Eucharistic Congress draws people from around the country seeking inspiration from all-star lineup of speakers
Eucharistic Congress visitors from outside the region were overwhelmed by God’s presence at the worship event and left East Tennessee with rave reviews for the Diocese of Knoxville and its Catholic faithful.
The travelers joined diocesan attendees in praising the Congress for its focus on the Holy Eucharist, inspiring messages, Southern hospitality, and atmosphere that placed God above all else.
“We need more of this. We need more of this enthusiasm for being Catholic,” said Deacon James Carper, one of many people who traveled significant distances to attend the congress.
Deacon Carper’s home parish is St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, Calif., which is in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
“My wife is a voracious reader of Our Sunday Visitor,” Deacon Carver said, noting that when his wife saw an advertisement in the national Catholic publication for the Eucharistic Congress, she excitedly showed it to him.
Deacon Carper knew they had to attend after seeing the lineup of speakers.
“If it were a concert, they’d all be Catholic rock stars,” he said.
Others from outside East Tennessee and the state agreed that the initial attraction for them was the caliber of the speakers.
“My husband is a huge fan of Dr. Scott Hahn,” said Brandi Jodoin of Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada.
So much so, she related, that last Christmas the family gave her husband, Corey Jodoin, a promise to buy him a ticket to wherever Dr. Hahn would be speaking. When Mr. Jodoin checked Dr. Hahn’s speaking schedule, he learned of the Eucharistic Congress and its schedule, and immediately booked his flight.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” Deacon John “Scotty” Wainscott of St. Louis said about the speakers.
While speakers such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Dr. Scott Hahn and Father Robert Barron may have been the initial draw, it was the Diocese of Knoxville that left the greatest impression with those who attended.
Brandi Jodoin, speaking for her husband, who traveled to Sevierville with their teenage son, Elijah, said she could not attend the Eucharistic Congress for a good reason—there are 11 children in the Jodoin family and all are homeschooled by Mrs. Jodoin.
She said her husband and son had a “fantastic time,” adding that Mr. Jodoin said the highlight for him was the final Mass on Saturday, Sept. 14.
“We have an extreme shortage of priests. In one case, we have five parishes with just one priest among them,” Brandi Jodoin said.
“To attend a Mass with two cardinals, several bishops, and more than 100 priests and deacons was amazing,” she said, quoting her husband.
Mrs. Jodoin mentioned that her husband also was impressed by the number of priests available for confessions at all times during the Congress.
Closer to East Tennessee, Clarence and Becky Guenther traveled from the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., to be a part of the congress and spoke to Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali following their “Evening Chat” on Sept. 13. Mr. Guenther makes rosaries as a ministry and presented the bishop and cardinal with two of his creations.
“I loved it,” Mr. Guenther said.
“So did I,” Mrs. Guenther said. “Our deacon mentioned the Eucharistic Congress. When we found out that Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan, Father Barron and Scott Hahn were there, we said we’re going.”
Monique Davis and Katia Thoman attended the congress from Peachtree City, Ga., after hearing about it from friends.
“I participated in the Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta and I wanted to experience the one here. It was a beautiful exchange of love,” Ms. Davis said.
And for Rodney and Vicki Neff of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville, who joined the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil last spring, the congress was spiritually uplifting and faith affirming.
“We got to experience how rich the Church is theologically and spiritually. You could feel the Holy Spirit. And listening to the insights from Cardinal Rigali and Cardinal Dolan made the messages accessible for all of us,” Rodney Neff said. “This has made us go forward and grow as Christians.”
Deacon Wainscott knows Diocese of Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali from their tenure in St. Louis. His wife, Mary, worked for Bishop Stika and attended the bishop’s ordination/installation in Knoxville in 2009.
“I was keeping track of [the Congress],” he said. “I wanted to come down and see how things were going for Bishop Stika.”
The deacon was quite happy to see the diocese, Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali doing very well. He pointed out that he is the vocations chairman for his local Serra Club in St. Louis and was impressed with the number of diocesan seminarians given the size of the diocese.
“But I was more impressed with the diversity of the crowd,” he said. “It was obvious that the people of the diocese went out of their way to include everyone.”
“And I was particularly impressed with the standing ovation given to Deacon Sean Smith,” he added.
Deacon Carper of California was quick to point out how happy he was to see how widely deacons participate in the diocese, noting their “high visibility.”
“To see their presence, even a detail like having the same dalmatic, was very gratifying,” Deacon Carper said.
Deacons Carper and Wainscott, as well as Brandi Jodoin, mentioned that it was wonderful to see so many religious women in attendance at the congress, too.
“My husband was astounded by the number of orders in the diocese,” Mrs. Jodoin said.
Deacon Carper felt a special mention was needed for the diocesan youth. He works in youth ministry at Holy Cross Church in South Central Los Angeles.
“I have to say I was impressed by the engagement of youth,” he said. “At the end of the Youth Mass, I counted about 24 youth up there with the bishop. For him to have youth involved as advisers and to listen to them is incredibly huge.”
He said he felt Bishop Stika particularly was approachable and expressed his admiration for the bishop as the leader of the diocese.
Brandi Jodoin’s husband felt the same. “He said that it was clear that Bishop Stika wanted this to be a world-class event, and it was,” she said.
Deacon Wainscott said with a laugh that when Bishop Stika presented his dream of a new cathedral, he wanted to stand up and yell, ‘build it, and they will come!’ I liked his outlook.”
“It is not just Knoxville, but all of East Tennessee,” he said about Bishop Stika’s vision for the future of the diocese.