By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 4, 2017 | En Español
COLLEGE PARK—The Eucharistic Congress of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, an opportunity for Catholics in the Southeast to gather for prayer, adoration, Mass and faith programs, will be held June 16-17 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.
The theme of the 22nd annual event is from chapter 24, verse 15, of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Traditionally held on the weekend of the Corpus Christi feast day, the congress has grown from a parish-sized event to one that annually draws 30,000 people. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Luis R. Zarama will host the congress, which includes speakers and tracks in English, Spanish, American Sign Language, French and Vietnamese.
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSsR, of Newark, New Jersey, will be the homilist at the morning Benediction on Saturday, June 17.
A track for young adults will be offered on Friday evening, June 16, and one for children on Saturday, June 17. A new offering this year is a middle school track for youth in sixth through eighth grades on June 17.
Since its beginning in 1996, the congress has had a dual purpose: first, to honor and strengthen belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, which is vital to the Catholic faith; and second, to pray for all vocations so the church can minister in the world and spread the Gospel.
The theme for 2017 reflects those priorities.
“The archbishop selects the theme each year,” said Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese, who leads the congress planning committee.
“The vision this year was again focusing on vocations. There are so many ways that we are called to be disciples, but it must start in the family and so that was the inspiration,” he said.
Service project is kickoff event
For the second year in a row, a service project addressing hunger, Starve Wars, will precede the official opening of the congress. Starve Wars is a combined effort of the archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Ministries, Catholic Relief Services and Helping Hands. During two morning sessions on Friday, June 16, volunteers of all ages are invited to help pack 100,000 meals for people in the developing African nation of Burkina Faso. A total of 650 volunteers is needed at the GICC in the sessions from 9 to 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Also $25,000 is being raised to purchase the meals. The theme is families helping families.
Initiated last year, Starve Wars inspired many people who saw it as a sign of the body of Christ in action and as a practical expression of the spiritual food of the Eucharist.
The activity at the convention center then turns to the diverse events of the congress, as the doors to the exhibitor hall, with dozens of vendors displaying wares and services, open at 4:30 p.m.
With the opening Mass celebrated at 6:30 p.m. by Father Neil Dhabliwala, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw, the 2017 congress will be underway.
That evening of June 16 then offers the opportunity for people to take part in a healing service after Mass or to seek out the sacrament of reconciliation offered by priests of the archdiocese.
In other meeting rooms of the facility, the young adult track will be held and a program for French-speaking people will be offered.
The healing service will be led by Father Michael Silloway, chaplain at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, from 8 to 10:30 p.m.
The “Revive!” track, for young adults ages 18 to 40, will be held from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at the adjacent Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway Hotel. Speakers include Dom Quaglia, director of XLT Atlanta, and Evan Lemoine, international speaker on theology of the body, courtship and marriage and co-founder with his wife of Amar al Máximo Institute. Musicians Greg Ferrara and Geneva Tigue, who are worship leaders, singers and songwriters, will provide the music.
The Francophone track will be held from 8 to 10:30 p.m. Father Leon N’Zi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, West Africa, will be the leader. Active in the charismatic renewal for over 25 years, he is a frequent speaker at evangelization rallies worldwide and spoke at the Eucharistic Congress in 2015.
Saturday begins with vibrant procession
On Saturday morning, June 17, the Eucharistic procession, a beautiful reflection of the diversity of the local church in north and middle Georgia, begins at 8:30 a.m. School groups, first communicants, parishes and ministries gather outside and process into the main hall with colorful banners, ethnic dress and many musical instruments of different cultures. Archbishop Gregory bears the monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament into the hall, the unifying center of this large and multicultural faith community and the apex of the procession.
This is Deacon Dorner’s favorite part of the congress.
“There is nothing I have ever experienced that is quite like it,” he said.
“To feel one with so many who are so excited about Jesus entering the room,” he said. “I love that visual.”
The Benediction service begins at 10 a.m. led by Archbishop Gregory, with Cardinal Tobin as homilist.
Cardinal Tobin, a native of Detroit, has been a member of the Redemptorist congregation since 1973 and has served in many roles from pastor to superior general in Rome, Italy. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to serve as head of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. He was named archbishop of Indianapolis by the pope in 2012. Pope Francis elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 2016 and subsequently asked him to serve as the sixth archbishop of Newark.
Following the Benediction service, the crowd then disperses to one or more tracks, choosing from the wide range of language and age-based offerings.
New middle school track debuts
This year a new aspect will be the specially designed program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for middle-schoolers.
The inaugural middle school track will be a “high-energy” program, said Katherine Angulo, associate director of youth ministry for the archdiocese.
“The reality is nationwide there are not that many activities for middle-schoolers,” she said.
The program will be in keeping with the congress theme and will feature Joe Melendrez, a hip-hop musician who shares faith through songs, icebreakers, testimony and prayer. His scripturally focused lyrics inspire prayer, energize listeners and draw them deeper into knowing and loving God.
“It’s like a zumba class,” said Angulo. “The message is 100 percent Catholic. When you move and sing, you learn more.”
The track will provide an opening for young people to be “in community” with their peers, she said. To attend the middle school track, individuals must register via their parish youth group, who will bring them as a group.
Doug Tooke of Monarch Catholic Ministries will also be a middle school program presenter. Tooke is an interactive speaker who combines stories and humor with Scripture and testimony. The program is designed to be uplifting and encouraging to youth, inspiring them to be heroes.
“Middle school is a hard age,” said Angulo.
To participate, middle school youth should register with their parish youth ministers by June 1. The track is free. Angulo said each participant will receive a T-shirt and lunch.
Archbishop Gregory will visit the middle school youth for adoration to explain how to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. The middle school groups can ask questions about adoration.
Angulo said she loves to watch students’ eyes light up when something about the faith clicks with them, or they learn something new.
“That’s a look the church needs to see more often,” she said.
Saint’s daughter among speakers
The track for children will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for children ages 5 to 10, whose parents are attending the congress. The program will be held this year at the Marriott Gateway Hotel. Space is limited, and online advance registration at the congress website is required so enough volunteers are assured to serve this track.
The English language track will offer a series of talks between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
English track speakers include: Brandon Vogt, content director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries; Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, known worldwide as “The Dynamic Deacon”; Dr. Gianna Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician canonized in 2004 and considered a patron saint of the unborn; Father Larry Richards, founder of the Reason for Our Hope Foundation; Father Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, director of evangelization for the Congregation of Marian Fathers and author of books on Marian consecration and divine mercy; and Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, OP, of the St. Cecilia Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tennessee.
The Spanish and Vietnamese language tracks will run concurrently. Spanish language presenters will be Evan Lemoine, Fernanda Gomez and Father Jacques Fabre. Lemoine is a recognized speaker internationally on the theology of the body, courtship, marriage and sexuality. Gomez is an instructor in the Natural Family Planning method. Father Fabre is administrator of San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park.
Deaf priest to lead ASL track
Bishop Joseph Tri Ngoc Chau, bishop of the Diocese of Lang Son, Vietnam, is keynote speaker for the Vietnamese program.
Father Paul Zirimenya, presenter for the American Sign Language track, is chaplain to the deaf community at St. Benedict Parish for the Deaf/St. Francis Xavier Church in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He is a native Ugandan and is deaf.
The American Sign Language program is from 11:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
On Saturday, the sacrament of reconciliation will be available from 12 to 3:30 p.m. outside the east and south ballrooms of the GICC.
The adoration chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed will be open throughout the day for silent prayer and worship.
The exhibit hall will also be open throughout the day.
As language and age-group tracks conclude and the faith community re-gathers in one large hall, the rosary will be prayed prior to the closing Mass. Archbishop Gregory will then celebrate the vigil Mass for the solemnity of Corpus Christi at 5 p.m. and the 2017 congress will conclude.
Deacon Dorner said there are many good reasons to attend the congress.
“If you are feeling alone, coming together with 30,000 believers is a wonderful way to participate in a community of like-minded followers of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“I have heard many people refer to the weekend as a spiritual battery charge,” the deacon said. “We are inspired by music and liturgy and beautiful talks to engage and encounter Jesus in a more vibrant way.”
Sponsors of the Eucharistic Congress
Track Sponsor: Catholic Foundation of North Georgia
Contributing Sponsors: Compass Catholic Ministries; EWTN
Sustaining Sponsors: Knights of Columbus Georgia State Council; Catholic TV; Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, Atlanta Inter-City; Georgia United Credit Union
Leading Sponsor: Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home
In-Kind Sponsors: J.S. Paluch; Liturgical Publications; Diocesan Publications