By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published July 7, 2022
COLLEGE PARK—Kicking off a weekend that many had anticipated for two years, the Friday evening events of the 25th Eucharistic Congress drew a crowd who couldn’t wait to get started.
The June 17 evening schedule at the Georgia International Convention Center included an opening Mass, Healing Service, the annual Revive Young Adult Track and the Francophone Track. Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., began by welcoming attendees to the Eucharistic Congress and speaking of the importance of being back together.
During the weekend, attendees would have a chance to experience Christ in numerous ways, including adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation, he said.
“I hope you’ll have time to rest in Jesus so you can go out in the world—refreshed and renewed,” said Archbishop Hartmayer
The opening Mass
Celebrated by Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, along with Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, and dozens of concelebrating priests, the opening Mass of the Eucharistic Congress highlighted the international and universal church with music and liturgy offered in several languages.
Father Dennis Dorner, parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, served as the homilist for the opening Mass.
“This weekend is particularly special because we have a Congress—a gathering,” he said, which is a central theme to the theology of Christ. “When we think about what is it that Jesus does, Jesus gathers. In fact, every single one of the times we hear about Jesus in Scripture, people are surrounding that profound love. People are coming to be a part of something that is so big that it can’t possibly be captured in one hour, let alone an entire weekend. It takes a lifetime for us to come to an understanding of what the Eucharist is truly about.”
For 25 years, the Congress has brought together attendees to celebrate the Body, Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.
“And it’s an encounter that should change every one of us,” he said. “This weekend I want us to be aware of how we have touchpoints with Christ in a variety of different ways.”
Throughout Scripture, Father Dorner said, people are transformed by encounters with Christ. It begins with the Magi, who left the Nativity forever changed because of meeting the newborn Jesus. For Catholics, we meet Christ in the sacraments. And each meeting is a chance to renew our relationship with him and to go out into the world the way we are called.
“We may be the only love of Christ that someone ever experiences,” he said.
The Eucharist, he said, is the most substantial food that we have—and a nourishment for our journeys.
“We come to this table each and every week so that we may be transformed in love, so that we will allow ourselves the gift of life that comes from that food, and that helps us recognize that when people are at their worst, that they need love,” said Father Dorner.
God’s love is a sacrificial gift to us that should bring us all together.
“May we never let ourselves become a barrier between Christ and others, but may we seek to be healing unifiers of people,” he said.
A service of healing
While attendees made their way to various tracks, Father Tim Hepburn, accompanied by the music of Kate Curran from the Cathedral of Christ the King, led attendees in a healing service. In the large exhibit hall, prayer teams gathered in small groups to pray for and over those attending.
Father Hepburn, pastor of St. Michael Church in Gainesville, spoke to the congregation in English and Spanish. He encouraged people to seek healing for any ailments, including fear and anxiety, and spoke of a priest who leads healing services for tens of thousands of people who said that anxiety is the greatest sickness of our time.
“We pray for all those who have fear and anxiety,” he said, encouraging those who struggle to stand if they were comfortable. “Remember that you belong to God—may Jesus heal you tonight of that fear. We are all afraid, but our God is the God of peace.”
As people made their way to the prayer teams stationed throughout the room, Father Hepburn also prayed for those who struggle with sin.
“I believe some of you have become discouraged because you sin too much. You want to stop but you can’t. You know what? Jesus doesn’t expect you to stop with only your efforts He gives you the strength to set you free from sin,” he said. “In place of sin, the Lord is going to place his love, his truth, his word and his peace in your heart.”
Nichole Copley, who entered the Catholic Church during the midst of the pandemic, was excited to be attending her first Congress. The parishioner of St. James the Apostle Church, McDonough, said she’d heard about the event for years and had looked forward to coming.
“Just seeing so many Catholics in one place is really cool—all the Religious walking around and the different nationalities,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
Copley attended with her friends from St. James, who were excited to be back.
“There is just a special presence of Jesus here. I love the speakers, and the healing service always gets me,” Joanne Senger said. “Just being here, you realize how much you missed it these past two years.”
Anna Cheverin also missed attending.
“You really feel the peace and healing as soon as you walk in the building.”
Sussana Eze, a parishioner of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, said she has been longing to return to the Congress.
“If you saw how full and joyful my heart is right now,” she said. “For two years we have not been able to come together to receive this blessing. I’m just very inspired to be here and be with Jesus and the Blessed Mother because they are the foundation of our lives.”