ORLANDO | On fire for the Lord, roughly 1,200 people crowded the parking lot at Holy Cross Parish to participate in the celebration of Mass, pray the rosary, and stand watch with Jesus during Eucharistic Adoration.
The praise, prayer and worship kicked off the parish’s Eucharistic Congress, two days from Sept. 8-9, filled with opportunities to deepen understanding of the Blessed Sacrament.
Through informative sessions, testimonies, films, a Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit, saint relics and even storytelling for children, the two days were chock full of moments to grow in love with God’s presence among His people.
The night of Sept. 8 began with a rosary, followed by praise and worship music, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. The Mass, celebrated by Bishop John Noonan, also honored the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 30th anniversary of the parish.
Bishop Noonan noted the importance of being like Mary by bringing Christ to others.
“When we receive Christ, it transforms us,” he said. “The word of God not only touches our minds, but our hearts.” He encouraged the faithful grow hope and love in their relationships by bringing Christ to others.
“The world may not know Christ. They will not hear Christ, but they know you and they will hear you. It is easy to recognize Christ when you show His love to your brothers and sisters,” Bishop Noonan said. “Let us change the world with the love of God, with the faith of Mary and with the hope of the Holy Spirit.”
Father Esaú García, Holy Cross pastor, spoke of Pope Francis’s initiative for the Eucharistic Revival around the world. The first year being that of the diocese. This second year is the Year of the Parish, thus the idea for a Eucharistic Congress.
Next year is the Year of Mission. “We will go out,” he assured the crowd. “We have a plan that every Catholic will go knock on the door of their neighbor and invite them to come to Mass.” He believes missioners will do so because their love of the Eucharist will empower them.
“The Eucharist is not a thing. It is His body, His blood, His soul, His divinity, the mystery of love here present,” said Father García. “The Catholic Church holds in great esteem the Eucharist because it is the center of our life, the center of our journey. We exist for the Sacraments, for the word of God,” he said. He told the parishioners they are the “soul” and “core” of our community in which the “Eucharist is the center of our faith.”
Noé Placa, a young cantor for Zamar, the choir whose name means praise in Hebrew, is a high school senior who could not restrain his joy as he sang the responsorial refrain “Proclama mi alma/Proclaim my soul.”
“I sing at school, but it’s even better when I’m singing to the Lord. When you sing the psalms, they go directly to the Lord,” Placa said with excitement in his voice. “As I was singing the psalm, the sun was very bright and there were birds passing above. You could feel Jesus really present in that moment. Hearing everyone sing the refrain was powerful.”
Placa also is part of the Peer Ministry group and assists future Confirmation students through the Sacrament. He believes this example will bring youth to the Church. He hopes it will bring vocations.
“We’re an example when we’re teaching. Them seeing how we’re connected to the Eucharist teaches them how to be connected,” he explained. “We can’t have Eucharist without a priest, and we can’t have a Mass without the Eucharist. We need vocations for priests, religious brothers and sisters so we can teach others.”
Moved most by the Eucharistic procession with the Blessed Sacrament he noted, “In movies you can see a king walking or being carried under a canopy. Here you could see Jesus truly present. God is king and He’s under this canopy for a reason.”
Believing the Eucharistic Revival is vital to his generation and those to come, he explained it is close to his heart. “When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we are living hosts. And not only physically, but spiritually we are always living hosts, so the Eucharistic Revival is special.”
Recently, a book he read said all those who walk away from God are not offering their souls, but all those who bring souls to Him are offering souls to God.
“I see myself bringing people to the Eucharist, guided through the Holy Spirit and Jesus,” he said. “I may be inviting a soul to heaven.”
Piedad Vallejo is a parishioner of four years. Working with the children in the family track of the congress on Saturday, she read stories about the Eucharist to them. Yet she managed to find time for a session and to hear a testimony.
“It was more than I imagined,” she said. Her session on Sacred Scripture in the Mass taught her the Mass is the perfect prayer by teaching the bible references for each part of the celebration. “I did not realize the breadth of the gift I was going to receive. And wow! It was absolutely spectacular.”
Her exuberance paralleled her experience listening to Maury and José Sanchez as they shared their testimony of faith. “It is very beautiful to see that we each walk together and all share similar paths to conversion because of difficult experiences,” she said. “It is a form of our carrying the cross alongside Christ. We climb onto the cross to share it with Him and we help Him support it; and He carries it with us.”
Listening, she could appreciate Christ’s infinite mercy in exactly the right moment. “He opens your heart to all of the senses,” she said.
It is through these senses she experiences the Eucharist as “the greatest gift”. “To be able to hold my Lord in that simple small piece of bread, to be able to live heaven here on earth because I believe when I am in church with the Lord, this is how it will be in eternity — praying, contemplating, being happy, praising. It is like sharing the glory of heaven.
“It is also my strength, my spiritual nourishment, my fuel, my thrust to continue living to receive graces and blessings and to go out in the world and share with others that grace we receive in the Eucharist.”
She is confident that next year, when the parish goes out on mission, she will be ready.
“I am more prepared to walk with whoever most needs God’s word — to not be too invasive when people are not ready to hear it, to simply pray for them. I’ve understood that through prayer and my example, others can notice my peace, my hope, my service. I pray for God’s grace to transform me in my words, my actions, and all that I do, so it serves as a witness to Christ — that they may crave the same.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, September 14, 2023