By Lilla Ross

The 2017 Eucharistic Congress drew thousands of Catholics from around the diocese to the Prime Osborn Convention Center March 25-26 for two days of teaching, devotion and celebration.

Mike DiCosola, representative of the MyParish App and Diocesan Publications, poses by his booth during the 2017 Florida Eucharistic Congress. (Photo credit: Brandon Duncan)

More than two dozen vendors sold books, t-shirts and religious jewelry. One new thing this year was an app for the Congress available through the myParish app. Michael DiCosola of Diocesan Publications, which produced the app, said a lot of people expressed interest in the app and many people already had it.

The app had the schedule, information about vendors and speakers and prayers.

A message was sent out via the app alerting people to a schedule change Friday night.

Mike Buresh, meteorologist on Action News, was the master of ceremonies for the Congress, which features the always popular Eucharistic procession of banners led by the bishop, the Living Stations of the Cross by the Communità Cenacolo and the Adoration Chapel.

Dr. Edward Sri, of the Augustine Institute and co-founder of FOCUS (Photo credit: Woody Huband)

The theme of the fifth Eucharistic Congress under Bishop Felipe Estévez was “Do Whatever He Tells You,” Mary’s instructions to the servants at the Wedding Feast at Cana.

The Virgin Mary was celebrated as a role model throughout the Congress. Saturday was the Feast of the Annunciation and the 100th anniversary of Fatima this year also was celebrated.

Theologian Edward Sri, author of several books including “Walking with Mary,” shared some of Mary’s steps of faith linking them to situations common in daily life during his presentation Saturday afternoon.

At the Annunciation, Mary kept her heart open even though she experienced fear at the words of Angel Gabriel, Sri said. She would have recognized the words from Jewish scripture and known that God was sending her on an important mission.

Sri asked the audience if they had experienced “little annunciations,” when they felt God was nudging them to do something – apologize to a spouse, spend more time with a child, and change a troublesome behavior.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, of the Archdiocese of Seattle giving his address during the English Track at the 2017 Florida Eucharistic Congress in Jacksonville, FL (Photo credit: Woody Huband)

“Those little annunciations can be accompanied by fear about the next move,” Sri said. “We immediately set parameters. We want to maintain control. Mary didn’t allow herself to be controlled by fear. She rose above them. She entered into an interior dialogue with the Word and let it speak to her.”

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, said in his presentation that Mary surrendered to God because she knew he wouldn’t abandon her.

“The love of God was pushing her to offer her body as a loving sacrifice,” he said.

And then she offered up her son at Calvary.

“Mary was a walking tabernacle where others discover God,” Bishop Elizondo said. “How wonderful it would be for someone to come looking for me

Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, signs books for visitors following his presentation at the Eucharistic Congress. (Photo credit: Woody Huband)

and discover Jesus. God has to incarnate in us every day so the world will receive the bread of life.”

Participants at the Congress were given a free copy of “33 Days to Morning Glory,” a new book by Father Michael Gaitley, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, to prepare for Marian consecration. The booklet is a 33-day retreat guide based on the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II.

The Congress closed with a question-and-answer session between Tom Coughlin, executive vice president of football operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and his longtime friend Ernie Bono.

Coughlin shared how his Catholic faith had shaped his life and career. He grew up in Waterloo, N.Y., the oldest of seven children, where he was educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph and served as an altar boy. “You learned discipline, respect and accountability,” he said. “It went a long way.”

Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tom Coughlin, speaks during a Q&A session at the Eucharistic Congress. (Photo credit: Woody Huband)

Coughlin said he felt the Lord led him to Boston College, where he had a successful coaching career and met Jay McGillis, one of his players who died of leukemia. Seeing what the McGillis family went through inspired Coughlin to establish the Jay Fund, which has donated $7.5 million to 4,000 families of cancer patients.

He said he also has seen more than one miracle on the field during his career with the Jaguars (1994-2002) and the New York Giants (2004-2015).

At the conclusion of the Congress, the bishop announced the theme for next year – Live in My Love – March 16-17. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., will be the keynote speaker.