Encountering the Real Presence: Diocesan Congresses Build Momentum for National Eucharistic Revival

Nationwide, the faithful are adoring and honoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as Church communities.

Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta leads the Eucharistic procession on the morning of June 18 at Atlanta's 25th Eucharistic Congress at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, Georgia.
Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta leads the Eucharistic procession on the morning of June 18 at Atlanta's 25th Eucharistic Congress at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, Georgia. (photo: Johnathon Kelso / The Georgia Bulletin)

For a quarter of a century, Catholics in the Atlanta Archdiocese have set aside Corpus Christi weekend to gather and grow in devotion to Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. This year, the congress welcomed some new speakers, including a cardinal and more than half a dozen bishops who attended the congress while gearing up to launch the National Eucharistic Revival in their dioceses on June 19.

“There are no coincidences,” said Deacon Dennis Dorner, the archdiocese’s chancellor and congress chairperson, about the two events coming together “and how beautiful that we were able to kick off the three-year Revival with our 25th congress.”

Atlanta’s two-day congress that drew about 15,000 people as well as many of other diocesan events around the country this year were planned independently of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ initiative, but as they seek to renew and deepen Eucharistic devotion, they are building momentum during the Revival, which will culminate in a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024.

The congresses reflect their distinct local Churches but share the goal of bringing together diocesan Catholics, including those who have never attended a congress, diocesan leaders said. At a time when studies have shown that U.S. Catholics’ belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist has waned, diocesan Eucharistic congresses are playing an important role in the Revival, said Tim Glemkowski, the Revival’s executive director. 

“What’s unique about these congresses is that we gather around not just a talk that we’re going to hear or a conversation, but we’re gathering around the mystery of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,” he said. “We’re here to encounter him uniquely, and I think those are profound things.”

Attending the June 16 procession that was part of the Corpus Christi Diocese’s 10-day Eucharistic congress didn’t increase Lupie Sanchez’s belief in the Real Presence, but it helped her keep believing. The mile-long walk in Texas was a challenge for Sanchez, 49, who has stage-four cancer and normally doesn’t walk far. 

Corpus Christi diocesan Eucharistic procession
Clockwise from top: Bishop Michael Mulvey and two transitional deacons, Charles Silvas and Carlos De la Rosa, lead the Corpus Christi procession. More 300 people walk in procession through the streets of downtown Corpus Christi on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Immediately after celebrating Corpus Christi, the diocese began nine days of adoration. Every evening, vespers were prayed. | South Texas Catholic

Sanchez, who frequently prays at Eucharistic adoration, attended the procession with four of the young altar servers she manages at her Corpus Christi parish, Our Lady of Pilar. 

The procession and congress were important because they bring unity among Catholics, she said, also noting that the procession went past a homeless shelter and the county jail. 

To Sanchez, walking in the procession was well worth the neuropathy pain she experienced afterward. “God just has a way of saying, ‘You’re not going to miss this,’” she said.

A Eucharistic congress, by one definition, is a gathering of clergy, religious and laity that bears witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Diocesan leaders also defined it as discussions about the Eucharist and how it applies to the faithful’s lives. 

The first international Eucharistic congress was held in Lille, France, in 1881, and the first in the United States took place in Chicago in 1926. The most recent international congress in the U.S. was held in Philadelphia in 1976. 

The diocesan congresses are one aspect of the pilgrimage leading up to the first U.S. Eucharistic congress in nearly half a century, and these local congresses are likely to grow and become part of the Revival’s lasting legacy, Glemkowski said.  “Everything we’re trying to do over the next three years for the Revival is for the sake of the next 50 years of the mission of the Church.” 


First Year’s Focus

The Revival’s “Year of Diocesan Revival,” which began June 19, focuses especially on Eucharistic renewal for priests, diocesan teams and parish leaders through diocese-wide events and Eucharistic days of formation. It will be followed by years of parish revival, and the National Eucharistic Congress and missionary sending, culminating in the national congress scheduled for July 17-21, 2024, in Indianapolis.

A 2019 Pew Research Center survey finding that only one-third of U.S. Catholics agree that the Eucharist is Jesus’ Body and Blood didn’t surprise many Church leaders, but it got their attention, Glemkowski said.  

Questions about the study’s validity led to the commissioning of a new analysis on Catholic belief in the Eucharist by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. The second study, which is expected to clarify the Pew study, is being funded by the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame and is scheduled for release this summer. 

The Pew study was one reason the Boston Archdiocese began planning its June 18 Eucharistic congress in Lowell, Massachusetts. Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley declared 2020 the archdiocesan “Year of the Eucharist,” which extended to two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Michael Lavigne, archdiocesan assistant cabinet secretary for evangelization and discipleship, director of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation; and parish support president of the Institute for the New Evangelization.

First scheduled for 2021, the congress’ theme was “Jesus Is Here,” with a focus on finding one’s identity in Christ. The fact that the Boston congress took place the day before the National Eucharistic Revival’s launch was divine Providence, Lavigne said, adding that more than 3,800 of the faithful attended. 


Uniting the Body of Christ

The Corpus Christi Diocese began planning its June congress as part of its 110th anniversary celebration before the National Eucharistic Revival was announced, said Julie Stark, diocesan communications director. The congress — its first since 2005 — reflected the diocesan identity and name, which means the Body of Christ, she said. Included in the congress were a Eucharistic adoration novena, priestly ordination and parish celebrations of the Solemnities of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all culminating in a one-day conference, she said. 

Besides being an opportunity to renew and deepen devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Corpus Christi’s congress helped fostered unity and missionary disciples, Stark said. “I think it’s a work of the Holy Spirit; obviously, this is no accident that we’re having one, too.” 

Roxie Doucet, 54, and her husband had other options for how they would spend Saturday, June 25, but they decided to attend the conference that was part of the Corpus Christi Diocese’s congress. 

A highlight was a talk on the Eucharist by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of the San Antonio Archdiocese. “That’s the epitome of our faith, looking to God in the Eucharist,” she said. “It was just beautiful.”

Doucet said the congress helped solidify her and her husband’s faith, while also providing opportunities for fellowship. The congress “may be an effort to reinvigorate us as Catholics to get involved and come together and support each other.”

Uniting the Body of Christ is also a goal of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese for its fourth-annual Eucharistic congress scheduled for Sept. 10, said Lorie Sage, manager of the Missouri diocese’s Office of Divine Worship. 

Though planning for the diocesan congress began before the Revival was announced, Sage said she considers the two intertwined. “It’s kind of like the fulfillment of all our efforts for these past four years to promote adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” 

Highlights of last year’s congress, which Sage hopes will continue this year, included high-school students’ testimonies of faith experiences in Eucharistic adoration and parishes increasing their adoration hours. Sage hopes for 500 attendees this year. 

In Montana, offering Eucharistic adoration in four different chapels simultaneously at Carroll College made Eucharistic adoration a theme of the Helena Diocese’s June congress — its first in about 20 years, said Father Bart Tolleson, the bishop’s assistant for events. Each chapel was set up for a different type of worship, and, as a result, parishes are adding adoration hours, he said. 

New congress attendees “didn’t know what it was, as much as we advertised it, but that was a blessing that came from it,” Father Tolleson said, adding that 120 people attended the congress and 300 joined the procession.  

The diocese may hold more congresses in the future, and, overall, he said, this year’s congress was “a great way to start and participate in a broader way in what’s going on in the whole country with this Eucharistic Revival.” 


Forming God’s People

Around the country, many dioceses and parishes launched the Revival during Corpus Christi processions, but in the days leading up to the launch, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and bishops, including Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, spoke at Atlanta’s congress. Bishop Cozzens chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, where he is leading the Revival.

At the archdiocese’s June 18 multicultural procession, 75 parishes were represented, Deacon Dorner said. The congress theme of “Come to Me” reflects how a more intimate relationship with Christ also unites the faithful with the poor and those on the margins, Deacon Dorner said.

Atlanta Eucharistic Congress 2 June 2022
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio for the United States, speaks during the English track of Atlanta's Eucharistic Congress on Day Two of the June 17-18 event. The event returned after a two-year hiatus and kicked off the National Eucharistic Revival. | Johnathon Kelso/The Georgia Bulletin(Photo: Johnathon Kelso)

Boston’s Eucharistic congress this year marked not only a national Revival but a local one, with parishes seeking to help their congregations fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist, Lavigne said.

Fruits of the congress include Cardinal O’Malley’s work of forming a people, said Joan Lamar, archdiocesan creative projects director.  

“There was so much that happened just in that day in forming his people: what they heard and what they saw,” she said. 

“When you process through the streets of one of our cities, that’s forming a people — and that’s forming the people in the culture around you. It’s so powerful.”

Recognizing that not all dioceses have the resources to organize large congresses, Glemkowski encouraged them to find creative grassroots ways to foster healing, conversion, formation, unity and being sent forth by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. 

“What’s unique about these congresses is that we gather around not just a talk that we’re going to hear or a conversation, but we’re gathering around the mystery of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.”