Understanding the Eucharistic Congress as historic event nears

More than 5,000 people expected to attend Diocese of Knoxville’s September jubilee anniversary kickoff

By Deacon Sean Smith

Eucharistic Congress is a gathering of Catholic clergy, religious, and laity to bear witness to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Congresses bring people together from a wide area, and typically involve the celebration of Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and inspirational and catechetical presentations delivered by highly respected theologians and evangelists.

Congresses occur on an international, national and diocesan level. The most recent international Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin, Ireland, in 2012 and the next international congress is scheduled in Cebu, Philippine Islands, in 2016. Some dioceses in the United States have held Eucharistic Congresses at significant moments in their history and some, like the Archdiocese of Atlanta, hold a Eucharistic Congress every year.

Eucharistic Congresses began during the second half of the 19th century in France. Emilie Tamisier (1834-1910), a laywoman, organized the first international Eucharistic Congress at Lille, France, under the inspiration of St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), who is called the “Apostle of the Eucharist.” This undertaking, in which she was assisted by other laypeople, priests and bishops, received the blessing of Pope Leo XIII. The theme of this first Eucharistic Congress was: “The Eucharist Saves the World.” It was believed that a renewal of faith in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist would provide the remedy for ignorance and religious indifference.

In more recent times, Eucharistic Congresses have propelled Catholic evangelization. Blessed John Paul II said in his Message for World Mission Day on April 19, 2004: “In order to evangelize the world, we need experts in celebration, adoration and contemplation of the Holy Eucharist. The Church needs deeply Eucharistic souls to enter into the inner sanctuary of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and to draw from that infinite source of divine grace, the power to go out and to pierce the darkness of our world with a proclamation of the luminous truth of the Gospel. Only in and through the Eucharistic Mystery will we find the light that will transfigure us.”

And Pope Francis recently stated in a message to the Archbishop of Cologne on the occasion of the National Eucharistic Congress in Cologne, Germany: “Encountering Christ, giving ourselves to Christ, proclaiming Christ—these are the pillars of our faith, which are concentrated in the focal point of the Eucharist.” The celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the whole Christian life is the center of every Eucharistic Congress. The celebration of the Word of God and the inspirational and catechetical talks that precede the Mass can contribute to examining the various aspects of the Eucharistic Mystery – aspects that are suggested by the theme of the Congress. Praying in common and adoring the Blessed Sacrament contributes to interiorizing these themes.

Eucharistic Congresses generally offer ample opportunities for the faithful to participate in the healing sacrament of reconciliation, as well as time to enjoy fellowship with other Catholics in an inspirational and joy-filled setting.

On the occasion of the Diocese of Knoxville’s Silver Jubilee Anniversary, we will celebrate the region’s very first Eucharistic Congress Sept. 13-14 at the Sevierville Convention Center in Sevier County, a major gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Eucharistic Congress will mark the beginning of a yearlong celebration of our diocese’s 25th anniversary and will represent an extraordinary opportunity to offer our gratitude to Christ for the growth of the Catholic faith in East Tennessee.

The theme of our Eucharistic Congress is “His Presence + Our Faith + Families Together In Christ.” Joining us in celebrating this special occasion are some of the most influential personalities in the U.S. Catholic Church—a lineup called “almost miraculous.” The keynote speaker will be Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. He will be joined by Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, as well as popular speakers and authors Father Robert Barron and Dr. Scott Hahn.

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Richard F. Stika will lead an “Evening Chat” about the Catholic Church and the popes Cardinal Rigali has served over a 30-year period as well as Cardinal Rigali’s time serving in the Secretariat of State of the Vatican.

Additional breakout sessions for the youth will include the talents of ValLimar Jansen, Paul George, and the musical talents of Josh Blakesley and Sarah Kroger.

A Hispanic program for the youth will feature the inspirational music of Johann Alvarez and an adult program led by Father Rafael Capó, executive director of the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI), and Sister Rosa Hernández, MGSpS of the Diocese of Stockton.

As Catholics, we do not often have the opportunity to come together to celebrate the greatest gift of our Church, the Holy Eucharist, shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of Catholics rejoicing in His presence with “unique intensity.” This Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to be thankful (the very meaning of the word Eucharist) for all our blessings and to deepen our relationship with God. We will have great speakers, good music and lots of joy as we celebrate and adore the source and summit of the whole Christian life.