When Father Bob Roggenbuck distributed fliers around his Ann Arbor, Mich., parish to promote a young-adult group whose central activity would be to adore Christ in the Eucharist, the newly ordained priest expected a modest response.
No fewer than 36 turned out at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish for the first night — and most were students from nearby colleges and universities. Three months later, the group, which calls itself Generation Christ, has attracted 75 and is still growing.
Why so many college students? St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, surrounded by the University of Michigan, also serves students from Eastern Michigan University, Ave Maria College, Ave Maria Law School and Washtenaw Community College.
“College students come to our parish because we are a traditional parish, with families and a wide range of people,” says Father Roggenbuck. “Many students are drawn to this kind of parish as opposed to their campus Newman center. It reminds them of their own church, the parish they grew up in.”
Bethany Thelen, a University of Michigan freshman, admits that attending the parish and joining the group eased her fears. “Coming to U of M, I was very nervous because my friends from high school chose different schools,” she told the Register. “Generation Christ has been an amazing opportunity and experience for me.”
Students from the various colleges meet for two hours every Sunday evening. The first hour is a holy hour with worship music. The second hour is for fellowship.
A guest homilist or speaker, mostly priests and deacons, addresses the students. Two Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, a new community devoted to the Eucharist, have also spoken to the group.
Father Roggenbuck insists the heart of Generation Christ is the Eucharist. He launched the group around the time of Pope John Paul II's proclamation of the Year of the Eucharist.
“I think that, in response to the Holy Father's call to make this the Year of the Eucharist, if we are going to be authentically Christian, we need to be closer to the Lord,” he says. “If we are going to do that, the Eucharist is Christ himself.”
Father Roggenbuck perceives a direct relationship between his recent ordination and the Year of the Eucharist.
“I think it's very timely,” he says. “The Holy Father has his finger on the pulse of humanity. He wants to rekindle in the third millennium a sense of amazement at the Eucharist. It is particularly important to respond to the Holy Father's call to do what he wants me to. The celebration of the Eucharist is so fresh in my mind because I am newly ordained. It is so important for my own spiritual life.”
The fact that college students are meeting once a week to adore the Eucharist has astounded some parents.
“I was very pleased and surprised to hear there was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” says Mary Ann Thelen, Bethany's mother. “It made me happy because I know that a greater relationship with God can develop from a regular time like this. I would love for her to find it so powerful that it becomes a regular part of her life, whether she goes with a group or not.”
Bethany says habitual Eucharistic adoration has deepened her understanding of the Year of the Eucharist.
“I knew it was the Year of the Eucharist, but I felt it had very little meaning for me personally,” says the freshman. “The Year of the Eucharist has gained so much more meaning for me since going to Generation Christ. I am now able to adore the Lord each week. Before Generation Christ, I never went to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on a regular basis, and I have just begun to realize how incredible it is to meet the Lord in this way. Devotion to the Eucharist is something I desperately want and need more of.”
Faith and Friendship
Besides adoration, the group, loosely affiliated with a wider group of that name launched in Cincinnati several years ago, also plans to attend World Youth Days and to travel to New York City to work with the poor.
Generation Christ serves another role as well. It brings together compatible students who have in common a zeal for the Catholic faith.
“It is incredible to be involved in a group of young adults who are on fire for the Lord,” says Bethany. “They care about their faith and want to grow in holiness. What appeals to me is having a group of like-minded individuals who value their Catholic faith and are able to share their faith with others. I have met so many great people and found support and friendship in this group. However, with Generation Christ, I have made excellent friends, and I really enjoy going each week to grow in faith and friendship.”
Father Roggenbuck is mindful of the great gift found in the Eucharist and is convinced that even if students don't fully understand Eucharistic adoration, they are coming to know the Lord even deeper.
“I have a favorite line,” he adds. “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for only one reason: the holy Eucharist.”
Mary Ann Sullivan writes from New Durham, New Hampshire.