Eucharistic Congress: My Flesh for the Life of the World
July 31, 2023 • Diocese of St. Augustine

By Laura Dodson

Father Eric Stelzer leads participants of the Eucharistic Congress in a procession at St. Joseph Catholic Church, June 10.
Photo Credit: Fran Ruchalski

“Catholics are people whose whole life draws strength from the Eucharist,” Bishop Erik T. Pohlmeier opened the 12th Eucharistic Congress for the Diocese of St. Augustine, “and the goals of this congress are that we may become greater witnesses to the Eucharist in our lives and may be transformed by Jesus’ saving work.”

The Eucharistic Congress was celebrated in English and Spanish on June 9, at Queen of Peace Parish, Gainesville and June 10 at St. Joseph’s Parish, Jacksonville to provide the opportunity for the greatest number of faithful to participate.

Catholics participate in a Eucharistic Procession at St. Joseph Catholic Church proudly displaying banners of their parish and organization.
Photo Credit: Fran Ruchalski.

 Bishop Pohlmeier began his keynote address with his own personal witness of his “growing awareness of what Eucharist means.” He became an altar server immediately after receiving his First Communion and knew early on that his vocation was to do something to help people, but he didn’t know what. He was advised to take it to prayer.

“God made it very clear in prayer that if I really wanted to help people, there was nothing greater than giving them Eucharist,” he said and then described his discernment to the priesthood as time spent before the Blessed Sacrament.

“This is still true throughout my priesthood and as bishop,” he shared. “I sit with and am still with Jesus in the Eucharist. I approach Him in listening stillness. It keeps me rooted in my own celebration of Eucharist.”

The goal of the National Eucharistic Revival, which is led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is to inspire a movement of Catholics to be “healed, converted, formed and unified” by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist then sent out to the world as witnesses.

Due to rain, Bishop Erik Pohlmeier processes with the Eucharist to the chapel at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Gainesville on June 9.
Photo by Bill Ragan

Bishop Pohlmeier drew several examples from the life of St. Peter in the gospels to illustrate this process: Peter heard Jesus teach, was impressed and followed; Jesus healed his mother-in-law; the crowd was so large that Jesus needed to preach from offshore and honored Peter by using his boat; Jesus not only entered Peter’s boat but also his profession and told him to put out into the deep for a miraculous catch; Peter realized his unworthiness and fell down on his face no longer calling Jesus, “Master,” but “Lord;” and Jesus lifted him up, telling Peter He came to save him.

“Eucharist is the same process,” the bishop said. “Eucharist is an encounter with the living God – God in our midst who came to redeem us because we rejected him. Only when we perceive Eucharist as Jesus invading our world and lives and perceive Jesus in our hearts, only when we fall – can he lift us up. Until Jesus lifts us up and we experience transformation, our encounter with the living God will be lacking. As we are transformed, we are drawn into life and community. When we experience healing, conversion, formation and unity, we can better express what has happened in our lives and a key measure of that is our charity. We know transformation has happened when other people say, ‘I want what you have.’ And more and more people can come to see him and call him Lord.”

Bishop Erik Pohlmeier is the main celebrant of the Eucharistic Congress Mass on June 9 at Queen of Peace Catholic Church. Joining him at the altar, from left, are Father Al Esposito, pastor of Queen of Peace; Bishop Emeritus Felipe Estévez and Carmelite Father Figi Philip George.

Paulist Father Steven Bell is a full-time missionary preacher who successfully engaged participants in a rousing after-lunch presentation. “How can we be more intentional and share our work in the world?” he asked and quickly answered. “Eucharist provides a powerful solution to the darkness in our world today.”

Father Bell developed three premises to provide concrete solutions: Eucharist as a model of love; as a mirror of unity and as a mantle of charity. 

“We are called to be in a world that needs more love, more unity and more charity,” Father Bell said. “We are all called to conform our lives to the mystery of the cross as shown in Eucharist. It is an intimate and real connection with the living God.”

Beginning with John 3:16, Father Bell cited several scripture references to develop an understanding of love, “Agape is the highest form of love that comes from the generosity of God’s love. Like the Sower of the seed, God throws out his grace upon us even though it might not take root. It is unconditional and irrevocable. It is a gift offered and a gift received. It is reciprocal.”

The solution he proposed is to “change the game.” Eucharist is a constructive force that builds up. He gave the example of someone gossiping – “say something good, say something constructive rather than destructive. We must rehumanize – uphold, protect, safeguard the dignity of the human person.”

Because we are all in a sacred relationship with one another, we are in unity, in communion. When we care for another, it strengthens and sustains us.

“When did you know that you belong?” he challenged. “Our sisters and brothers do not feel they belong. Because we are all under construction, we must put on the mantle of charity and live a life of mercy.”

Father Rafael Capó is the vice president for mission and ministry and dean of theology at St. Thomas University in Miami and a National Eucharistic preacher appointed by the USCCB.

“The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist sends us forth to go out as church on a mission,” Father Capo said. “It is important for each of us as baptized Catholics to receive our mission and do something for the Eucharistic Revival for our brothers and sisters who are not here.”

Father Capo proclaimed the Emmaus story as the format for his presentation. Two disciples running away from Jerusalem, the other apostles, and the joy of the resurrection unknowingly encounter the risen Lord on the way. Jesus accompanies them as he accompanies us and we are to accompany one another. Jesus opened up the scriptures bringing light and life and they ask him to stay. But it is in the breaking of the bread, that we like the disciples discover Jesus.

“Every minute that we are in adoration we discover our true identity as disciples that walk with Jesus on the way,” Father Capo said. “Jesus walks with us in the most difficult times of our life. The Eucharist reveals that we are truly a church of communion and unity with Christ. Eucharist calls us to a life of being brothers and sisters. The disciples needed to go back, to return to their brothers and sisters. Once we discover our identity as disciples – then we must go back to the mission. We all have a mission from the Lord. We are strengthened in Eucharist to go back to mission.”

Bishop Pohlmeier brought the congress to conclusion with the exhortation to, “Look for the Lord’s blessings that the fruit of this day may be lived out in our lives.”