Top speakers headline Eucharistic Congress that kicks off Jubilee year

The Diocese of Knoxville’s yearlong 25th anniversary jubilee will kick off Sept. 13-14 with a family weekend that includes a Eucharistic Congress for all the diocesan faithful featuring some of the most influential personalities in the U.S. Catholic Church—a lineup called “almost miraculous.”
The two-day celebration will take place at the Sevierville Convention Center, with lodging available at the adjacent Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort and Family Adventure Center and dozens of other hotels in Sevier County. The diocese’s first Eucharistic Congress is designed for families, with activities planned for adults, teens and young children.
The jubilee kickoff celebration will begin Friday, Sept. 13, with a youth mass for all diocesan students followed by a youth concert and adoration led by nationally known singers Josh Blakesley and Sarah Kroger.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York will deliver the keynote address at the Eucharistic Congress. Cardinal Dolan, who has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Best-selling author and speaker Dr. Scott Hahn, whose books include The Lamb’s Supper and Rome Sweet Home and is internationally acclaimed as a lecturer and founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, will lead two workshops—one for adults and one for youth—on Sept. 14.
Father Robert Barron, founder and executive director of the popular Word on Fire Catholic Ministries who is described as one of the Catholic Church’s best messengers, also will lead a workshop for adults. Father Barron is rector and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

Father Rafael Capó, who heads the Southeast Pastoral Institute and is a regional director for Hispanic Ministry for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will lead a workshop for Hispanic parishioners.
Singer and speaker ValLimar Jansen, a university professor and leader of worship and prayer who presents workshops at conferences across the country, is leading a youth breakout session.
And Sister Rosa M. Hernandez, MGSpS, who is with the migrant ministry team in the Diocese of Stockton and previously was the diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Birmingham, also will lead a workshop for Hispanic members of the diocese.
Bishop Richard F. Stika will celebrate the diocesan-wide Mass that concludes the Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 14, with priests from across the diocese concelebrating. Parishioners attending this Mass will fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation that weekend.
The list of high-profile speakers and singers is expected to attract attendees from across the diocese and throughout the Southeast region.
Bishop Stika said the Eucharistic Congress and the yearlong jubilee celebration is a fitting tribute to the Church in East Tennessee and the parishioners who have worked hard to build the diocese.
Bishop Stika’s inspiration for the jubilee was his ordination as bishop in March 2009, where he witnessed the entire diocese join together to celebrate his consecration as the third bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville.
“We do together what we can’t do by ourselves. Every parish contributes to our existence. This is the Diocese of Knoxville. It is Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities, Helenwood, the new missions, and all the various parishes,” Bishop Stika said, adding that he is honored to be the bishop at this historic anniversary.
He said the jubilee celebration is built on the tradition of the diocese’s first two bishops and called the Diocese of Knoxville’s 25th anniversary “significant,” pointing to the impressive list of Eucharistic Congress speakers, even as the mother diocese, the Diocese of Nashville, celebrates its 175th anniversary.
“For us, 25 years is just as significant,” he said. “So often, people say we’re a small diocese. We may be small in population, but this shows, with our invited guests, that we’re as important as any diocese in the United States. We may be small in numbers, but the vitality and zeal of the people in our diocese is as big as any in the United States.”
Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville who chairs the planning committee for the anniversary jubilee and the Eucharistic Congress, said the Sept. 13-14 kickoff was planned as a family weekend. He strongly encourages families within the diocese to start making plans, including booking their hotel rooms at the Wilderness Resort while there is availability.
Deacon Smith said the diocese was able to negotiate a 40 percent discount on the room rates at the Wilderness Resort, with standard rooms that normally are $149 a night costing $89 a night during the Eucharistic Congress. Some premium rooms could cost more.
“The family weekend concept is where families as a whole can participate and celebrate,” Deacon Smith said, pointing to programs for adults and youth as well as the Wilderness Resort indoor (largest in Tennessee) and outdoor waterparks for children of all ages. “It is our hope that families will be able to set aside this three-day weekend to reap all the fruits of this Eucharistic Congress.”
In addition to events surrounding the congress and activities at the Wilderness Resort, Deacon Smith said families will have access to all the amenities of Sevier County, including retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
To allow for attendance at the congress, all 10 diocesan schools will close by midday on Sept. 13 so families will have time to travel to Sevierville.
The first event of the congress is a youth 6:30 p.m. youth Mass on Sept. 13 at the Convention Center, followed by the Josh Blakesley-Sarah Kroger concert and adoration. A full day of activities on Sept. 14 also will be at the Convention Center.
“This Eucharistic Congress will be the first in the Diocese of Knoxville. The committee has tried to secure well-known, talented public speakers and we’ve been able to do that. The caliber of the speaking corps is almost miraculous,” Deacon Smith said.
He said he and the planning committee worked more than a year in advance to secure speakers and singers that will appeal to all attendees.
“We wanted to ensure that all members of the faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville—youth, young adults, adults, Hispanic—will find something of interest,” Deacon Smith said.
In addition, Bishop Stika has asked diocesan pastors to cancel all vigil Masses on Sept. 14. The only exception is at parishes where the Saturday vigil Mass is the only one that weekend. The bishop also is asking that all diocesan priests concelebrate the Mass closing the Eucharistic Congress.
“We hope families will go ahead and start booking their rooms to ensure they will have accommodations. We picked Sevierville because it has thousands of hotel rooms in addition to the Wilderness at the Smokies Resort. So in addition to the Eucharistic Congress, families will have a chance to enjoy the resort and surrounding amenities as a family,” Deacon Smith said.
For lodging information at the Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort and Family Adventure Center, located at 190 Gists Creek Road off Highway 66 in Sevierville, go to or call 877-325-9453 and specifically mention the Diocese of Knoxville Eucharistic Congress to access the special room rates.
The Sevierville Convention Center is located at 202 Gists Creek Road.

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