General Track Speaker: ‘We Are A Eucharistic People’
Published: June 10, 2010
COLLEGE PARK—The disparate crowd, numbering in the thousands, flowed continuously in, out, and around the largest hall at the Georgia International Convention Center, while the speakers in the General Track of the 2010 Eucharistic Congress taught and preached throughout the day. Despite the movement, the people listened intently, with little extraneous noise in the cavernous space, responding at times to the talks and exhortations with laughter, thoughtful silence, enthusiastic responses, applause and standing ovations. The six speakers came to the stage one by one to teach and inspire, focusing on themes of Eucharist, vocation, the priesthood and what it truly means to be Catholic.
The General Track of this year’s Congress featured Deacon Dennis J. Dorner, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Atlanta; Archbishop J. Michael Miller, of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada; Johnnette Benkovic, founder and president of Living His Life Abundantly International, Inc., and Women of Grace; Father Leo Patalinghug, founder of Grace Before Meals, a nationwide program promoting the importance of family dinners; Allen Hunt, a former Protestant pastor and now a Catholic and the host of a nationally syndicated mainstream talk radio show; and Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, founder and president of Ignatius Productions, a Catholic media production apostolate.
Allen Hunt, a former Methodist minister and host of the Allen Hunt Radio Show on WSB AM 750, shares how a cloistered Dominican nun had to teach him that Communion was not merely an image or symbol, but the body and blood of Christ. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
Their presentations ranged from the scholarly, with Archbishop Miller and Father Pacwa, to the evangelical, with Hunt and Benkovic. Archbishop Miller also taught on the priesthood in the Hispanic Track, while the engaging Father Patalinghug challenged and entertained in the young adult “Revive!” and teen tracks.
Deacon Dorner, who has headed up the Eucharistic Congress’s steering committee for the past two years, also serves the archdiocese as the director of the permanent diaconate program. He took the stage to share personal reflections and to urge people to listen to what God is telling them to do.
“Have you ever heard God speak to you?” asked Deacon Dorner. As an eighth-grader, he believed that God was calling him to the priesthood. “I was absolutely certain.” Others counseled him—“God uses a lot of people to speak to us”—and he did not end up following that path, marrying his wife Susan and raising a family after college.
Deacon Dorner said that God called him again after a retreat in 1999, when an acquaintance from the retreat asked him, “When are you going to acknowledge that God is calling you to be a deacon?”
His wife also had the same question. And Deacon Dorner said that he became “utterly convinced that God speaks through all of us.”
After hearing an “audible call” from God in early 2009 while on retreat at the Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Ala., he stumbled out of bed in the middle of the night to go to adoration.
In the chapel, he heard, “I want you to have an all-consuming desire for me.”
That call, Deacon Dorner believes, led to his being called to head up the committee for the Congress.
“Oftentimes,” he said, “we don’t understand,” but “we’ll understand if we simply follow him.”
Deacon Dennis Dorner, director of permanent diaconate and chairman of the Eucharistic Congress steering committee, took on the added task of serving as the opening speaker in the General Track.
Deacon Dorner also spoke on the importance of the priesthood and the Eucharist. Without one, we don’t have the other, he said. “Without the Eucharist, we cannot be Catholic.”
He urged those listening to pray for vocations. “What would we do without our priests?”
As part of the baptismal call, Deacon Dorner said, Catholics must find their vocations, whether it is the single, married or religious life. He asserted, “Too many people are denying God’s call.”
It’s not that “fewer are being called,” he said, it’s that “fewer are answering.”
Fifteen years ago, at the first Congress, then Archbishop John F. Donoghue called for perpetual adoration in the archdiocese to pray for vocations. Deacon Dorner asked those in the crowd who are Eucharistic guardians to stand—and many did, to the sweeping applause of the crowd.
He called for an increase in vocations and a renewal of perpetual adoration. He said, “We really need more good priests.”
“God is calling every single one of us to service.”
Deacon Dorner’s talk concluded with a special live performance of the song, “You Are a Priest Forever,” by songwriter Annie Karto, which accompanied a slideshow of images of Atlanta’s priests by Georgia Bulletin photographer Michael Alexander.
‘Jesus Birthed One Church’
Johnnette Benkovic, a dynamic author and speaker, who hosts a live radio talk show, then came to the stage with a strong call to action for those who believe in Christ to fight the influences of today’s popular culture.
“It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle,” she said, making the crowd repeat the phrase seven times.
Johnnette Benkovic, founder and president of Living His Life Abundantly International, Inc., and a General Track speaker, participates in the morning press conference.
She said she was “calling us to a mission … to step into the battle … stop compromising with all of our public and personal and private decisions.”
Warming to her theme of vocation, she said, “I want you to know who you are, why you are and what is your purpose.”
Her special Scripture passage is Ephesians 1:4-5, which says that “God, who is love, is dispensing on you every second, in the midst of all, every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” Benkovic said that this passage has sustained her “when the tempest was raging … when all hell was breaking loose” during recent years as she learned of the death of her Iraqi veteran son in a car accident and as her husband passed away from terminal brain cancer.
“Every happiness and every sorrow, trial, tribulation … could be used by him so that you could do much to bring purification and sanctification,” she said.
Benkovic continued, “You have been called to mission today in your communities. Go with the grace of God.”
Author and radio show host Allen Hunt brought his own brand of evangelical-style preaching to the stage in the General Track. A former Methodist pastor of a north Atlanta mega-church, he became Catholic in July 2007, after a lifetime of growing and moving in that direction.
Hunt had a strong message of Catholicism: “Jesus birthed one church.”
And he said those who are no longer Catholic “have forgotten who they are.”
Looking at the history of the church, Hunt said, “Church without Eucharist is like marriage without sex.”
“Who are we?” said Hunt.
“We are the people of the Eucharist.”
He described receiving Communion like water in a faucet. “Your faith doesn’t make it so—you just turn it on with your faith. Our faith allows us to receive.”
“Open the spigot of your faith,” Hunt urged, making the assembly stand and practice going to Communion by saying, “Lord, I’m turning on the spigot. Fill me!”
He said, “Always remember who you are. … We are the people of the Eucharist.”
Father Pacwa wrapped up the final talk of the General Track with a Scripture-filled talk on the Eucharist and the priesthood.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia, was the second of six speakers in the General Track.
Father Pacwa, who hosts several shows on the Eternal Word Television Network and works on various documentary video projects, said that he originally wanted to be a “cowboy with a pony.” He became a priest, and in his work has traveled to the Holy Land and the Sudan to create videos that share the Catholic faith. He is currently raising funds for a documentary on the Protestant Reformation, which will mark its 500th anniversary in 2017.
“I’m worried about what the secular media” will do with this anniversary, he said. He plans to document what happened with historical accuracy, showing the “rich variety of events” from the time period.
During his talk, he drew connections between the Old and New Testaments, using his knowledge of languages and word origins to explain the meaning of the words of the Mass: “Do this in memory of me.” He said that being a priest means sacrifice.
“Do,” in this case, means “offering sacrifice,” said Father Pacwa.
Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa converses with someone in the hall. Father Pacwa, the founder and president of Ignatius Productions, was the final speaker in the General Track.
Jesus at the Last Supper ordained and consecrated his priests and bishops. The priesthood “flows from the person of Jesus Christ through the laying on of hands,” said Father Pacwa.
“It’s a 2,000-year-old game of Pass It On.”
He said, “Our whole life long, we offer ourselves daily.”
“We priests are like magnifying glasses,” magnifying the Son, he said. The priesthood of baptism is “dispersed throughout the whole church, like sunshine in the atmosphere.”
To order the DVDs and audio CDs for the speakers and more at the 2010 Eucharistic Congress, go to: www.myecns.com/aec10.html. For more information contact Juan Flores at (888) 569-3267 or (626) 813-0700.