2004 Eucharistic Congress Will Be Faith Celebration
Published: May 6, 2004
ATLANTA—Believing that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of our faith,” Catholics will gather by the thousands from across North Georgia on June 12 to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi together.
The 2004 Eucharistic Congress will bring a wealth of national speakers to the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park to stir up the faith of the Catholic community and to gather the community together to worship Jesus.
This year’s theme, “To Live in Christ Jesus,” is also the episcopal motto of Archbishop John F. Donoghue, and 2004 marks the tenth anniversary of the opening of the first perpetual adoration chapel in the archdiocese at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Establishing the perpetual adoration chapel was Archbishop Donoghue’s first desire when he was installed as archbishop of Atlanta, and after it was opened under the direction of Cathedral parishioner Keri Allen, he went on to call for a Eucharistic Renewal in the archdiocese, which he placed in the hands of a group guided by Allen, the evangelization director at the Cathedral.
The Eucharistic Congresses held each June have flowed from that renewal and grown year by year. In recent years, more than 15,000 people have attended the Congress, which is free and open to the public.
The opening eucharistic procession and the closing vigil Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi will provide a dramatic and worship-filled framework for the day.
Father Tom Hennessy, pastor of St. Patrick Church, Norcross, is coordinating the eucharistic procession, a reverent tapestry of people and colorful handmade banners showing the diversity of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese, who walk solemnly behind the celebrant holding the monstrance with the Eucharist. Priests, deacons and Religious, and children dressed in their first Communion finery, also take part in the procession, which begins outside and then proceeds into the convention center to open the Congress.
A procession, in Catholic tradition, has always been a way for people to show their faith publicly and to show their unity with one another and with Jesus as Lord, Father Hennessy said.
“We are walking with our Lord,” he said, “and we’re walking with our families and our friends, with our neighbors, with our whole diocese. It is very powerful.”
When Jesus lived his public ministry, he was often followed by his disciples and by thousands of people eager to hear his words.
This opening procession “calls to mind the great action of Jesus’ life,” Father Hennessy said. “It is a great beginning and a great way to grow deeper in our faith.”
Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah will carry the Eucharist in the procession and will give the homily at the morning service of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, N.J., will be the homilist at the closing Mass. Archbishop Donoghue will welcome the gathering and close the Congress.
Following the exposition service, a general track, and parallel separate tracks for Hispanics, for Vietnamese and for teens, will offer nationally known speakers, including other visiting bishops, to deepen participants’ knowledge of Catholic teaching and to inspire those attending to make a more profound commitment to living their faith.
In an exhibit area that will be open from 8 a.m. until the closing Mass begins, over 80 Catholic vendors and ministries will be represented. This area will have Catholic books, publications, tapes and CDs, and St. Joseph Communications will sell tapes of Congress speakers who permit their talks to be recorded and distributed.
A special 2004 Eucharistic Congress KidTrack will give children in kindergarten through fifth grade a high-energy experience with an underlying message of love for Christ.
The night before the Congress, “REVIVE!” a young adult track with music and speakers, will be offered for those 19 to 40 years old, married and single, at the convention center from 8-11 p.m.
A video in English or Spanish describing the day is being sent to parishes to show what the Congress is like and to encourage people to come.
“The Eucharist is the center of our whole faith. It is the greatest gift God has left us,” Father Hennessy said. “The Eucharistic Congress is a way to become aware of that, of the incredible gift that the Eucharist is. It is a way also to help others understand that, to help those who need to grow deeper in their love of our Lord in the Eucharist.”
In directing the archdiocese to reflect on the Eucharist, Archbishop Donoghue is echoing the direction of Pope John Paul II, the pastor said.
“The Holy Father is promoting the love of the Eucharist and the need to secure our understanding of the Eucharist at all times,” Father Hennessy said.
All in all, the Eucharistic Congress is a “day of grace” for all those who come, whether active Catholics, those considering becoming Catholic, or those who serve the church throughout the year and need spiritual replenishment, said Father Frank McNamee.
“The Congress is really a day of renewal. It is a day of reaffirming our belief in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and it is a tremendous celebration of one’s faith,” said the pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell.
Moved by the long lines of people who came to the sacrament of reconciliation at past Congresses and aware of how the event has impacted his parishioners, Father McNamee said this is a “day of grace” for everyone who comes, “even for the priests, to see this tremendous witness of the faith of the archdiocese.”
“For those that may be considering becoming Catholic, the Eucharistic Congress has been a great help in discerning their decision to become Catholic,” he said, while for active Catholics, “it is a tremendous renewal.”
St. Peter Chanel, a parish of 1,600 families, has had a perpetual adoration chapel for about two and a half years and “I can testify,” the pastor said, “that the miracles and the conversions in people’s lives have been amazing.”
He said many of the 900 people at the parish who give an hour a week to prayer in the adoration chapel plan on attending the Eucharistic Congress and the parish will arrange for buses to bring parishioners.
“If we offer it to people, they will come,” he said. “As priests, we are doing a major disservice to our people in not encouraging them to attend the Eucharistic Congress.”
“I am just looking forward to being able to be there for the procession and the Mass and to enjoy the speakers throughout the day.”
Father Joe Corbett, pastor of St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, said that the Congress helps people to live out their vocation, whatever that call is.
“Our central vocation as a Catholic or Christian single, married or ordained person is a call to holiness and to service. As parishioners in the Archdiocese of Atlanta we are very fortunate, we are blessed, to have an event such as the annual Eucharistic Congress to spiritually assist us to answer that vocational calling,” he said. “As in past years, this year’s June 12 Eucharistic Congress will provide a wonderful opportunity for us to experience the richness of the church of Georgia.”
“When we gather, we will do so to proclaim in a most public way our faith, which we have received from our parents and teachers and which we now profess and, as a result, will hand on to those who come after us. Through the various events of the day—music, talks, presentations and of course participation in the Mass—we will experience God’s presence in our day, in our city, in our state and in our daily life. This is why for weeks now I have been encouraging parishioners to save the date to take the opportunity to be enriched at this year’s Congress and will continue to do so especially in these next weeks.”
In light of world events, this year men and women who serve in the military at home and abroad will be remembered by name and in prayer at the Congress, Father Corbett said.
Each parish is invited to provide the names of men and women serving in the military from the parish or affiliated with parishioners’ families. They will be written in a Book of Names that will be placed in the perpetual adoration chapel during the Congress and also carried up in the offertory procession at the closing Mass. A prayer candle lighted by Archbishop Donoghue in honor of them will also be taken to the adoration chapel the morning of the Congress and placed near the monstrance and then carried back to the main hall for the offertory procession of the closing Mass. During the day the names of the servicemen and women will be seen on projection screens. After the Congress, the Book of Names will be placed in one of the archdiocese’s perpetual adoration chapels.
The presentation of names on screens and monitors throughout the center “will give honor to these fine men and women,” Father Corbett said. Details will be announced shortly on how to submit the names of loved ones. Archbishop Donoghue will offer Mass that day for their safety.
“We cannot gather for the Congress without remembering in a most profound way those serving our country at this time and in the past. These wonderful men and women are there for us 24/7 and a day like June 12 is a wonderful opportunity to gather and publicly reinforce the fact that as the body of Christ we are also there for them. It will be a time of prayer and remembrance for these fine men and women,” Father Corbett said.
“A highlight of the day for parishioners has always been the visit to the adoration chapel,” he added, “so this year we hope that during the day thousands of prayers will be offered up for the servicemen and women.”
Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez, administrator of San Felipe de Jesus Mission, Forest Park, serves on the committee planning the Hispanic track and is hoping for the largest turnout yet from the Hispanic community. The Eucharistic Congress is being advertised in Spanish newspapers and radio stations and a video is being sent to parishes in which the archbishop, Father Duvan and other Hispanic priests and lay leaders describe the event. All Spanish groups are encouraged to come early, bring their banners to participate in the eucharistic procession, and bring children who are making their first Communion this year, who are given a special role in the procession.
He has already found a lot of excitement among Hispanic Catholics regarding the Congress, where speakers in the Hispanic track will include Miami Auxiliary Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez, a native of Cuba, and Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jose H. Gomez, a native of Mexico.
“All the people are asking, what is happening, who is coming, what day will the Eucharistic Congress be?” he said. “We know (the auxiliary bishops) have good information about the Eucharist. For this reason I think that those who attend will have the opportunity to learn more about the Eucharist. Especially, this Congress gives us the opportunity to be together as one community of faith. It’s the only event of the year that brings everybody together and because of that it’s important to participate.”
A special Hispanic choir, El Coro del Congreso Eucarístico de 2004, made up of 16 people representing 10 parishes, has been practicing for three months.
At San Felipe de Jesus Mission, Father Duvan said they are praying for the event and young people are preparing songs on the Eucharist and other activities to encourage people to attend. He plans to bring over 100 children making their first Communion.
Last year he brought 200 parishioners, but “this year we are going to bring 400.” Members plan to caravan from the church to the convention center in cars decorated with Scripture verses and the parish banner.
He spoke on the value of having a special track for Hispanics, which “gives us the opportunity to attend to the Hispanic community in its own language.”
“As a priest I feel very happy to participate in this Congress because the church can be seen united, (as) one community celebrating together,” he said. “And I give thanks that the archdiocese, while we are united as one, understands the diversity of cultures. It is the message, the invitation that the archdiocese has been giving us for years, to attend to each community according to its culture. (It is) called unity in diversity.”
Music has been an uplifting aspect of the Eucharistic Congress each year. The music for the opening procession will be directed by Ed Bolduc of St. Ann Church, Marietta. The music for the closing Mass will be led by Rhett Barnwell, director of music at St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, with a 60-voice combined choir from St. Brigid Church and St. Andrew Church, Roswell, where Linda Morgan is choir director. Margaret Guerrein, organist at St. Andrew, will play for the closing Mass and Morgan will assist in choir direction. Accompaniment will include a brass quartet and harp.
“We would like to make this Mass a very sacred experience above all and we would like the music to reflect that,” Barnwell said. “We are trying to get a deep sense of reverence, of holy awe.”
The music will reflect the universality of the Catholic Church, he said, by drawing from the church’s traditional music and from Latin texts that transcend any single culture or language. Selections will include “Ave Verum Corpus” by Mozart, “Gift of Finest Wheat” and Thomas Aquinas’ hymn “Adoro Te Devote.” Barnwell, a composer of sacred music for harp and voice, who has served at St. Brigid for several years and previously at Stella Maris Catholic Church on Sullivan’s Island, S.C., said coming to last year’s Eucharistic Congress was very moving.
“I thought it was a very, very profound experience to see so many people from so many backgrounds all living in the Atlanta area and all coming from a Catholic background,” he said. “Seeing everybody walk in, the sense of reverence, awe and worship by 20,000 people was really kind of an overwhelming thing.”
Arlene Gannon, a member of the planning committee and one of the founders of Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, looks upon the Congress as a great event and opportunity for families.
“It just seems to me that family life is challenging today,” Gannon said. “This is the opportunity that the archbishop gives us for families to come together and show the world that we believe in Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, that the Eucharist is truly Jesus Christ.”
“We’ve got to help our families live the truth. To me, this is all part of what we have in the Eucharist. This is the central theme of our Catholic faith—to feed on the Bread of Life. He is the Bread of Life.”
Gannon is assisting parishes in promoting the Congress by working with individual parish coordinators and by coordinating the ordering of Congress T-shirts to be worn on the day of the Congress with the logo of the Congress and the name of the individual parish. Pastors are encouraged to select someone to serve as a parish coordinator and Gannon will work with them in obtaining T-shirts or in other ways of promoting attendance at the Congress. Anyone in a parish who might be willing to serve as a parish coordinator should contact their pastor and let them know that they are willing to help, Gannon said.
She believes that the gift of the Eucharist given to Catholics requires a generous response. The Catholic belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist contains so much mystery and such depth that “for us to believe this is truly a grace from God,” she said.
“But knowing that we have received this grace, we have to act accordingly. We have to help the archbishop. We have to help our families. We have to see that this day is celebrated with enthusiasm. We have to fill this convention center with believers.”