CHARLOTTE — "You need to be ready to continue your work of bringing Christ to others, of evangelizing this culture."
In his homily for the closing Mass of the Diocese of Charlotte's 11th Eucharistic Congress, Bishop Peter Jugis entreated more than 14,000 people in the Charlotte Convention Center – the largest crowd ever recorded at the annual event – that their faith in the Eucharist can sustain them in what he called these "challenging" times.
"There is so much division and conflict," Bishop Jugis said. "The society in which we live is broken by sin, and we experience this brokenness every day. And yet the Lord is depending on us to bring His message to this culture. How do we do this?"
Catholics must proclaim the Gospel with joy, and to do that they must be nourished with the Eucharist, he said. Jesus, he reminded everyone, "is always with us in the Eucharist."
"Your reverence and devotion for the Blessed Sacrament shows how deep your faith is in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist," he told the thousands of Catholics from across the Charlotte diocese's 92 parishes and missions who were attending the closing Mass after two days of Eucharistic Adoration, a Eucharistic procession through uptown Charlotte, concerts and educational talks.
"We have come to the high point of the Eucharistic Congress," he noted, "the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass. All of the events of the Congress lead up to this point."
He then asked, "What spiritual blessings are you taking with you from this Eucharistic Congress? Are you going forth with a joyful heart?"
091215-ec-scenes-3091215-ec-scenes-4Catholics must go forth with "renewed hearts," a stronger understanding of their faith, and deeper gratitude to the Lord for the blessings they receive, he said. With that renewed strength, joy and faith, Catholics can confidently evangelize the culture, he emphasized.
Earlier in the day, a standing-room only crowd greeted New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan in the convention center where he delivered a homily for a Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration. The keynote address capped a Eucharistic procession which included Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Jugis, clergy, religious and more than 9,000 people of the diocese through the streets of uptown Charlotte that lasted more than an hour and a half.
The Eucharistic procession Saturday morning from St. Peter Church to the convention center coincided with a Sept. 11 memorial event on Tryon Street that drew hundreds of people, creating a festive display of parish banners mixed with American flags.
In his homily for the Holy Hour, Cardinal Dolan spoke of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, a meal and as the real presence of Jesus Christ. He peppered his remarks with jokes and anecdotes in his usual effusive style, garnering repeated applause and laughter from the enthusiastic crowd.
First, he thanked the Charlotte diocese for inviting him to the Congress, and he received warm applause in return.
"I came because of my particular affection and esteem for your good bishop, Bishop Peter Jugis, and affection for your former bishop, Bishop (William) Curlin," Cardinal Dolan said.
He asked for prayers for Bishop Emeritus Curlin, who was unable to attend this year's Congress because of ill health. He is undergoing regular chemotherapy and treatment for a heart condition, but continues ministering to the sick in Charlotte area hospitals. (After the Congress, Bishop Curlin thanked Cardinal Dolan for his words and asked for continued prayers.)
091215-ec-scenes-1091215-ec-scenes-6With a smile, Cardinal Dolan also described the Eucharistic procession he had just participated in next to Bishop Jugis as "quite a workout." Then, he added more seriously, "We see this tremendous upsurge in devotion and public expression of our deep faith in the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament."
"The Church is growing" in the South, he also noted, especially as so many people from New York are moving here.
"You see how many people are here from New York?" he said, gesturing widely as the New Yorkers who were present clapped. "So I hope the rest of you have locked your cars."
He continued, the Eucharistic procession is one way Catholics intentionally express their faith, in a visible and public way.
What does the phrase "intentional Catholic" mean? the cardinal asked. "One who has freely said yes to Jesus."
"That's intentional Catholicism," he emphasized. "And, my brothers and sisters, I saw that this morning. That's intentional Catholicism on steroids."
"You are professing the fact that He is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. And you are professing that your faith in Him and in the Eucharist is sustained and fortified and nourished by membership in His Body, which we call the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."
"Is the Holy Eucharist a sign? Yes, but not just a sign. Is the Holy Eucharist a symbol? Yes, but not just a symbol. Is the Holy Eucharist a sacrifice? Yes, but not only a sacrifice. Is the Holy Eucharist a meal? Yes, but not just a meal. It's the real thing," he said with a flourish.
That is why we sing with praise and thanksgiving, he quoted from the familiar hymn as the audience chimed in: "O sacrament most holy, o sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine."
In a press conference following his Holy Hour talk, Cardinal Dolan praised the "phenomenal" Eucharistic congresses becoming so popular throughout the South.
091215-ec-scenes-2"What we have to do is exercise our faith muscle. Faith is not passive. It's not something we take for granted. I like Bishop Jugis' word when he says (to) speak about an 'intentional Catholicism.' If we're not intentional about it, enthusiastic about, sincere about it, we're going to shrivel up. And these Congresses give us a chance to publicly express our faith. They give us a beautiful sense of solidarity, that we're not in this ourselves."
Congress attendees echoed Cardinal Dolan's sentiments.
Consuelo Adams wrote on the Catholic News Herald's Facebook page, "One powerful message ... about Jesus' teaching that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life becomes real for us in an amazing way in the Eucharist."
"I think it's wonderful to see the Church in motion," added Sister Margaret with the Daughters of St. Paul, which was among nearly 100 Catholic vendors and exhibitors at this year's Congress. "It's just beautiful. You see the future."
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
Relive the 2015 Eucharistic Congress or see what you missed in our blog: http://goeucharist.tumblr.com/
What does Cardinal Timothy Dolan think about Pope Francis? Check out our interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrIK6g5GPWc
Watch LIVE video of the Eucharistic Procession: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dO4PugUgrg