and services for sale. Deacon Dorner said, “The Exhibitors Hall is one of the largest religious bookstores anyone will ever visit.”
Friday’s opening Mass and tracks
Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Friday evening, June 3, before the opening Mass begins at 6:30 p.m. celebrated by Bishop Talley.
Immediately following the Mass at 8 p.m., a healing service will begin with exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Father Tim Hepburn, archdiocesan director of vocations, will lead the service, with the assistance of Father Jorge Carranza, parochial vicar of Good Shepherd Church in Cumming. Praise and worship music will be led by Mark Mayer and his band. Teams of trained intercessors will be on hand to pray in multiple languages for those seeking healing in mind, body and soul.
Simultaneously, REVIVE, an event for young adults ages 18 to 40, will be held from 8-10:30 p.m. in the Marriott Gateway Hotel adjacent to the convention center. The track will include adoration, speaker Doug Tooke and music by Greg Ferrara and Geneva Tigue. Tooke is the director of youth ministry events at the Diocese of Helena, Montana, the executive director of Reach Youth Ministry and the owner of Monarch Catholic Ministries. He has traveled to over 75 dioceses in the past 15 years, teaching, keynoting conventions, and training youth ministers.
Father Cyprien Emile, a native of Haiti serving in Spring Valley, New York, will be the main speaker at the Francophone track, a gathering of the French-speaking community, which will take place from 8 to 10:30 p.m. in the Marriott Gulfstream room.
Saturday’s events begin in procession and end with Mass
The congress continues throughout the day on Saturday, ending with the vigil Mass for Corpus Christi at 5 p.m. celebrated by Archbishop Gregory.
On Saturday, doors open at 7:30 a.m., the morning procession begins at 8:30 a.m., and adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament begins at 9:30 a.m.
The morning Benediction will be led by Archbishop Gregory, with the homily by Archbishop John C. Wester, of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Following the opening session, activities for all ages and speakers for tracks in four languages—English, Spanish, Vietnamese and American Sign Language—will begin around 11 a.m.
Speakers from all over will talk about the Eucharist and mercy
English track speakers include: Allen Hunt, a former Methodist pastor, who converted to Catholicism in 2008. He lives and works in the Atlanta area. Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer, a speaker, and the host of The Jennifer Fulwiler Show on SiriusXM channel 129. She’s been a guest on a variety of national television shows and was the subject of the reality show “Minor Revisions.” John Allen Jr. has worked as a Catholic journalist at the National Catholic Reporter, the Boston Globe, CNN, National Public Radio, and most recently is leading a new Catholic website, Crux. Dr. Carolyn Woo is the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services. Before CRS, she was dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception Father Donald Calloway is a Catholic convert who was a high school dropout who had been kicked out of a foreign country, institutionalized twice and thrown in jail multiple times. He has written many academic articles and is the editor and author of a number of books on Mary.
Spanish track speakers include Father Feiser Muñoz, Ramona Treviño, Jesús Francisco “Frank” Morera and Francisco “Pacho” Bermeo. The track will also include praise and worship music, and emcee Carlos Yucate from local radio station Nuestra Fe.
Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang, of the Diocese of Phat Diem, Vietnam, will be the featured speaker at the Vietnamese track. Ordained to the priesthood in 1990 for the Diocese of Xuan Loc, he was named bishop of Phat Diem on July 25, 2009.
Father Christopher Klusman, a deaf priest, will lead the American Sign Language track with a presentation on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. From the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Father Klusman is the part-time chaplain at St. Thomas More Catholic High School and the associate director of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Ministry for the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
The ADORE track for children will feature music and activities centering on the theme of mercy. The track is full at this time, as pre-registration is required, but there is a waiting list. To register for the waiting list, visit http://congress.archatl.com/coordinators/kid-track-registration/.
Trying to decide whether to attend?
Deacon Dorner said, “Scripture tells us that ‘He makes all things new,’ and that is the amazing thing about the Eucharistic Congress. For 21 years we have been blessed to have this event hosted here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It is never the same, and yet it has the wonderful and familiar feeling of a family reunion. No matter your past experience, you can be assured of another life-giving celebration at this year’s event.”
Admission to the Eucharistic Congress is free, and concessions will be available at the event. Parking is available but limited, and the use of shuttle buses and carpools is strongly encouraged. For more information, visit Atlanta’s Eucharistic Congress website at http://congress.archatl.com/, where directions, speakers, schedules, exhibitors, sponsors and more can be found. The 2016 Eucharistic Congress app, for smartphones and tablets, is also available through the App Store or Google Play. Or text ATLEC2016 to 88202 to download, then search ATL in the app.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Geneva Tigue, musician in the REVIVE young adult track.