Planning the diocese’s first Eucharistic Congress

Bill Brewer Eucharistic Congress, Media, News

25th Jubilee Year begins with historic celebration Sept. 13-14 at Sevierville Convention Center

FINAL PREPARATIONS Deacon Sean Smith (top right), Diocese of Knoxville chancellor, and Paul Simoneau (standing), diocesan vice chancellor, go over details for holding the Eucharistic Congress during a planning meeting at the Chancery on July 24. Among the diocesan representatives taking part in the meeting were, from left, Janie Hennessy and Father Joe Reed. Photo by Dan McWilliams

FINAL PREPARATIONS Deacon Sean Smith (top right), Diocese of Knoxville chancellor, and Paul Simoneau (standing), diocesan vice chancellor, go over details for holding the Eucharistic Congress during a planning meeting at the Chancery on July 24. Among the diocesan representatives taking part in the meeting were, from left, Janie Hennessy and Father Joe Reed. Photo by Dan McWilliams

A special birthday is just one reason to celebrate a Eucharistic Congress, as the Diocese of Knoxville will do Sept. 13-14.

So as the diocese’s first Eucharistic Congress draws near, plans are being finalized for 5,000 faithful to celebrate as the body of Christ the holy Eucharist.

“The reason we are celebrating a Eucharistic Congress is because we want a very, very special way to bring the faithful together to begin our yearlong celebration of our 25th anniversary,” said diocesan chancellor Deacon Sean Smith. “It’s intended to be the kickoff celebration of a yearlong anniversary year, and the Eucharistic Congress was chosen mainly because as Catholics we do not often have the opportunity to come together to celebrate the greatest gift of our church, the holy Eucharist, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of Catholics rejoicing in His presence with unique intensity.”

“We have seen through international and domestic Eucharistic Congresses how wonderful they are to pull people from all over. Since our region here has never had one, we thought what a better way to kick off our anniversary than to have this special Eucharistic Congress,” he added.

Deacon Smith is the general chairman of the Eucharistic Congress, which will be held at the Sevierville Convention Center. The diocese is expecting 5,000 people to attend the Congress, and nearly 4,000 have registered so far, ahead of the Aug. 31 registration deadline.

Time is running out to register for the Eucharistic Congress. No registrations will be taken after Aug. 31, and no tickets will be sold at the door. To register, visit www.dioknox.org/ec/.

The Congress boasts a spectacular lineup of speakers that includes Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dr. Scott Hahn, internationally known author and speaker; and Father Robert Barron of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.

Cardinal Justin Rigali will join Bishop Richard F. Stika for an evening chat on Sept. 13, and Bishop Stika will lead Mass on Sept. 14 to conclude the Eucharistic Congress.

Also speaking will be Father Rafael Capó and Sister Rosa Hernandez. Youth sessions will be led by entertainer/speaker ValLimar Jansen, singer Johann Alvarez, and singers Josh Blakesley and Sarah Kroger.

Not a bad speaking lineup for a small diocese, according to Deacon Smith.

“For the size of our diocese and how young we are, and to have this speaking corps, most people can’t believe it,” he said. “People just can’t believe we secured Cardinal Dolan and Father Barron and Dr. Scott Hahn.

“[On July 18] I was interviewed on EWTN Global Radio for 45 minutes, and it was a call-in show. The hosts of the program and all these people just couldn’t believe that we not only have such great speakers but also that we have all of them in one setting.”

More than 30 states are represented among the registrants so far for the Eucharistic Congress, with three people coming from as far away as Alberta, Canada.

Paul Simoneau, diocesan vice chancellor for administration, is executive assistant to Deacon Smith for the Eucharistic Congress.

“First of all, this is a jubilee celebration for the diocese at 25 years old,” Mr. Simoneau said. “We celebrate anniversaries in our lives—birthdays, wedding anniversaries, in particular 25 years, 50 years—those are very significant in a family’s life, in a couple’s life. For the diocese, we are all members of the body of Christ, and our celebration is not just a celebration of one birthday of a diocese—it is truly an anniversary for the whole body of Christ.”

Also of significance is the fact that more than 1,000 people are coming from outside the diocese to attend the Eucharistic Congress, Mr. Simoneau added.

“It’s not just that we have a great lineup of speakers, but this is a gathering of Catholics that—whether they’re of this diocese or not—can celebrate equally because our identity is that of Catholics.

“We all identify ourselves in some way, but when you really get down to it, our true identity is that of Catholics, and our solidarity is that of all journeying together to a common goal and trying to help each other in achieving that goal, which is everlasting life with Christ. Our Eucharistic Congress is a celebration of the journey as well.”

Deacon Smith said there are a lot of nuts and bolts involved in getting 5,000 people together.

“The challenge is we have both an English adult and English youth track, and we have a Spanish track, so what that means is at any given time we’ll have three sessions going on at the same time,” he said.

The biggest logistical issue before the Congress begins “is transforming a convention center into a sacred space,” Deacon Smith said.

“Where we will be having morning prayer, eucharistic adoration, and ultimately the Masses—both the youth Mass and the Mass on Saturday—we need to make that look like a sanctuary. We’ll have an altar, and a crucifix, and an ambo, so we’ve got to get all of that set up.”

Sound and lighting equipment, which must be adapted for those speaking and also the youth concerts, involves “a tremendous amount of logistics,” according to Deacon Smith.

There’s also the challenge of having 5,000 people “come in and get their badges and their meal tickets for lunch,” he added.

“And that all happens right before morning prayer, so we’ve got to have a seamless operation to make that happen. Then we’ll try to distribute 5,000 box lunches. We’re going to have to have that well organized,” he said.

Deacon Smith believes the diocese will have another Eucharistic Congress—someday.

“But I suspect it’ll be many years from now because it took us 25 years to have our first one. Do I think it’ll take another 25 years? Not necessarily, but it’s not something we’re going to do on a routine basis. There’s just too much involved in putting on a successful one,” he said.