Young adults energize faith at eucharistic congress

NORTH END -- Hundreds of young adult Catholics joined Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley for the first eucharistic congress in the historic North End March 28 and 29 where they adored the Eucharist, attended lectures, performed service projects and conducted a eucharistic procession.

“Your presence here is one more sign of the Lord working in your hearts,” the cardinal said to the congress during his homily at the Mass he celebrated in anticipation of Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Boston Eucharistic Congress for College Students and Young Adults was the synthesis of different aspects of the Catholic experience, said Father Daniel F. Hennessey, director of the Vocations Office. Father Hennessey planned the gathering with Father Richard Clancy, director of the Campus Ministry Office and Father Matt Williams, director of the Office of New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults.

“We wanted to have many dimensions to it. We wanted the participants to learn about and come to have a deeper understanding of the friendship Christ has for us and experience his presence among us,” said Father Hennessey. “Then, we wanted to bring him to others through service.”

Saturday afternoon, March 29, the young adults fanned out to 17 service providers to the elderly, the homeless, the archdiocese and the unborn, said Elizabeth C. Ward, who with Thomas K. Lyman, coordinated the service projects effort.

Ward said five of the projects were at the congress’ homebase at St. Stephen Church across from the Paul Revere Mall on Hanover Street. The furthest projects were the yard cleanup at Father Bill’s Place, a homeless shelter in Quincy and the praying of the rosary at the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic at 1055 Commonwealth Ave. in Brookline.

At the abortion clinic the 16 young adults gathered to offer peaceful witness to the sanctity of life, said the project’s leader Justin Bell, a media relations professional who is putting together a film on Catholic faith in action, which will include the eucharistic procession that closed the congress.

A veteran of more than 15 similar witnesses at abortion clinics, Bell said it is important to observe all laws that prevent protests within 35 feet of the clinic. “There is a yellow line painted on the sidewalk and when we got there a security guard came out to make sure we were the right distance.”

Bell said many of the people walking past the building seemed confused as if they had no idea there was an abortion clinic there. “They would look at us praying and then look at the building and then understand.”

The group got glares from individuals going in and out of the building and a couple of young men called them “losers,” he said. “The rest told us we were doing the right thing.”

Congress attendees heard a variety of speakers both Friday evening and Saturday. Sister Olga Yaqob, an Iraqi-born professed hermit of the diocese, gave a personal witness to her faith journey. Father Peter Cameron, OP, the editor of Magnificat, shared his reflections on isolation and our need for community. Paul George, a co-founder of Louisiana-based Adore Ministries, exhorted the virtues of standing up for the faith and enduring the embarassment that the mainstream culture forces on us. Kerri Marmol, a member of the lay community of Sant’Egidio, spoke on the liberating force of service to others.

The opening talk of the conference was a lecture by Msgr. Eduardo Chavez, sponsored by the national headquarters of the Knights of Columbus on “Our Lady of Guadalupe: A Eucharistic Woman.” The monsignor led the advocacy for the cause of sainthood for St. Juan Diego, the indigenous Mexican visited by the Virgin Mary in 1531.

The eucharistic procession that closed the congress followed the Lift youth ministry service at St. Stephen’s and ended with eucharistic adoration at St. Leonard Church after a stop at Sacred Heart Church in nearby North Square.

The large gathering of young adults holding white candles and kneeling for adoration in front of both Sacred Heart and St. Leonard’s were accompanied by police cars and drew much attention and curiousity from nearby crowded restaurants as they braved the sharp wind whipping through the narrow streets.

Father Michael Harrington, assistant director of the Vocations Office, carried the monstrance under a white and gold canopy. The procession was led by the cardinal, and seminarians and religious holding crosses, lanterns, incense and one in the front ringing an altar bell.

At the end of the congress, Father Hennessey thanked all the participants and volunteers for the bonds forged during the weekend congress. “In the beginning, we didn’t know each other well. But, now in this friendship, we can see Christ in each of us,” he said.