Jesus's Followers Are 'the Object' of His Love Every Hour of Every Day, Bishop Says

| 09/17/2023

By: Our Sunday Visitor

Bishop Peter J. Jugis reminded the faithful gathered for the 19th annual Eucharistic Congress of the Lord’s promise that “I am always with you”

People sing and dance during a Eucharistic procession in Charlotte, N.C., September 9, 2023. The procession covered nearly a mile and included dozens of clergy, men and women religious, and people of all ages and backgrounds, some walking in silence while others strolled behind parish banners, singing, dancing, playing music and praying the rosary.
People sing and dance during a Eucharistic procession in Charlotte, N.C., September 9, 2023. The procession covered nearly a mile and included dozens of clergy, men and women religious, and people of all ages and backgrounds, some walking in silence while others strolled behind parish banners, singing, dancing, playing music and praying the rosary. (OSV News photo/Patrick Schneider, Catholic News Herald)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (OSV News) — With a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 10,000 in attendance, Bishop Peter J. Jugis challenged Catholics from across the Diocese of Charlotte to “deepen your relationship with Jesus” by spending more time visiting with him at church and beyond.

Bishop Jugis reminded the faithful gathered for the 19th annual Eucharistic Congress of the Lord’s promise that “I am always with you,” taken from the Gospel of Matthew as the theme of this year’s congress, held Sept. 8-9 at the Charlotte Convention Center.

“He is with us in the sacraments” — when you are baptized, confessing your sins, attending Mass — and in so many other ways, the bishop said. “Jesus says that he is with you always, meaning that it is a forever promise to be with you. You are always the object of his love, at any time of day, through all the hours of the night, through all the days of your life.”

“He is especially with us in a totally unique way in the holy Eucharist,” the bishop said, and he challenged the faithful to take notice — by going to church, Eucharistic adoration or Mass besides weekly Sunday Mass.

“You are probably very busy, as most people are nowadays. But there is someone waiting for you at church, in the tabernacle,” the bishop said. “And I do say Some-One, not some-thing. It is the Lord Jesus who is waiting for you. Don’t you need to visit someone who loves you?”

The bishop’s message brought to a conclusion the diocese’s “family reunion” that featured two days of faith, fellowship and festivities — including dramatic testimony from two priests imprisoned in Nicaragua and a procession that drew approximately 8,000 people to walk and proclaim their faith through the streets of uptown Charlotte.

From Greensboro to Asheville, the faithful filed onto buses before dawn Sept. 9 to make the trek to the diocese’s signature celebration. Dressed in colorful T-shirts, traditional garb or uniforms, they carried banners representing more than 81 parishes, with children, grandparents, friends and fellow parishioners in tow.

At 9 a.m., servers rang altar bells as the bishop carried the Blessed Sacrament out of St. Peter Catholic Church and onto Tryon Street in downtown Charlotte. On their knees, people lined the streets as the Blessed Sacrament passed, then fell in line to follow Jesus.

The procession covered almost a mile and included dozens of clergy, men and women religious, and people of all ages and backgrounds, some walking in silence while others strolled behind parish banners, singing, dancing, playing music and praying the rosary.

After 75 minutes, the last of the procession filed through the elephant doors into the cavernous Charlotte Convention Center, past vendors sharing information and selling religious art, crucifixes and T-shirts bearing slogans such as “Got Mary?”

During the Holy Hour that followed, Father Matthew Kauth urged people to be open to the presence of God in their lives, and he noted how the Eucharistic Congress helps cultivate sensitivity to God.

“We walked the streets with the body of Christ. We worship him because we know him. We are sensitive to his Eucharistic Presence, and we love him,” said Father Kauth, rector of St. Joseph College Seminary in Mount Holly. “We throw ourselves at him in recognition and we say, ‘I love you.'”

The Eucharistic Congress offered programs in English, Spanish and Vietnamese and featured special programming for families, high school and college students, and people with special needs. A highlight was testimony from Fathers Ramiro Tijerino and Óscar Danilo Benavides Dávila, two Nicaraguan priests who came to the diocese in February after months of imprisonment in their home country.

“We live in difficult times of religious persecution,” Father Tijerino told a crowd of 3,000 in an emotional talk in the Spanish track. “In 2022, a group of priests and laypeople from the Diocese of Matagalpa were arrested along with Bishop Rolando Álvarez.”

They described the hardships of their days in the notorious El Chipote prison and the comfort of their steadfast devotion to our Lord amid persecution.

“They thoroughly checked the clothes we took off and passed us the prison uniform,” Father Tijerino recalled. “One of the officers shouted at Father Benito, ‘Give me what you have in your hand!’ Father replied, ‘No.’ He would not give him what he was hiding in his hands.”

The officer insisted, but Father Benito still refused. Then a higher-ranking officer confronted the priest, demanding to see what he was hiding.

“It was there that we realized that it was the Eucharist, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, which he had smuggled in,” Father Tijerino said. “The officer told him to consume the Host, but again Father refused, saying he wanted to give it to us, too. By then, it had been more than three months without celebrating holy Mass and therefore without receiving Communion.”

The congregation stood in applause, sharing in the faithful witness of the Real Presence and the desire to remain connected to Christ.

The Mass drew the congress to a close the same way it had begun — with thousands of people celebrating their faith in the Eucharist. The sound of brass instruments and choral voices greeted a stream of colorful banners, clergy, and dozens of children wearing white suits and dresses, recent celebrants of their first holy Communion.

“We have arrived at the high point of the Eucharistic Congress,” Bishop Jugis told the crowd.

“All the events of the congress lead up to this point, because the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life.”

He spoke at length about Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, in a year when the Catholic Church in the U.S. is renewing its focus on this basic church teaching through the National Eucharistic Revival.

Bishop Jugis also reminded people that Christ would remain with them in their daily lives after the Eucharistic Congress.

“There are many, many ways that Jesus is with you always,” the bishop said.

“He is with you in your prayer. He is present where two or three are gathered in his name. He is with us in his Word. He is with us in the person of his sacred minister: the bishop, the priest, or the deacon. He is present in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned.”

“Let this Eucharistic Congress be the start of something new for your spiritual life,” he urged. “Go deeper in your relationship with the Lord in the Eucharist. Someone is waiting for you to visit him. It is really Jesus.”
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