The Diocese of Knoxville’s long-awaited 25th Anniversary Eucharistic Congress is very quickly approaching, in fact I looked at the calendar today and it is difficult to believe how close at hand the Congress is, it is now less than a month away. Those of us who live and worship in the Diocese of Knoxville have been hearing about this very special event for a very long time now, but up until now it has seemed like something that is distant or far off. We discuss it here on Life At 25 in the future tense, but it is presently upon us and is about to become a reality. On a personal level, I cannot believe that our “little” diocese has managed to put together an event of such national scope. How do we know that our Eucharistic Congress is truly national in its outreach? The map to the right from our diocesan Vice Chancellor and Director of our Office of Justice and Peace, Paul Simoneau, shows the concentration of registrations for participants in the Eucharistic Congress. As may be expected, the highest concentration is in the South, but people are coming from as far away as California, the Pacific Northwest, and even Canada to be a part of this historic event. Eucharistic Congresses are not new. These gatherings of Catholics designed to bear witness to the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament have been taking place, so far as we can tell, at least since the very first International Eucharistic Congress was held in Lille in France in 1881. One of the most famous Eucharistic Congresses of all time was the massive 1932 Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin, an event that drew not only hundreds of thousands of participants, but many of the members of the Government and state apparatus of the Irish Republic in that time when Ireland was a much more Catholic country not only in name, but in very public fact. People gathered to hear inspirational messages on the reality of Jesus in the Eucharist and the importance of prayer and faith in their lives and the lives of their communities. The scene pictured here from the closing ceremony of the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress (from the Irish National Library via Wikimedia) is reported to show part of the over one million praying people taking part. Dublin also hosted the most recent International Eucharistic Congress from 10-17 June 2012, and the theme was The Eucharist: Communion With Christ and One Another.
Our diocesan Eucharistic Congress won’t have a million participants, otherwise we might need to make use of venues like Neyland Stadium for talks, Mass, or Eucharistic adoration rather than the Sevierville Convention Center, and if we were going to have a million people coming, why not just go all out and bring Pope Francis to town? We might all love a Congress that large, but we aren’t quite ready to go that big just yet-but hey, it gives us something to aim for during our next jubilee…Who knows?
Even though we won’t have a million people, we are going to have a great many. Everyone that I have spoken with about the Congress says that it is expected that the Convention Center will be at or near its maximum capacity of 5,000. I can’t help but think that East Tennessee will not ever have seen that many people who grasp and love the concept of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament in one place before, and one thing that we can know for sure is that there is no way the Convention Center will be able to hold the graces that are going to be poured out from the Holy Spirit as a result of what might be a once-in-a-generation event for our part of the country. Father Robert Barron, Dr. Scott Hahn, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Justin Cardinal Rigali, and Bishop Stika will all be there and so many more, but time is short to register if you haven’t, because after the 31st of this month, no more registrations will be taken.
The Eucharistic Congress will not be the end of the Diocese of Knoxville’s 25th Anniversary Jubilee, but is only the beginning of the celebration. That means that we are just getting started, and when we say that the people of East Tennessee are in for a year of grace like they’ve never seen before, we aren’t kidding. God is declaring new things (Is. 42:9) in the Diocese of Knoxville, and he wants all of his people to be a part of it.