Enjoy Time With Jesus, Bishop Says At Opening Mass
Published: June 21, 2012
COLLEGE PARK—Class was in session for those across the Archdiocese of Atlanta and beyond on the night of June 8 as more people than in past years put aside other plans and braved Friday’s rush-hour traffic to attend the opening Mass of the 17th annual Eucharistic Congress, followed by a healing service.
“The best school of love is the Eucharist,” Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama told those gathered. The approximately 6,000 in attendance seemed ready to learn around the Eucharistic table.
Following a brief introduction by Deacon Dennis Dorner, chairman of the event, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory welcomed the crowd before the opening Mass. “It’s a great joy to see so many Catholics here for evening prayer and the Eucharist. (The Congress) is beginning as it should begin—with the celebration of the Eucharist.”
Throughout the opening Mass, members of the multi-parish choir created a stirring and soulful atmosphere with such songs as “Come Right In, My Lord” and “Go Tell the World.”
Jay Marie Granger and her husband, Chip, of Texas, attend the opening Mass of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress. The Grangers are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Vidor. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
In his homily Bishop Zarama repeated the words about Jesus from the Gospel reading from Mark: “They were delighted to be with him.” That proved true for the evening’s crowd.
“The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s love,” the bishop said. “It is the one way Jesus can be so close to us. To go to our wounds, to heal memories and to give us the Christian life.”
But we are often “in such a hurry” and “rushing him out of our lives,” he said. To illustrate his point he recalled his younger days when he was preparing for his first Communion and the nuns taught him how to receive the Eucharist.
“The nuns would say, ‘Don’t bite the host! Let him stay as long as possible. … Enjoy having him with you.’”
Our own agendas can become obstacles to this, Bishop Zarama said.
Bishop Luis Zarama, auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, serves as the main celebrant and homilist for the opening Mass.
“We may often think that he does not listen to us, but it is more that we do not listen to him,” he said.
“He has the power to transform us, but first we must ask. We often pray for (other) people to be healed … to be changed … but the first person must be our own self.”
The Eucharist provides the opportunity for healing and food for each person’s personal missions.
“By the miracle of the Eucharist, we need to become one with ourselves first through the One that knows all of our gifts and limits. Feed on the Eucharist and continue the power of Jesus to heal the people we touch.”
However, fear can stifle this relationship.
“Sometimes we are afraid to receive this gift,” the bishop cautioned. “Jesus loves each of us. When he embraces us, everything is more beautiful. We start to see with the eyes of love and hearts that are free to enjoy the gift of love.”
As he ended the homily he challenged all present to “Let your hearts be free and enjoy the moment. Model Jesus’ love. It begins at home. Outside is easy. At home it’s challenging. Don’t rush. … Let him take all the time to dissolve in you. Through that, you become yourself.”
The Mass continued with intercessions read in Portuguese, French and English, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist. With heads bowed and hands clasped in prayer, people approached to receive the Eucharist from priests stationed around the Georgia International Convention Center.
Before giving his final blessing Bishop Zarama invited all to the healing service that followed.
“The healing process has already started with Jesus in the Eucharist,” he said. “Let him continue that job in your hearts. Give him the opportunity to love and serve you through the altar. He loves you very much.”
Father Jack Durkin, pastor of St. Monica Church, Duluth, processes around the hall carrying the monstrance holding the precious body of Christ.
During the few moments between the Mass and the beginning of the healing service, Bhavani Polimetla stood with his wife, Radhika Kalagara, and 9-year-old daughter, Tejaswi Polimetla. They had come for the Mass and now anticipated the healing service. Tejaswi was healed of a chronic stomach ailment after attending the healing service a few years ago.
“She struggled a lot and didn’t eat,” Bhavani said of that time in their daughter’s life. “Then we came to know about this event.”
Tejaswi recalled her experience then sitting in a circle and praying together with people she had never met before.
“It was really different,” she said.
Leticia Richards of St. James Church, McDonough, tearfully kneels in prayer during the healing service.
Tonight their main focus was on Radhika. She has been ill and has lost 30 pounds in a short time. They would be praying for her healing.
Moments later, members of the choir from St. Monica Church in Duluth led the congregation in the familiar hymn: “Come, worship the Lord. We are his people, the flock that he shepherds. Alleluia!”
Father Jack Durkin, pastor of St. Monica, processed in along with the Blessed Sacrament to begin the healing service.
Following readings from Jeremiah and Mark, class was again in session as Father Durkin quizzed those gathered about “the perpetual Pentecost.” Pointing to the Blessed Sacrament, he said, “Christ is present. Do you believe that?” “Yes,” the crowd responded.
Developing a “personal relationship with God” is critical to our faith, he explained, and truly understanding God and the New Testament hinges on understanding the Eucharist.
Soloist E. Walter Smith joins the choir in singing the hymn of thanksgiving, “Let the Church Say Amen.” The choir included vocalists from the Christ Our Hope Church’s Sister Thea Bowman Visionary Choir, Blessed Sacrament Church, Corpus Christi Church and Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
While the divine plan of salvation was sculpted over centuries through the prophets and Scripture, Jesus had to explain the connections in Scripture to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Father Durkin continued. “He did not reveal his presence to them until the breaking of the bread, as if to say, ‘Look at this!’”
“Tonight we want a Eucharistic healing. The first Eucharistic healing, though, is to believe that this is Jesus,” said Father Durkin pointing to the Blessed Sacrament.
“See how humble Jesus is? He depends on us to carry him.”
People down front fold and lift their hands in praise as Father Jack Durkin brings the Blessed Sacrament off the altar and to the congregation.
While many desire healing, he said, there is also peace and power that comes to those who accept their suffering as a gift, and as a way to deepen their relationship with Jesus.
“Christ is in you if you suffer,” Father Durkin said.
Christ did this. “He emptied himself. He became weak.”
Father Durkin addressed those seeking healing, particularly those “spiritually crippled” due to sin.
“Why be held in the bondage of unforgiveness? Wash yourself clean. Bring it all to Jesus.”
Father Durkin then carried the Blessed Sacrament throughout the hall, making the sign of the cross toward those close by. Young and old knelt, sat or stood in place accepting the grace of the moment as music played.
Then the Blessed Sacrament was carried to a chapel in the center for an all-night vigil.
Those gathered were directed, if they desired more prayer, to share their needs privately with prayer teams of two or three people each stationed around the hall. There were more than 60 prayer teams.
(L-r) Christ Our Hope parishioners Camille Vire, Frances Williams-Bongay and Mariatu Turay pray the Our Father during the opening Mass.
Sitting close to the Spanish-speaking prayer teams, Sonia Fambro from Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City spoke of her experience that night and at previous congresses. She attended the evening’s events with her sister and other family.
“Every year it is a beautiful thing,” said the mother who was scheduled to volunteer in the ADORE children’s track the next day. “I go to review my life with (Jesus).”
This was her third congress. Tonight her prayers were for her brother who has AIDS.
“I pray for his healing.”
She enjoyed the opening Mass. “No matter the language, we are the same—everybody. We are the body of Christ.”
Gabriel Ugbo, a parishioner at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, attended the evening’s events for the first time.
“It was very good,” he said. “In his sermon, the bishop made a simple point: Keep your mind open and faith increases.”
Ugbo shared his thoughts on the focus of the Congress—the Eucharist. “Christ left us himself. He is with us always. … If you want to find Christ, go to the Eucharist. He is there.”
This was also the first Eucharistic Congress for Jesse Travis, who joined the Catholic Church three years ago. He had never attended a Catholic-style healing service.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “The presentation at the healing service was very dynamic. I talked to my wife all the way home. It was very powerful.”
Another convert to the faith with many years in the church, grandmother Joyce Morgan of Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain reflected on her firm faith in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. She moved to Atlanta from California to be with her daughters and to help with raising grandchildren grounded in faith.
“It is the Passover of his Body and Blood. Why not? … Jesus said so. I’m standing on his promise. He said he can do all things.”
The catechist of children preparing for their first Communion is always heartened by the attitudes of her students toward the Eucharist.
“It’s amazing to me how well they understand. … They have an appreciation for the Mass. They accept and believe that Jesus is the Paschal Lamb, that he sacrificed himself for us.”
Once one connects Jesus’ actions with stories in Scripture that preceded him, like that of Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac, “that’s where the revelation is—that and through the Holy Spirit.”