22 June 2008

Catholics turn out in droves for Eucharist

By Nancy Badertscher
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/22/08

Nearby parking lots were overflowing, and the corridors of the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park were jammed Saturday as about 30,000 Roman Catholics gathered for the second and final day of the 13th Eucharistic Congress.

The two days of teaching, preaching, music and worship were a hallmark event for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the 750,000 Catholics who attend its 100 missions and churches.

John Mbuinga, a lifelong Catholic who lives in Decatur, was attending for the first time and was glad to be with others who share his devotion to the Eucharist, Mass and the Virgin Mary. "We [Catholics] don't make a big noise, but we have big numbers," he said.

Started by the archdiocese in 1996, the congress seeks to ensure that Catholics don't lose their respect for the Eucharist, an ecclesiastic term for Holy Communion.

The theme of this year's event, which brought together converts, so-called cradle Catholics, scholars and clergy, was, "I Am the Living Bread." Programs were offered to participants in multiple languages, a recognition of the church's growing diversity.

On the issues facing the Catholic Church and all faiths in America, Helen M. Alvare said, "A big challenge is the marriage and family crisis —- not just because it's internal, but it's also external to the United States. It has what I call tentacles.

"Without a solid marriage and family culture, society really is in big trouble," said Alvare, an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va. "And particularly among the poor and among immigrants, their marriage and family life is falling apart at a faster rate than people with more money.

"It's not just a sex issue. It's not a 'This is where you follow Catholic doctrine' issue. It's more, are you going to be able to fulfill the meaning and purpose of your life, which is loving care for other persons who are given to you? And are we going to be able to build a strong society, not just for Catholics, but for the whole country?"

Tom Peterson, president of the nonprofit organization Catholics Come Home, said, "The biggest problem facing the Church, and Christianity in general, is the world doesn't think we need God. We have become too smart for our own britches.

"We believe with our intellect and our money, we can do what we want. We are happy. We are wealthy, and we don't need God. Isn't that the same as the original sin of Adam and Eve, where through our pride we become our own gods?" Peterson asked.

"I think it's very important that not only Catholics, but the larger Christian community as a whole, focus on becoming more humble, praying for humility and praying to know and do God's will," he said. "We don't know what we're missing.

"So many people are starving for Jesus in their life. They just don't know they're starving for it. They've been deceived. The world has gotten in their face, and it's distracted them. But they know they're not happy down deep. As St. Augustine said: 'Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.'"

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