By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 10, 2016
COLLEGE PARK—In her black and white habit, Mother Mary Christina joyfully held a cardboard cutout of a sister that allowed girls to put their face where the sister’s would be. Much giggling ensued as young girls put their face through the cutout and their mothers took photos. Mother Mary Christina’s congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker from Walton, Kentucky, was one of several who hosted a booth in the main hallway of the 2016 Eucharistic Congress June 4.
For attendees, vendors and volunteers, the main draw was the opportunity to witness the universal church in person.
The Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker have attended the Eucharistic Congress for the past three years.
“It’s just so awesome to see the whole church come together and celebrate God as one,” Mother Mary Christina said, adding that as a small congregation, the visibility is important for vocations to the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker.
“This is a non-threatening environment and we get to let people know we exist,” she said. “It’s good for us to get to know the youth ministers and pastors, so that they think of us when a young lady talks to them about a possible vocation.”
Mother Mary Christina said in addition to promoting vocations, she loves coming as an attendee.
“We get a chance to hear some of the speakers and the music. I just love the morning procession. I don’t know any of these parishes, but I find myself so excited to see their banners,” she said.
John Hartwell, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church, in Atlanta, converted to the Catholic Church in 2008, making the final decision after attending the congress the prior year.
“I walked by the confession area and I knew. I wanted to be a part of a faith in which confession was that important and the sacraments were that readily available,” he said.
At this year’s event, Hartwell represented the St. Leo the Great Toastmasters Club, for which he serves as president. Standing in the vendor hall, Hartwell spoke about why the Eucharistic Congress is a must-attend event for him every year.
“I love the Eucharistic Congress because it represents the universality of the Catholic Church,” he said. “You have people from a variety of languages and backgrounds all coming together to practice and be part of the Catholic faith.”
“This is just a magical event”
Kathleen Bingaman, a parishioner of St. Monica Church, in Duluth, served as a volunteer. Throughout the day, Bingaman directed people to the appropriate lines for the sacrament of reconciliation.
“This has been very gratifying—just seeing all these people coming to the sacrament of reconciliation. I’ve talked to people who haven’t been to confession in more than 20 years. But they get to come here, and see someone other than their parish priest—it’s been really wonderful to see that,” she said.
Bingaman has volunteered in various capacities for the past four years and has enjoyed all of her assignments, she said. But her vantage point this year allowed her to interact with thousands of attendees.
“I’ve gotten to sit here watching all of the people. It’s just incredible. You see American, Asian, Hispanic, African-American and African people—all joined together in one universal faith,” she said. “I’ve gotten to see all the faces of God today.”
Martine Boni, a parishioner of St. Philip Benizi Church, in Jonesboro, who is originally from the Ivory Coast, wore a traditional outfit from her country, and brought her two young daughters in a stroller to the congress.
“This is my faith, and from the beginning, I want to introduce them to the church,” she said.
Boni attended the Friday night Francophone track and spent Saturday in the English track.
“This is a great opportunity to renew your faith and meet other Catholics. Jesus is present here. You can feel it,” she said. “This is just a magical event.”
Carlton Byrd was excited to attend his first Eucharistic Congress. The parishioner of Corpus Christi Church, in Stone Mountain, said that he’d been told how great the event was, and it more than met his expectations.
“I just love all the unity. I had no idea there were so many Catholics here. You really get to see the body of the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” Byrd said.
After speaking to someone at the event, Byrd said he walked away with a renewed encouragement to pray.
“I had no idea how powerful the rosary was. I bought a few books and I’m going to focus on praying the rosary more,” he said.
Rozlin Broome, who attends St. Peter Chanel Church, in Roswell, said one of the reasons she comes to the Eucharistic Congress every year is because she gets to experience her own culture.
“I’m half Colombian, but I don’t know much about my culture,” she said. “I love seeing all these passionate Hispanics who are passionate about their faith like I am.”
For Broome, the day is a way for her to experience her faith in a profound way.
“It always reminds me that my Church is more than my parish.”