By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published April 10, 2008
Each year, the Eucharistic Congress provides an opportunity for Catholics to gather in an enormous display of faith, with thousands coming together to publicly affirm a fundamental faith in the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
This year, as before, Catholics of the archdiocese are invited to partake of this annual spiritual revival devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. Sponsored by the archdiocese, the 2008 Eucharistic Congress will be held Friday and Saturday, June 20-21, at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The theme of this year’s 13th annual eucharistic celebration, selected by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, is “I Am the Living Bread,” taken from John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
The Congress is customarily held on the feast of Corpus Christi, but the feast fell this year on Memorial Day weekend. Organizers moved the event to the date in June in order to offer the Congress on a non-holiday weekend.
Catholics from around the Southeast will gather for the Congress as an opportunity for evangelization and a time to focus on the meaning of Christ in the Eucharist through prayer, adoration, music and the teachings of internationally known speakers, worship leaders, and musicians.
Deacon Gayle Peters of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone has attended three or four Congresses.
“I was amazed, uplifted, humbled by the number of people there who share my faith and to see the Lord present in the Eucharist.”
Among other reasons for attending the Congress, Deacon Peters pointed to the opportunity for ministerial “workhorses” who may be “burned out … and tired of always leading” to be rejuvenated in faith.
“It’s kind of a real treat to hear speakers of that caliber. You don’t always get that opportunity,” he said, and added, “and then you have the vendors, the liturgy, along with the speakers. It’s kind of a cross between a retreat and a fair.”
Many, such as Dennis Ruggiero, theology teacher at St. Pius X High School, comment on seeing at the Congress as “the Atlanta church,” a dynamic, diverse community.
“But we’re still one, still one body,” Ruggiero said. “I teach at a Catholic school and therefore work in a Catholic environment and attend Sunday Mass and belong to that Catholic community. This was seeing the big picture.”
Ruggiero was drawn to last year’s Congress by author and survivor of the Rwandan genocide Immaculee Ilibagiza, whose story ties in with a class he teaches. He found more than what he came to see and hear. “At the Congress there is something for everybody.”
As in recent years, more than 20,000 people from around the southeastern United States are expected to attend the Congress, which is free and open to the public. No tickets are required, and parking is available at the convention center. Carpools and bus arrangements are encouraged.
This year’s Congress will begin with the fourth annual healing Mass on Friday evening, June 20, along with “REVIVE!” a program for young adults ages 18 to 40.
During the daylong event on Saturday, June 21, an array of speakers will educate and inspire the faithful—from children to adults. The Vietnamese, Hispanic and hearing-impaired communities will participate in special sessions given in their native languages and in sign language. There will be an organized program for children, from kindergarten to age 11, as well as a separate track for teenagers.
The healing Mass and service on Friday evening, an opportunity for prayer and comfort, will be led by Father Tim Hepburn, a popular speaker who was ordained to the priesthood for the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1993. He served in parishes around North Georgia, with his last assignment in Atlanta as chaplain of the Emory University Student Center. Since 2006, he has been attending Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, working on an advanced degree in theology and focusing on Pope John Paul II’s new evangelization.
Immediately following the healing service, young adults, single and married, are invited to attend “REVIVE!” a dynamic program geared to their concerns and spirituality. Speakers will include Matthew Kelly, Curtis Stephan and Band, and emcee Desmond Drummer. Kelly, who will also speak in the General Track on Saturday, was born in Sydney, Australia, and began his Catholic ministry in 1993. Over the past 10 years more than 3 million people in 50 countries have attended his talks, seminars and retreats, and millions more have been touched by his writings and appearances on radio and television programs. Kelly has also gained acclaim as an author, with recent books “The Dream Manager,” “Building Better Families: A Practical Guide to Raising Amazing Children” and “Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness.”
Stephan is a Catholic musician who has been involved with contemporary Christian music and LifeTeen since 1997. At the time he had just earned his master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of North Texas, and he found in Christian music the opportunity to minister with a message of hope through his music. He became the youth minister at the 18,000-member St. Ann Church in Coppell, Texas. Stephan was named “new artist of the year” at the 2006 Unity awards presented by the United Catholic Music and Video Association.
The Congress begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning with the now traditional procession into the main hall of the facility, composed of enthusiastic parish groups, ministries and Catholic organizations proudly displaying their beliefs in vivid banners and fervent song. As the procession concludes, adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament will begin at 10 a.m. in the great hall.
Following the opening remarks and homily from Archbishop Gregory, attendees will separate to attend the different tracks planned from 11:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The speakers in the General Track offer a wealth of experience in spirituality and evangelism. In addition to Kelly, the speakers are Bishop-emeritus William Curlin, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.; Steve Ray, a speaker, author and video producer; Helen Alvaré, an associate professor at the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America; and Father Hepburn. Russ Spencer of FOX 5 News will be the emcee.
A convert to Catholicism, Ray is a regular guest on radio and television programs and the author of three books, “Crossing the Tiber,” “Upon This Rock” and “St. John’s Gospel.” He is well-known for writing, producing and hosting a 10-part video/DVD series on the Holy Land, “The Footprints of God: the Story of Salvation From Abraham to Augustine,” which was filmed on location. Ray and his wife are certified guides to the Holy Land and lead pilgrimages to the Middle East and Rome.
Alvaré is currently an associate professor of law at Catholic University. She has served as a consultant to ABC Network news, focusing on the subjects of women in the Catholic Church, religion in the public square and the papacy. She worked with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., as the director of planning and information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and has traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Mexico, Italy, Cuba and Canada as the national representative on abortion, euthanasia, feminism, capital punishment, and related issues. Beginning in February she became a member of the papal advisory body to Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Council for the Laity, with a special focus on issues concerning women and the family, in the Catholic Church and in the world.
The Hispanic Track, emceed by Francisco Magno Castrejón, includes Msgr. Gabino Miranda-Melgarejo, the auxiliary bishop of Ayacucho, Perú; Father Octavio Diaz-Villagrana, missionary fraternity of the Apostles of the Word; Oscar Henao, Ph.D., a professor and Bible scholar; and Bishop Daniel Flores, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Bishop Miranda-Melgarejo has worked in Perú since he was ordained in 1987. He was named auxiliary bishop in 2004 by Pope John Paul II and is currently the president for the Committee of Youth and Young Adults for the Episcopal Conference of Perú.
Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Father Díaz-Villagrana entered the ecclesial movement of the Apostles of the Word in 1992. He was ordained in 2000. In September 2001, he founded the Bible Theological Institute, a correspondence study format that supports the formation of the Apostles of the Word.
Henao has a doctorate in theology from Pontifical Bolivariana University in Medellin, Colombia. In addition to teaching sacred Scripture, he is also an experienced preacher at international Eucharistic Congresses in Argentina, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States.
Bishop Flores was born and raised in Texas, and he was ordained for the Diocese of Corpus Christi in 1988. He was assigned to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in 2001, serving at St. Mary’s Seminary and on the teaching faculty at the University of St. Thomas School of Theology. He was named auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2006.
Speaking at the Vietnamese Track will be Bishop Stephanus Tri Buu Thien, the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Can Tho, Vietnam.
For teenagers attending the Congress, the Teen Track offers Over the Top Ministries, Matthew Kelly, Curtis Stephan and Band, and emcee Mike Ragan.
Over the Top Ministries is made up of Anne Marie Cribbin and Justin Russell, youth ministers from Maryland, who offer comedy through music and storytelling and a personal witness about living as a disciple of Christ.
The Congress will also offer a track for those who are hearing impaired and who use American Sign Language to communicate, led by Father Jeremy St. Martin, coordinator of Deaf Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Children participating in the Kid Track will enjoy the humor and spirituality of the Donut Man. The Donut Man is known for his fun Bible story-songs presented through DVDs, audio CDs and live concerts.
While a number of priests will offer the sacrament of reconciliation during the day, beginning at 11:30 a.m., those planning to attend the Congress are encouraged to prepare by going to reconciliation at their parishes prior to the event. This will allow the priests to also spend part of their day experiencing the Congress as participants.
The closing Mass, which begins at 5:30 p.m., is the faith-filled conclusion of the day, as attendees gather together to celebrate the gift of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
As in previous Congresses, all children who received first Communion in the archdiocese this year are invited to lead the procession for the closing Mass. The children are asked to wear their first Communion apparel and gather at 5 p.m. for the closing procession.
Food and drink will be available for purchase throughout the day.
Parishioners throughout the archdiocese are asked to consider giving a gift of time to make this event happen by working as a volunteer. The greatest need for volunteers is in the Kid Track; the number of children who can register and participate in the Kid Track depends completely on the number of adult volunteers secured by April 30. The room holds 800 children; in order to accommodate that many children, 180 people are required as volunteers.
Information about volunteering for the Kid Track and all other volunteer positions at the Congress is available at www.archatl.com/congress/volunteer.php.
The Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel, located at 4711 Best Road, College Park, will offer a special rate for those specifying they are conference participants, and transportation will be provided all day between the hotel and convention site. For hotel bookings call (404) 766-7900.
For more information on the Congress and for more information on the schedule as it becomes available, visit the Web site for Atlanta’s Eucharistic Congress at www.archatl.com/congress. Additional reporting was done by Suzanne Haugh.