By Gretchen Keiser
COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (CNS) — Jesus’ commandment to his followers to love one another as he loves them might be daunting, but he gave believers the gift of the Eucharist “so we can live this life of love,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston.
“He loves us first. He loves us to the end. He loves us to the point of laying down his life for us. He loves us while we are still in sin,” the cardinal told attendees at the Atlanta Archdiocese’s Eucharistic Congress.
The Eucharist “strengthens us. It challenges us,” he said, and it comes to God’s people through the priesthood. “This wonderful gift (the priesthood) makes the Eucharist available everywhere for all times.”
“Many today find the teaching too hard to believe and simply stop coming,” said Cardinal O’Malley June 5.
However, “Jesus’ words and actions assure us he has left us a miracle of love in the Eucharist,” he said. “Our God loves us, and the Eucharist is a celebration of that saving love.”
At the same time, the Mass “reminds us of our need for repentance and conversion,” the cardinal added.
Cardinal O’Malley was the homilist at the morning Mass on the second day of the archdiocese’s 15th congress. The annual event is an exuberant, colorful gathering of Catholics who come to listen to speakers, pray in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, go to confession and enjoy a public celebration of their faith.
The theme of the congress — “To Sanctify the Christian People” — was chosen by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory from the prayer of priestly ordination. He chose it in honor of the Year for Priests, declared by Pope Benedict XVI last June. The special year ends June 19.
The congress opened June 4 with an evening Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Atlanta and a healing service. The agenda included general sessions and workshop tracks in English, Spanish, French and, for the first time, Portuguese. A late-night session was held for young adults.
The diversity of the archdiocese’s faith communities was illustrated by banners that were part of the procession leading into the Benediction service June 5 inside the Georgia International Convention Center.
There were about 100 of them, carried by people from parishes in every part of north Georgia, from Catholic schools and lay groups, including Spanish Cursillo, nocturnal adoration societies, Knights of Columbus councils, Legion of Mary, lay associates of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Marriage Encounter, the Catholic charismatic renewal and Vietnamese, Korean, Hispanic, Filipino, Nigerian and Haitian Catholics.
During one of the general sessions at the congress, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia, reflected on the Year for Priests. He said that through the observance, the pope had offered priests and laity an occasion to reinforce an awareness and knowledge of “the extraordinary gift of grace an ordained minister represents for the church and the world.”
In recent discourses, the pope has spoken of why the priest’s role as sanctifier is so important, he continued.
“Every man and woman is called to holiness. The priest has a role to play as an instrument in fostering that holiness,” the archbishop said.
In growing in holiness, a person moves out of himself or goes beyond himself, the archbishop said. The transformation of a person’s inner being makes him the property of God. That person is set apart to love the world as God does, he said.
“An intimate friendship with God is the foundation of our holiness,” Archbishop Miller said.
About 73 priests came over the two days just to hear confessions of some of the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people there. An adoration chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was placed throughout the day was always filled with 75 to 100 people silently praying.
“I come every year. I love it,” Hung Nguyen, a computer programmer, told the Georgia Bulletin, Atlanta’s archdiocesan newspaper. “I don’t look at how big or how successful it is. I look for the touch of God in people’s hearts.”
The eucharistic congress is needed “to revive the hearts of every people,” said Nguyen, president of the parish council at Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale.
“We come to worship him and adore him. … We can see a big picture of God’s people. An event like this strengthens our faith, no doubt about it,” he said.
Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese and chairman of the congress steering committee, said he thought this year’s event was “easily the smoothest we have had” in his five years of involvement.
“Working on the congress committee is a labor of love,” he said. “When you think of all that Jesus does for us, how could we not respond with our best efforts in a celebration of his real presence in the Eucharist.”
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