ABOVE: Clergy processes into Mass at the Coliseum of the Auriesville shrine.
By Dc. Tom Cuskey, editor
A conversation these days about “congress” likely would focus on closed door leadership battles, divisiveness and a stalemate to progress.
A congress of another dimension took place in upstate New York last weekend. It was a scene of harmony and peace, of prayer and adoration, of progress and unity. The leader? No question. His name is Jesus and all doors are wide open to those who seek him in the Eucharist.
Our Lady of the Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville hosted clergy, pilgrims and guests from the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in New York State for a first ever NYS Eucharistic Congress. The event began at 6PM Friday October 20 and ended about Noon on Sunday – a 40-Hours Devotion – a continuous praise and adoration of the Eucharist with generous helpings of speaker presentations, liturgy, prayer and fellowship during the waking hours.
The Congress is one chapter in the story of the current National Eucharistic Revival. Launched on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ in June, 2022, the first year focused on breathing new life into the Eucharistic experience at the diocesan level. Clergy and staff were engaged in planning and delivering the message of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a primary teaching of the Catholic Church that polls show has lost its place among many modern day faithful.
From June of this year to July 2024, the Revival is focused on the parish level and engaging those in the pews to get re-acquainted with the sacrament, a teaching most of us first received as second-grade students. This lesson is about fortifying the foundation of faith through the Mass, Eucharistic adoration, parish missions, education and prayer.
A national Congress will be held in 2024 in Indianapolis, IN that will herald the beginning of a year of outreach, through Pentecost 2025.
A capacity crowd
Nearly 8500 people registered to attend the New York congress over the three-day period. Saturday was the primary day of registered participation, and that was the day The Catholic Sun was on hand to capture a few slices of the historic event.
Truth be told, there was a little skepticism in my mind. Up at 5AM for a two-hour drive to the rural site. Would there be enough hassle-free parking? Traffic jams? How do thousands of people get shuttled from the lots to the Shrine, a mile or more away? At least one mid-week weather forecast suggested a possible Nor’easter for the weekend. Will we all get drenched? Will we all get fed? Will we all find our cars?
Enter the Holy Spirit and … well, what would you expect? No problems, no hassles, no worries. Great pre-planning by the host committee obviously had something to do with that. For the most part, though, no rain, at least through Saturday afternoon. Certainly, there was a minor glitch or two as the day unfolded but no worry or panic ensued. Thousands of people crowded the Shrine grounds and everyone came together, as one would hope and expect people of faith would do. And everyone wore that faith on their sleeves. Proudly, humbly.
A diverse congregation
There were new strollers, used wheelchairs and every related demographic in between. The first Sun interview conducted for the day took place upon arrival, on the parking lot shuttle bus. Jean and Rob Bohm hail from Cooperstown. Rob is an aspirant in deacon formation, and hoped he could augment his faith efforts at the event. “Deeper conversion, to get filled up by the Holy Spirit so I can be ready for my ministry.”
A few school bus seats away was Ed Szczesniak of Sacred Heart Parish in Cicero. He was there in his role as a District Master in the Knights of Columbus. He answered Pope Francis’s call to get involved in the revival. “This is our opportunity to participate actively with this large group,” he told us. “There are some good speakers as well, and this is a shrine for the whole country, actually. It’s going to be a good day!”
“As soon as I heard about the Eucharistic Congress I decided it was something I needed to attend,” Deacon Jim Tokos of Most Holy Rosary in Maine (Broome County) told us. He registered early in the campaign, reserved a motel room and made the commitment to go all in, all three days. “I was on the very first shuttle bus yesterday, and I have to tell you that it was filled with the Spirit.” Good weather on Friday allowed for a walking tour of the sprawling grounds surrounding the shrine and conference center, and it prepared the deacon spiritually for the evening programs. “Last night was dynamic, so spiritual. It was wonderful.” Tokos contributes to his parish, in part, as a faith formation teacher for youngsters preparing for First Eucharist. “I was trying to relate to the young kids that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and it’s real.”
Roseanne Trevail is a Diocese of Ogdensburg native currently attending the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. She is a student at Upstate Medical University working on a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. “Eucharistic adoration is very important to me,” she told us. “I also wanted to deepen my understanding of the Eucharist and my love of the Eucharist.”
Patricia Scully and Gregory Butta traveled along with almost 70 others from St. Joseph’s Parish in “the upper reaches of the Archdiocese of New York,” as Butta described. For Scully, whose Irish accent proclaimed her heritage, attending the Congress was something of a no-brainer. “What better company could you be in? Very pleased, it’s wonderful,” she told us, sharing that she felt a special grace in the air. “Always the grace of hope because we are hopeful the children will come back to church.” Butta, too, was hopeful to experience a resurgence of faith in Christ and the Eucharist. “I want a better love for him … what better place?”
Emily and Andrew Paszko were there from Glens Falls with two little ones in tow, at two and a half and ten months. Andrew is a recent convert to Catholicism and wants to grow his faith. “I was here a couple of weeks ago for the Albany diocese’s Step-Up men’s conference. It was absolutely wonderful, moving.” Andrew grew up Lutheran and first visited the Shrine when he was a Boy Scout. “Didn’t really understand it … but now it’s much more clear.” Emily, too, wanted to increase her knowledge of the Eucharist and to be part of the event. “Being surrounded by people who share my beliefs and love for God,” were a big part of her personal experience during this first visit to the shrine for her. “Being on holy land and learning more of our history is wonderful.” As parents, they appreciate every opportunity to start family faith formation early and often. “You know, in church they’re not always the most well behaved,” Andrew shared about their kids as Emily laughed. “But if we can spend two or three minutes after Mass and go see Mary, or Joseph, or just sit in front of the tabernacle. It lets Him do all the work.” Emily adds that “our faith is so rich and beautiful. It’s important to show them that, to teach them and pass it on.”
Bishop Terry LaValley of the Diocese of Ogdensburg was the celebrant of the Mass on Saturday. The main altar is situated in the center of the Coliseum, in the round, atop a structure that resembles a colonial era fort. Mass participants’ eyes, then, turn somewhat skyward to absorb the liturgy. Below, side altars bearing ciboria with Holy Eucharist encircled it. Bishop and priest concelebrants remained in floor seating below, along with attending deacons and seminarians. About 200 members of the clergy were expected to be present for Mass. The lay faithful filled seats surrounding the altars to near capacity.
Certainly for many, this was the largest congregation they had ever been part of for Mass.
In his homily, Bishop LaValley told the crowded church that the Eucharist gives us the closest experience of Heaven one can undergo on Earth. “My sisters and brothers,” he proclaimed, “it is never enough simply for me to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. I must become a bearer of the power I receive.” Bishop reminded the congregation of the responsibility we each have to share the grace and power we receive in the sacrament through evangelization, adding that “an authentic Eucharistic church is a pilgrim Church.”
For Father Donald Kirby, S.J., of Le Moyne College, being at the shrine was something of a homecoming. He worked summers at the site while in seminary. Up until last year, the facility was operated for 130 years by the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus, the order that martyred Saints René Goupil and Isaac Jogues were ordained to. They, along with teenage lay Jesuit John Lalande are the North American martyrs honored there. It is also the birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
“I was impressed by the diversity of the crowd,” Fr. Kirby remarked. “Pope Francis says that we’re a church that should be open to the world.” A significant number of Spanish-speaking people attended, and Congress organizers did their best to embrace them. Spanish language translation of presentations was available through a smartphone app. It also allowed English translation of Hispanic presenters. Additionally, many other ethnicities were represented in the crowd. Father added that it’s the Holy Spirit that brings people of different cultures together. “Where is the vitality of the future church? It’s here somehow.”
Additional photos are below. Videos and photos from the Congress can also be found on their website: https://nyseucharisticcongress.org/