By DANIELA MORENO, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 7, 2018
COLLEGE PARK—Rain and thunderstorms have been frightening metro Atlanta residents for several days, but not today. It was a beautiful Saturday morning in College Park as thousands of Catholics gathered at the Georgia International Convention Center to celebrate the 2018 Eucharistic Congress June 2.
Once again, the event started with an enthusiastic procession of the faithful where participants sang, danced, and worshipped with devotion.
Two ladies dressed in colorful costumes, from San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park, started talking and a short conversation took place.
“This is my sixth year dancing to the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Judith Zamora, who added, “This is a promise I made to the Virgin of Guadalupe because I asked her to heal my daughter and she responded to my prayers.”
The Blessed Mother first appeared as the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531. Zamora’s friend, Yadira, started talking about the origins of this dance tradition. They are both from Durango, in northwest Mexico, and Yadira said that when missionaries started teaching the new religion of Christianity, the only way the indigenous people had to communicate was through their dance, so they started dancing for the Virgin and still do so. Dance groups from several churches took part in the opening procession.
Following the procession and a time of adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the thousands of people at the congress dispersed toward various halls where speakers would meet the interests of different age groups and languages.
Jairo Martinez, director of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Diversity, welcomed the crowd to the Spanish track. He introduced master of ceremony Marcela Galindo, who volunteers at “Nuestra Fe,” a Spanish Catholic radio show affiliated with the archdiocese, and with the Spanish Cursillo movement. She welcomed the first speaker of the day, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta.
“Let Jesus in”
Bishop Shlesinger, 57, grew up in Virginia and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from Virginia Tech. After college, he was commissioned as an officer in the U. S. Air Force and became a pilot. He retired from active duty in 1990, when he began studies for the priesthood in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, receiving his degree in sacred theology in Rome, Italy. He has been a priest for 22 years. While serving as a parish priest in North Carolina, he worked on his Spanish-speaking abilities. He was pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Newton Grove and the administrator of Maria, Reina de las Americas Church in Mount Olive and two other missions. On May 15, 2017, Pope Francis appointed him auxiliary bishop of Atlanta.
He began by speaking of the mechanical problem that delayed the start of the Spanish track, when a wall dividing the halls at the convention center didn’t close properly.
“I understand we had some issues with the wall, but let’s make sure we do not place walls in our hearts so we can let Jesus in,” he said with a sweet Spanish accent, and the audience clapped profusely.
He started talking about the approaching Fourth of July holiday and how Independence Day is celebrated in the United States. He explained that Americans wanted their freedom and independence from the British monarchy because they didn’t want to be ruled by a king.
At first the audience didn’t know exactly where the bishop was taking them, but he immediately made the connection.
“However, we all have a heavenly King and we need to understand that we depend upon him,” Bishop Shlesinger said. “We don’t want to be spiritually independent. Our dependence on Jesus Christ is real, and we need to trust in Jesus Christ. Who do we trust the most, ourselves or Jesus our shepherd?”
He assured them that whatever their mission was in life, they needed to trust Jesus; they needed to believe that the Lord could accomplish miracles through them, but if they did not ask for strength, courage and God’s advice, they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much.
He asked the crowd to join him in praying the Our Father in Spanish.
A break with music brought forward a new music ministry for the Spanish track. It was created this year after an invitation was sent to all parishes and their musicians to participate. A group was prepared musically and spiritually to participate in this congress, directed by Julian Romero. Soon after they started playing, people began dancing and singing with such enthusiasm that you would think this was their first time participating in this event. What could make them feel such happiness? Only God’s love can explain it.
Praying against demons
The second speaker, Jesse Romero, holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles and a master’s degree in Catholic theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He spends his time teaching, speaking, writing, giving Catholic Bible studies and leading conferences, missions and retreats relating to the Catholic faith. Jesse and his wife, Anita, are the parents of three children.
He started his speech saying that he fell in love with Jesus while working as a policeman. After some time working on the streets, he discovered that the only way to solve society’s problems was through Jesus Christ.
“I want you to leave this room having more faith; that is my mission today,” he said.
He said an unacknowledged problem in the church is how people take part in occult practices and become influenced by evil, often without realizing the spiritual danger in which they have placed themselves.
“Catholics, especially Latinos, who don’t know what faith is, tend to look for other sources to fill their empty souls. That’s when they start visiting palm readers, witches, conjurors and others, even paying large amounts of money,” Romero said. “They don’t realize that those places are filled with negative spirits. When people leave those places, they are contaminated and contaminate others around them. This is a big problem within the Catholic Church, and people don’t like to talk about it.”
He gave specific examples of how evil can destroy people’s lives but also how the Blessed Sacrament is able to heal and cure the perturbed souls when there is authentic remorse. Ten years ago he asked a Catholic priest who performed exorcisms if there was a prayer that could protect people from demonic influences. The priest’s advice was to pray two daily prayers, the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and Psalm 91.
Six love phrases
When Galindo announced the next speaker, it seemed like she was presenting a celebrity, and for Mexicans, he certainly is.
Father Ángel Espinosa de los Monteros was born in Puebla, Mexico, in 1966. He completed philosophy studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and theology studies at the Ateneo Regina Apostolorum, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in moral theology, specializing in bioethics. He holds a master’s degree in classical humanities from the Humanistic Studies Institute of Salamanca, Spain. He has presented conferences on marriage and family values in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Italy, France and the United States. He published the book, “The Ring Is Forever,” which has been translated into several languages. His talks have been widely disseminated through CD collections and he has led conferences on marriage, family values and spirituality in Europe and America. He currently works in Rome as a family consultant and with adult faith formation.
“I am not here to teach you anything but to reflect on a few things, so we can all self-examine our conscience,” Father Espinosa said. “You know the saying ‘it is by talking that people understand each other?’ Well, I think it should say ‘it is by loving that people understand each other.’”
His speech focused on married couples, and he made the audience laugh throughout his speech.
He emphasized the importance of giving some ground in a relationship and tried to define love with six phrases.
The first was “Love is craziness, unless you love like crazy.” He said with a smile, “If you don’t love like crazy, then love could be real madness,” and he gave some examples that made the crowd laugh hysterically.
The second was “Love is to love yourself.” Again, with a smile he said, “Do not do anything today that in the future could be against your happiness, your health.”
The third was “Being in love doesn’t mean you love.”
“Being in love is just a stage that only lasts a year and a half,” Father Espinosa said. “If a couple asks me to marry them, I always ask them for how long they have been dating. If it is less than a year and a half, I usually tell them that I won’t marry them because they are still in the ‘in love’ stage. A married couple that perseveres for 50 years, that’s not being in love. That is love.”
Fourth was “Love is not always a feeling.”
“Never go to bed without saying to your spouse that you love her or him, even if you don’t feel like saying it. Make it a ritual,” Father Espinosa said.
Fifth was “Love is overcoming everything.”
Acting out a conversation, he said, “But Father, what do you mean by ‘everything’? I mean everything. … If your wife cheated on you with another man, you have to forgive her and overcome the situation. … If your husband cheated on you with another woman, then you have to forgive him and overcome the situation.”
Sixth was “Love is a constant conquering.”
“No one conquers anything forever. You need to constantly conquer, every day of your life. Do not take for granted what you have achieved already. You need to keep taking care of your spouse if you want to keep the flame on. When you leave today, I want you to look at your spouse in the eye and tell her or him that you love her or him deeply. That’s your homework for today,” Father Espinosa said.
He ended his speech by asking, “Did you know that when you love you also suffer? Yes, those dreams you had as a teenager may not become reality, you may love your spouse more than he or she loves you, and that hurts, but that is also love.”
“Act like Christ, live like Christ”
Following this talk, Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, brought the Blessed Sacrament into the Spanish track to provide a time of adoration and blessing. The recently ordained bishop also told the people that he would soon start visiting parishes and missions in order to get to know them better.
The final speaker, Father Pedro Núñez, of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, is one of the most well-known Catholic preachers in the Spanish-speaking world. He was born in Havana, Cuba, and immigrated to the United States in 1962. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1977. Father Núñez is the director of “Mensaje,” a ministry of the New Orleans archdiocesan Office of Communications. He is also the host of the weekly TV program, “Conozca Primero su Fe Católica” (“Know Your Catholic Faith First”) which is aired to more than 85 million households in 110 countries and 16 territories on the Catholic television network EWTN. Father Núñez also conducts the radio program “A Solas con Jesús” (“Alone with Jesus”) aired through Radio Católica Mundial. He is the author of several books and travels frequently throughout Latin America and the United States spreading the word of the Lord.
“How many things in our lives take God’s place?” he asked the audience.
“When we move away from God, that’s when we feel empty. We, like salmon, swim against the tide; we swim against God’s plan.”
“Difficult times have a reason. God has a better plan for you and for me, but we need to have faith, the certainty that we can always overcome the most difficult situations. When we have faith, we believe without seeing,” he said.
Father Núñez spoke with much passion, and the audience responded with the same passion to every “Amen.”
He then talked about the immense love of God who sent his Son so men and women could live a different life, a better life, a saintly life. He asked the audience, “How many of you would be willing to give your son’s life to save your enemies? No one would, but God did it for us.”
Then, he talked about the precious gift Jesus gave mankind, the Eucharist.
For Father Núñez being a Christian is a responsibility.
“Real Christians act like Christ, love like Christ, and live like Christ. If we are not like Christ, we shouldn’t be called Christians. And like Christ, we do not always get what we thought we would get in life,” he said.
“When I was young, I wanted three things, a wife, 12 children, and a lot of money. Today, I don’t have a wife, but I married the church. I don’t have 12 children, but I have all of you. I don’t have money, but I have the most beautiful treasure in my heart, Jesus Christ.”
People applauded enthusiastically, and some even cried. When he left the stage, people followed him to the back of the exhibit hall.
Music started playing, and people sang and danced as they did before. The event was almost over; the atmosphere was filled with happiness, love and the presence of God. It was indeed a beautiful Saturday in College Park.