By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published July 11, 2019
COLLEGE PARK— Catholics from the Atlanta Archdiocese and surrounding areas gathered for the opening of the 24th annual Eucharistic Congress on Friday, June 21 at the Georgia International Convention Center.
“God bless you all and thank you for being here,” said Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and committee chair for the annual event.
“I hope that you all have a richly rewarding weekend here at the Eucharistic Congress,” said Deacon Dorner.
Thousands gather for this annual event to celebrate the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Congress began with the fourth episode of Starve Wars, where volunteers packed meals for those living in Burkina Faso in Africa.
Friday events also included the opening Mass, a healing service, the Revive track for young adults and a Francophone track. Attendees were able to visit the exhibitor’s hall to purchase Catholic books and gifts, and learn more about other programs within the archdiocese. In addition, confessions and adoration were available Friday evening.
A gift of encounter
Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III celebrated Friday night’s opening Mass. He welcomed guests and noted the feast day of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit priest and patron saint of youth.
Concelebrants of the Mass included Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, the diocesan administrator for the Archdiocese of Atlanta; Bishop Guy Sansaricq, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Brooklyn in New York and speaker for the Francophone track, and Archbishop Joseph Linh Chi Nguyen from the Archdiocese of Hue, Vietnam, speaker for the Vietnamese track on Saturday.
The Mass was a celebration of various cultures in the archdiocese. The choir from Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur provided upbeat musical selections. Readings and prayer intentions were in various languages.
During his homily, Father Dennis Dorner, parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, described the Congress as a “gathering of hearts.” The Eucharistic Congress is “an opportunity to learn, and to grow, to be changed,” said Father Dorner.
He explained that even though we like to be surrounded by people similar to us, we must reach out to people who are different and let our preconceptions go.
“The Gospel always is to make us aware of the beauty in diversity and the opportunity for conversion with every person that we meet, particularly the encounters that we have with the stranger, the marginalized, the poor,” said Father Dorner.
We do not learn anything new from people that are exactly like us, Father Dorner explained.
“It is through the stranger that we come to a new awareness … we grow in sympathy and understanding” that leads to a mutual conversion, he said.
“Allow this weekend to be a gift of encounter,” encouraged Father Dorner. “Encountering the love of God through the Eucharist itself—to grow in understanding by meeting new people, to understand where people are and to change ourselves by allowing ourselves to have a greater love every day,” he said.
At the end of Mass, Bishop Shlesinger provided a quote from St. Aloysius Gonzaga for reflection—“It is better to be a child of God than king of the whole world,” he said.
‘Open your heart to the Lord’
A healing service immediately followed the opening Mass. This year’s service was led by Father Carlos Vargas, pastor of Good Samaritan Church in Ellijay and Father Michael Silloway, pastor of Christ Our King and Savior Church in Greensboro.
“I invite you in the silence of your heart to please worship Jesus,” said Father Vargas.
Greg Ferrara and Geneva Tigue, led the praise and worship music.
“The Lord is inviting us tonight to a profound, new level of trust,” said Father Silloway, who reflected on this year’s congress theme, “This is my body given up for you,” from Luke 22:19.
Father Silloway explained that many of us give at a level of sacrifice, such as parents, soldiers, priests and couples that exchange wedding vows. It is a “mutual entrustment,” he said.
“I want to encourage you to open your heart to the Lord in trust,” said Father Silloway. “So that you can say right back to the Lord as he is saying to you today, ‘Lord, this is my body, and I’m giving it back to you tonight.’”
Teams of volunteers prayed with those in need of spiritual or physical healing at the service.
Bishop Sansaricq, the only Haitian-American bishop in the U.S., led this year’s Francophone track in the adjacent Marriott Gateway Hotel. Bishop Sansaricq led a call and response in French, and the music created an atmosphere of praise. During his talk, laughter filled the room. People fell to their knees in prayer for adoration.
The dangers of distraction
Hundreds of young adults attended the Revive! young adult track at the Marriott Gateway on Friday. Patrick Williams & Renew Band led praise and worship for the evening. An evening social followed adoration.
This year’s talk was led by Father Michael “Mike” Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota and chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
He invited young adults to reflect on how distraction hinders their relationships with God and the people in their lives.
“We live in the shallows too much. It changes us and gives us the inability to actually focus, to be present, to get things done,” said Father Schmitz.
After many examples of how distractions affect our lives, Father Schmitz talked about the importance of being present to one another.
“The ability to be present to someone is a super power,” the priest continued. “You could actually change someone’s life. We can be present to anybody, as long as we don’t give into that temptation to simply be distracted,” he said.
When we live in the past or the future, we are hindering our ability to find God, and for God to find us, he explained.
“I can only find God here, and I can only find God now,” said Father Schmitz.
The priest provided suggestions for how to be present to others and to God.
“If we ask, offer and accept, every moment would be a sacrament,” he said. “Every moment becomes an act of trust. Every moment is an act of faith.”