To view a YouTube video of the 2013 Eucharistic Congress, produced by
the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, click here.
The Eucharist - Opening Our Hearts to the Lord
By Lilla Ross
The historic Prime Osborn Convention Center, once filled with the sounds and smells of trains, was filled with the sounds and smells of Catholicism the first weekend in March during Come to the Feast, the 2013 Eucharistic Congress.
The second annual congress attracted nearly 4,000 people from all over the 17-county Diocese of St. Augustine, and as far away as Italy.
They came for a weekend of worship and teaching about the Eucharist, which was exposed throughout the event in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
Throughout the two-day event, a hush would fall on the crowd and everyone would fall to their knees as Bishop Felipe Estévez carried the Blessed Sacrament in a procession, escorted by the Knights of Columbus and clouds of incense, for veneration at the programs offered to English and Spanish-speaking adults, young adults, teens and children.
The congress opened on Friday, March 8, with interactive Living Stations of the Cross, enacted by members of the Comunità Cenacolo of St. Augustine.
In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Felipe Estévez told the assembled to open their hearts to receive the blessings of the weekend.
“As we grow in the knowledge of the Eucharistic Lord, I hope and pray that we truly embrace that ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ’ is truly substantially present. Come let us adore him. This Congress will enable us to render the Lord our solemn veneration.”
Saturday’s events began with an outdoor procession with the Eucharist and Mass concelebrated by Bishop Estévez and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA based in Washington, DC.
Archbishop Broglio, a longtime friend of Bishop Estévez, agreed to deliver the keynote address when Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was originally scheduled to speak, was called to Rome for the conclave.
In his address, the archbishop said that every time Catholics celebrate the Eucharist they should ask themselves about the direction of their lives.
“Are we really on a pilgrimage? Do we know it? Is the goal of eternal life firmly fixed or are our goals reduced to a better car, more money, a nice house or a more interesting job?
“There is nothing wrong with these good things in life, which are also a gift from God. However, we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our goal should be elevated and noble. It must be eternal life. The Eucharist puts us in contact with that life; it allows us to taste the union with Christ and the whole Church of those living, suffering or triumphant.”
Irish singer Dana Scallon called on Catholics to “face the wind,” advice she said her grandmother gave her on the frequent cold, damp days in Ireland.
“So many people today are in crisis,” she said. “There are so many who call themselves Catholic but they go against what the church teaches.
“I believe we are facing increasingly difficult days,” she said. “God hears us. God is with us. We need to put our shoulders back and face the wind. It’s going to hit you anyway.”
Dana said she knows that people feel inadequate. That she felt inadequate when she ran unsuccessfully for president of Ireland (she later served as a member of the European Parliament).
“I was totally inadequate,” she said. “But God is totally adequate.
“God is going to call you to do something, to stand against the wind. You will feel inadequate. You will feel afraid. But all you have to do is say yes.”
Another speaker, Ralph Martin, president of Renew Ministries, said that through the Eucharist God is calling Catholics to holiness.
An angel held a burning coal to the Prophet Isaiah’s lips to purify him, Martin said. “The Eucharist is like a burning coal. It cleanses and transforms us so that we can be holy. We need holiness to see God.”
The essence of holiness, he said, is to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.
“Jesus wants us to be holy so that he can continue his mission through us, to bring salvation to the lost – to those not baptized and to the fallen away,” he said.
But Christians find ways to resist carrying out that mission, says Martin.
“We say, but I’m just a lay person. I’ve got a family,” Martin said. “You’re just a lay person? You mean you’re just created in the image of God? You’re baptized, which means God dwells within you. You’re part of the Body of Christ. You’re destined for eternal glory.”
Then people say I’m busy today. I’ll do it tomorrow, he continued.
“Today is the acceptable day of the Lord,” Martin said. “If you hear his voice today, don’t harden your heart. Why postpone happiness, healing, greater love, freedom, hope and joy.”
People also say they don’t have what it takes.
“People say, I’m not good enough for heaven. I’m planning on purgatory,” Martin said. “But if we aim for purgatory and miss? I hear it’s hell to miss purgatory.”
Martin said Catholics have to look no farther than the lives of the saints to see how it’s done. In researching for his book, The Fulfillment of All Desire, Martin identified four principals from the lives of saints: 1. The spiritual journey is totally dependent on the grace of God. 2. Our effort is essential. 3. It can be painful. 4. It’s worth it.
Another component to this year’s Eucharistic Congress, was a session geared just for teens. During a talk, Randy Raus, president of Life Teen, urged them to make the Eucharist the center of their lives.
“He [God] is calling us to be saints,” Raus said. “Don’t sell yourself short. There are hardened parts of your heart that need to be evangelized. Ask yourself, what can I give up to make room for God?”
The Eucharistic Congress concluded with the Divine Mercy Chaplet, sung in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, languages common to the diocese.
Bishop Estévez closed the congress with prayers for the cardinals choosing the new pope.
Later that afternoon, Catholic school children from throughout the diocese competed in the final rounds of the Bishop’s Bowl.