By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published June 18, 2009
Kicking off the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s 2009 Eucharistic Congress was Revive!, with a powerful and consistent message for the several hundred young people who attended the young adult track held at the Georgia International Convention Center.
A call to unity and the honest discernment of vocation were the topics of discussion the evening of Friday, June 12, and the high-energy response from the crowd proved those messages relevant and appropriate.
Complete with engaging speakers, positive and uplifting music, and the trademark session of Eucharistic adoration, the young adults were given the opportunity to rededicate their lives to God and receive encouragement from their fellow Catholics.
The Revive! crowd was a microcosm of the larger gathering of Catholics seen the following day at the convention center, as young adults from a number of countries represented Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, the Philippines, El Salvador and, of course, the United States.
Hundreds of young people filed into the exhibit hall well before the event began as they took advantage of the opportunity to meet fellow journeying Christians. The crowd enjoyed the soulful sounds of Batiste, a gospel and hip-hop group comprised of two brothers, Lyndon and Lionel, who grew up as altar boys and cantors at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta.
Along with a tight band, featuring keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, Batiste led the crowd into a reverent state with their music as the evening began.
Father Ricardo Bailey, chaplain at Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell, welcomed the attendees on behalf of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, setting the tone for the powerful evening.
“Go ahead and give the Lord a hand,” he roared as the crowd burst into frenzied applause. Then, giving a nod to Batiste, he said, “If y’all are doing the music … we’re in good shape.”
“You matter to the Church,” he added sincerely. “You inspire me by your presence and your prayer.”
Maria Naranjo, Southeast regional manager of outreach programs for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, served as the emcee for the evening and introduced the first keynote speaker, Jesse Manibusan.
Manibusan, a Catholic singer-songwriter and co-founder of Two by Two Ministries, an international music and preaching ministry, gave the crowd a treat with his humor, music and polished storytelling skills.
The lay evangelist, who has played in front of crowds as large as 50,000 at World Youth Day, was visibly comfortable on stage but always made an effort to keep Christ and the church at the forefront of his performance.
“Let’s give the church a hand,” he said as he walked on stage. It was a phrase he repeated several times throughout the evening.
Manibusan, a heavy-set resident of Grapevine, Texas, used his appearance as the focus of many of his jokes, showing the crowd he was comfortable with himself and his role in the church.
“I know what you are thinking,” he said, “so let’s just get this out of the way. I know … I look just like Justin Timberlake.”
After that giggle-inducing introduction, Manibusan taught the crowd a few call and answer responses that he would use throughout his talk. When he asked, “Who’s the church?” the crowd responded with “We are!” And when he asked, “Where is the church?” he heard the crowd respond together with “Right here!”
Manibusan called for all to come together in unity and to recognize that all are one family.
“We’re not a perfect family. We’re a holy family,” he said, adding that the best thing about being Catholic is that we are one body in Christ.
Using the popular praise and worship tune, “Trading My Sorrows,” Manibusan taught the crowd how to sing the chorus, “Yes, Lord,” in several different languages, again highlighting the importance of all Catholics coming together.
Manibusan’s friendly and casual presence made his serious points all that much easier to recognize. Often, right after leading the crowd in bouts of laughter, his expression would become serious, the young adults would become silent, and he would make a profound point about the church or the Eucharist.
“To be Eucharistic is to be in a posture of receiving,” he told the group. “That’s what it means to be Catholic. … The Eucharist brings true intimacy with God.”
After ending with prayer, Manibusan left the stage to booming applause as Naranjo returned to introduce the evening’s other keynote speakers, Chris and Michelle Benzinger.
The Benzingers, who direct the Life Teen Covecrest camp in the Georgia town of Tiger, shared their own story of finding a vocation, hoping to inspire those present to do the same. The couple’s candid approach resonated with the crowd.
“I am completely in love with that couple,” chuckled Anna Donavan. The Southern Catholic College student came on Friday for Revive! but stayed with a few classmates on Saturday to help run an information table on her college.
Donavan appreciated the honesty of the couple, saying that it isn’t easy to get up in front of a crowd and talk about your personal spiritual journey.
Michelle Benzinger bluntly told the crowd that she and her husband initially weren’t sure what to talk about. They prayed about what to share and said they felt called to tell the young adults about their faith lives.
Michelle began with her early spiritual life as a cradle Catholic. She said she reached a point in her teenage years when she began attending a huge nondenominational mega church because she felt something was missing.
She had a wonderfully positive experience with the church until one day when the youth pastor approached her to share a message he received from the Holy Spirit.
He told Benzinger that she needed to remain in the Catholic Church because she was called to bring revival to her own church. He added that it was very awkward for him to tell her this because he was a former Catholic and had “no love for the Church.”
Shocked, Michelle heeded the message and became very involved with the Catholic Church. When she met Chris years later, he was “dating the priesthood” but still in the midst of his own struggle with discerning a vocation.
The two described their initial relationship as intense and focused on God, and neither of them knew exactly where God was leading them or what he was asking of them.
They both felt, however, that God was asking that they trust him, and as they prayerfully followed, doors opened for a relationship between them—a relationship that would eventually lead to marriage.
As they described their adventures with mission work and the joys and pitfalls of dating, Michelle noted how important Eucharistic adoration was during her budding spiritual life. This was especially important in their recent past when they were asked by the national Life Teen director to take over the Covecrest camp.
“If you don’t want to do what God wants, don’t go to adoration,” Chris joked as his wife told the story.
Chris initially did not want to take on the seemingly sedentary job, but when Michelle returned from adoration with a strong feeling that they were called to do just that, Chris recognized that it was God’s will.
“Our ministry is only as good as our commitment to each other,” Michelle said about Covecrest and their life together. “Embrace that relationship with God.”
The couple ended with prayer, leading an appropriate transition to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Father Dan Ketter, ordained for the Archdiocese of Atlanta last year, processed in with the monstrance as the young adults fell to their knees. Batiste provided a calm version of “Draw Me Close to You” as the priest walked onto the stage, placing the Eucharist on an altar for all to see.
“We bring to you, here and now, all that we are and all that we have,” Father Ketter prayed.
“Thank you for these moments present with you,” he continued. “These are precious moments we have with you.”
After several minutes in silent adoration, the monstrance was carried throughout the room. The young adults blessed themselves as the Eucharist passed and then returned to quiet prayer until the monstrance was placed back on the altar for the Divine Praises.
“You can feel the Holy Spirit here,” said Jacqueline Alexander, another student from Southern Catholic College. “God has been doing a lot in my heart and this solidified what he has been doing.”
The Eucharist was then reverently removed from the exhibit hall as the young adults continued to reflect on what God had done in their lives that night. Then, after a thank you from Dorothy Polchinski, associate director of the archdiocesan office for adult and young adult ministry, the young adults left with smiling faces and glowing hearts.
“Everything the Archdiocese of Atlanta does is amazing,” said Logan Byrne, a young adult who attended Revive! She felt the evening was powerful and very fitting for the age group.
About all the young adults coming together in Christ, she simply said, “It is just so moving to see.”