By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 8, 2022
COLLEGE PARK—Families gathered at the Eucharistic Congress to celebrate how the hubbub and clamor around their tables and in living rooms are places to meet Jesus.
Called “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life,” the program uses Pope Francis’ expression of “a thousand small gestures” to grow families who are loving and holy.
Several hundred people attended the Family Track program on June 18 at the Georgia International Convention Center. Some 250 teens filled the neighboring arena. A spirit-filled Friday night was geared toward young adults. In all, the three events highlighted Catholic life, starting at infancy and extending through adulthood.
Two years of isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic disconnected people from the life of the church. The experience revealed how important community and intentional faith discipleship is for family life, parish life and neighborhoods, said Andrew Lichtenwalner, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship.
The programs, in addition to a focus on the Eucharist, reinforce how the faithful are “called to community and ultimately to communion with God in and through the church,” he said.
‘Revive’ renewed community
Young adults gathered at the Gateway Center Arena for the Revive Track Friday, June 17. They worshipped, prayed and enjoyed fellowship with each other in an atmosphere reminiscent of a concert or sporting event. Outside of the main gathering area near the stage, participants could grab a drink, play cornhole or hit the putting green. EPIC the Band provided music before and after activities, and the track keynote speaker was Michael “Gormer” Gormley.
While the fun and games were a point of attraction for the young adults, the chance to gather and focus on their faith was the biggest draw. Priests were on hand to hear confession, and the entire event began with 20 minutes of eucharistic adoration.
For many young adults, this was a chance to reconnect with the larger archdiocesan community.
Shannon Fitzgerald, 28, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, said the Eucharistic Congress is a chance to remember how many other young adults desire a deepening of their faith.
“I love coming because it’s just this feeling of community,” she said. “It’s like being with 1,000 of my best Catholic friends.”
Danielle Hajjar, who attends St. Ann Church in Marietta, said that she related to Gormley’s talk about putting away devices to be present with others.
“I think we all crave that intimacy of friendship, but we do things to avoid that,” she said. “He helped put things in perspective. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones to be able to spark those conversations with others.”
Those in their 20s and 30s know they have an important role in the church’s future. But many, like Gaby Morelos who attends Holy Spirit, believe they can be witnesses to their faith with the way they live their lives.
“It’s just your day-to-day interactions that matter,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be this huge vocal thing—it’s about how you treat people.”
Allen Austin, who leads Campus and Young Adult Ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said that Revive was a chance to bring together young people and renew the community and its spirit.
“We’re made for relationship. We are born into a familial relationship. That relationship images our God, who is a relationship of three persons. In our pilgrimage and journey here on earth, we’re not meant to do it alone, but in relationship—in community,” he said. “Our hope is to begin building a larger, Christ-centered, community here in Atlanta.”
Retreat experience opens eyes
Teens made the Gateway Center Arena their own on Saturday, June 18 when podcaster and national speaker Gormley returned to bring his vision of living Catholicism as a teenager to the crowds. Hailing from Miami, the five members of EPIC the Band, kept the arena upbeat.
Dressed in maroon T-shirts, 21 teens preparing for confirmation traveled about 40 miles from St. Augustine Church in Covington to spend the weekend as a confirmation retreat experience. “You’re not just part of something small, they saw they are part of something really big,” said Kasey Jordan, 42, the longtime high school faith formation director.
The group spent two days at the GICC. Their retreat began with a service project in collaboration with Starve Wars to feed the hungry by loading a truck full of donated canned goods for St. Vincent de Paul Georgia. They marched in the iconic opening procession. They celebrated with peers at the Teen Track, attended Masses and received the sacrament of reconciliation.
In Covington, the Catholic parish may seem isolated, but when the young people see the mix of ethnicities and languages at the congress, it opens their eyes and mind, she said.
“Our other hope was just that they can see and experience different aspects of worship they don’t normally have,” said Jordan, adding one of the students cried during Friday’s Mass because of the choir.
“It sounded like angels singing,” she said.
Family life as ‘outposts of grace’
Families want to be holy, but are not always given family-friendly tools. So, Dr. Greg Popcak and others set out to do that with “CatholicHom—Households on Missions.” The program combines Catholic spirituality and draws upon years of Popcak’s experience as a counselor to build a toolbox for family wellbeing.
More than 400 families participated in the Saturday program, led by Popcak and his wife, Lisa. A puppet show kicked off the sessions leading to adoration then oversized puzzles and games to highlight how parents, children and caregivers can together “work, play, talk and pray.”
Popcak, who began Catholic counseling in 1999, advocates for homes and families “to be domestic churches, outposts of grace” to transform the world. “They can use the stuff of everyday life as a path to growing in holiness,” he said.
That’s possible by looking at family life through what he called “The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life.” It is made up of three parts, each building off the three missions of baptism: priest, prophetic and king, said Popcak.
With the Rite of Christian Relationship, people heard simple ways to live God’s love, such as prioritizing scheduled family time.
“That can be a huge sacrifice, but it also leads to deeper, more meaningful connections in the home. That allows us to encounter Christ in our home because we’re choosing the better part, instead of being busy, focusing on being close and connected,” said Popcak.
The Rite of Family Rituals builds up an environment of “work, fun, relationships and faith.”
With the final Rite of Reaching Out, Pope Francis has emphasized how caring for others in the spirit of Jesus is a foundational part of a faith, whether to a sibling or a neighbor. To make the point, participants decorated a sash with reminders of how they could serve others.
Christina Burke, along with husband Rob, and their three young boys, attended the fourth and final presentation in the Family Track. The family worships at St. Stephen the Martyr Church in Lilburn.
The 45 minutes of activity kept the youngsters interested, with the puppets, prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament followed by games and arts and crafts. For Christina, the lesson was hopeful.
“It was reassuring to hear everyone is struggling” to pass on the faith, she said. Being attentive to the rhythms and needs of the family, she said, reminded her of the expression of St. Teresa of Kolkata, “to do little things with great love.”
Editor’s Note: Erika Anderson Redding contributed to this story.