Eucharistic Congress offers time for worship, service

NORTH END -- At a two-day event that included time for prayer, witness talks and service projects, hundreds of Catholic young adults shared their common call to bring about the New Evangelization.

On Friday and Saturday, April 23 and 24, the archdiocese held its third annual Eucharistic Congress for College Students and Young Adults, themed “Be Set Apart,” in Boston’s North End. Although the event was primarily targeted towards young adults, some local high school-aged youth attended as well.

“I think the Eucharistic Congress is a chance to see you’re not fighting the battle alone,” said Lylah Fitzgerald, 18, a senior at Millis High School and a member of Life Teen at St. Mary Parish in Dedham.

“It gives you hope,” Fitzgerald added. “You see the speakers and you see the joy they have that other people in the world don’t have.”

On Friday evening, participants gathered at Sacred Heart Church for talks by Diocese of St. Petersburg Vocations Director Father Leonard Plazewski and Katie Dardis of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Respect Life Education Office. Eucharistic adoration and the opportunity for confessions followed the talks.

Saturday’s talks were given by Catholic author and spiritual development director for the Archdiocese of New York Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary Amanda Graf, and high school theology teacher, college campus minister and Catholic radio host Sister Sarah Burdick, SGL.

Father Groeschel and Graf spoke during the morning session, and at around 11:30 a.m. participants disbursed across Boston to perform service projects at various locations. Following the service projects, they returned to Sacred Heart for a 4:30 p.m. Mass with Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley. The group then ate dinner at St. John’s School across the street from Sacred Heart. They returned to the church for an evening session consisting of Sister Burdick’s remarks, Eucharistic adoration, and a procession through the North End.

Emcees for the event were Fathers Dan Hennessey and Matt Williams, directors of the archdiocese’s vocations and young adult ministry offices, respectively.

“It’s just wonderful to see people passionate about living life in whatever vocation they are called to do,” said Lina Gomes, 24, a student at Northeastern University’s law school who worships at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in the Back Bay.

Father Groeschel, who has appeared on EWTN, offered a meditation on the Holy Eucharist, saying that the sacrament should play a central role in the lives of Catholics because it gives them a personal relationship with Jesus. He said the Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ himself.

Father Groeschel also criticized Church trends following the 1960s, which he claimed resulted in a loss of traditional practices like devotions to the Blessed Mother and the Holy Eucharist, as well as moving the tabernacle away from the center of the altar to the side, or even its own alcove in some instances.

His words resonated with the audience, many of whom were too young to remember those times.

“If we’re putting the Eucharist to the side, we’re putting our unification to the side,” said Matthew Pandolfo, 30, of St. Clement’s.

For the bulk of the afternoon, the young people journeyed to various Boston locales for community service projects. Options included visiting elderly priests at Regina Cleri; street ministry; spring cleaning of the North End’s parks and streets, homeless shelters, and churches; and a prayer vigil at Planned Parenthood.

“I believe it’s a way to get people to put their faith into practice,” said Justin Bell, 34, who led the group at Planned Parenthood.

Fanned along the yellow arc that marks the state-mandated buffer zone around the clinic entrance, vigilers prayed the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and offered intentions silently.

“It’s our obligation to pray for (the unborn),” said Ryan Nash, 17, a senior at Dedham High School and member of St. Mary’s Life Teen.

Fitzgerald spent nearly two hours on her knees.

“When you’re kneeling, it shows you’re not protesting the people going in there,” she said. “If you’re kneeling down, you’re praying for them and not judging them. You’re saying, ‘I love you and I want the best for you.’”

Some vigilers distributed fliers explaining their activities to interested passersby, and occasionally as they were praying, others passersby shouted obscenities or insults. At one point, one man sang songs with sexually explicit lyrics during the vigilers’ silent prayer.

“Whenever we have people yelling and saying obscenities, we know we’re doing good because that’s creating a response,” said Bell, who led the prayer vigil project for the third consecutive year.

In one instance, some vigilers discussed their activity when questioned by a passerby.

Alicia Marvin, 29, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish in Rockland, cleaned the sanctuary at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

“Everything’s very humbling,” she said. “It makes me think how I can be more reverent in my daily life and worship more deeply.”

Katie Maguire, 23, got to see South Boston for the first time through her service project. A FOCUS missionary at MIT and a recent graduate of Texas AandM University who is from San Antonio, Texas, Maguire went to St. Brigid Church where she washed windows in a convent.

“It was nice to do something tangible when you can see the effect afterwards,” she said.

By the time the groups returned from service, it was time for Mass. Music for the Mass was provided by the choir from Magdalen College in Warner, N.H.

Cardinal O’Malley was joined at the altar by Father Groeschel and priests from the Archdiocese of Boston.

In his homily delivered the weekend of Good Shepherd Sunday, Cardinal O’Malley reflected upon the metaphor of the Good Shepherd and how that can explain people’s relationship with God.

“We have a radical dependence upon the Lord -- the Good Shepherd,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “There is a bond with the sheep that is part of our lives. We are the object of the sacrificial love of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.”

He went on to describe how Catholics’ relationship with the Good Shepherd should influence discipleship.

“If we are his flock, his voice, his words must be familiar to us and we must follow them,” Cardinal O’Malley continued. “As disciples, we must define our relationship with the Lord and other believers.”

He reminded those at the Mass of their mission -- “to build a civilization of love and make disciples of all nations.”

Sister Burdick gave the evening talk, and encouraged those in attendance to bring the Good News of Jesus to the world, and allow Jesus to transform their lives.

Adoration followed Sister Burdick’s talk, with music provided by Jon Niven and his band. Adoration led into a nighttime Eucharistic procession through the North End, where adorers, including Cardinal O’Malley, processed through the streets carrying candles. Father Michael Harrington, the archdiocese’s assistant vocations director, carried the monstrance for adoration and the procession.

The Eucharistic Congress brought together young Catholics from across the archdiocese and surrounding locales, from different walks of life. Through the congress, they were all united in their common mission -- the New Evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II.

“It was beautiful to see the universal aspect of the Church right here in Boston,” Pandolfo said. “We made the Eucharist the center. When that happens, you bring people together.”