Meet the ‘Eucharistic Preachers’
The newly assembled team of 56 priests gathered for a Eucharistic retreat before being sent on mission as part of the National Eucharistic Revival.
An April retreat on Chicago’s West Side that included prayer in adoration, Mass, bishops’ presentations and service to the poor energized Father Rafael Capó, who with about 50 other priests will soon be preaching around the country this summer as part of the National Eucharistic Revival.
“That retreat put us on fire, and we’re ready to go out,” said Father Capó, 54, a priest of the Miami Archdiocese and vice president of mission at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.
Father Capó is one of 56 priests commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to travel around the country as “National Eucharistic Preachers,” seeking to inspire Eucharistic faith and devotion that bears fruit in works of charity over the next years, beginning on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi this year and culminating with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July 2024.
Nominated by bishops and religious superiors, the priests were selected for their devotion to the Eucharist, preaching ability and missionary adaptability. They represent 21 dioceses and eight religious communities and institutes. Members of the diverse group, which include priests from Latino, Vietnamese and Filipino backgrounds, range from a newly ordained priest to one celebrating his golden jubilee.
Relationship Leads to Mission
Gathering with the priests for the retreat at the Mission of the Angels were Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, who heads the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. Bishop Cozzens is leading the three-year Eucharistic Revival. Several other bishops and theologians also gave presentations.
The work of the Holy Spirit was evident at the retreat, said Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Alicia Torres of Chicago, who helped develop the National Eucharistic Preachers initiative and plan the retreat.
“Just to be here present in Chicago and witness the grace that was flowing, the openness of the priests to be participating in the formation, but even more importantly in deepening their own relationship with the Lord in the Eucharist and in their fraternity as brother priests was incredibly beautiful for me to see,” she told the Register.
Retreatants also spent time serving in the neighborhood of the Mission of the Angels, which is run by Sister Alicia’s community. The priests talked with residents, helped them get groceries and assisted in other ways, she said.
The connection retreatants had between Eucharistic prayer and mission is a theme that will likely be highlighted in their own preaching on the subject.
“When a Catholic either discovers for the first time or renews his or her relationship with Our Lord in the Eucharist, it necessarily pushes us out of ourselves to live a Eucharistic life,” said Sister Alicia.
Dominican Father Patrick Hyde, 36, said he was inspired by the retreat and the time with other Eucharistic Preachers.
“To be with brother priests who love the Eucharist from all over the country, from all different experiences and backgrounds and to just come together and share through our own prayer and celebration of the Eucharist, but then also conversation and joy and wonder at the great gift that the Eucharist is to the Church,” was impactful, said Father Hyde, who is pastor and director of campus ministry at St. Paul Catholic Center at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Available to Preach
The Eucharistic Preachers will be available to speak at dioceses around the country during the National Eucharistic Revival’s first year, which is dedicated to diocesan events, including gatherings, Masses and Eucharistic Holy Hours, youth and young-adult events, Eucharistic assemblies and congresses, and clergy convocations and retreats. During the second year of the revival, the Eucharistic Preachers will receive assignments on the parish level.
As the size and theme of Eucharistic Revival gatherings will vary, the USCCB will assign the priests by their preaching style and expertise, said Father Jorge Torres, a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida. He is a staff member of the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Revival initiative.
“A lot of the attention of the bishops is going to be turning more and more to the Revival and how to plan,” he said. “Some already have a Eucharistic congress that is done yearly in the fall or Corpus Christi. Others are asking for ideas and are putting together a team. The requests are coming in.”
The preachers may first reach Catholics who are already active in the Church. While the USCCB is not telling them how to preach, some themes include the Gospel proclamation, the Eucharist as sacrifice, and Eucharistic miracles, Father Torres said.
Preaching is also likely to touch on an important, but misunderstood, aspect of the Church’s teaching: the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Polling from a variety of sources has confirmed that the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is not widely understood, even by practicing Catholics. For instance, a November 2021 survey asked Catholics if they agreed with the statement, “I believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.” Only 41% of Catholics agreed, including only 50% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly.
This factor, among others, has been cited by the bishops as evidence for the need of a refresher on a foundational Church teaching.
Father Hyde has worked with young adults during all six years of his priesthood, and he expects he will preach to them about giving Jesus time to work in their hearts.
“The power of the anti-spectacle that is Eucharistic adoration in a world where we’re glued to our phones and screens and everything has to be bigger, grander, stronger, louder,” Father Hyde said. “That time in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, when ‘nothing’s happening,’ can be the most profound and meaningful part of our life, but we have to develop that virtue of prayer, of going, of seeking of listening and even speaking to the Lord.”
With his experience in education and with Latino youth and young adults, Father Capó, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, also looks forward “to connecting with young people and awakening [them] not just to encounter that living Christ in the Eucharist, but knowing that Christ is sending them as joyful witnesses of God’s love and mercy.”
As one of the 1,040 “Missionaries of Mercy” chosen by Pope Francis during the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy, Father Capó has led parish missions around the world with a focus on the sacrament of reconciliation. He plans to bring together the themes of mercy and the Eucharist in his preaching for the Eucharistic Revival.
“For the couple of us who are Missionaries of Mercy and National Eucharistic Preachers, both of the sacraments are so connected, and our message is reinforced by preaching the Eucharist and reconciliation and the message of mercy. So I’m very excited.”
Igniting a Renewal
Franciscan Sister Alicia said she hopes the preachers’ initiative will not only inspire the faithful but encourage their brother priests who also need renewal.
To prepare, she encouraged Catholics to read the 2021 USCCB document on the Eucharist, the doctrinal source text for the Eucharistic Revival, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” and to watch Bishop Cozzens’ online course by the same title. Both are found at EucharisticRevival.org.
The Lord in every tabernacle is inviting people back to relationship with him, and he is inviting every Catholic to be involved in some way with the Eucharistic Revival, said Sister Alicia.
“My hope is that truly a fire of love for Our Lord and the Eucharist will be ignited in our country and people will come to discover that Jesus has always been with us,” she said. “He has never abandoned us; he has never abandoned the Church. There’s so much new life available through a relationship with him, particularly through his True Presence in the Eucharist.”