COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (CNS) — Worshipping Jesus present in the Eucharist is enriched when people move from adoration to action, a Florida bishop told tens of thousands of attendees at the 20th annual Eucharistic Congress in the Atlanta Archdiocese.

“Be who you are. Become who you receive,” said Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida.

He was among a number of speakers at the congress held in early June at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park outside of Atlanta.

The 2015 theme, “I will be with you always,” was taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

The day-and-a-half event brought together people of different cultures, speaking a variety of languages, to explore the Catholic faith, worship together and greet nationally known speakers.

Organizers estimate that between 20,000 and 25,000 people attend annually, making it one of the largest celebrations of the Catholic faith in the Southeast.

“Our hearts no doubt will be touched by the grace of Jesus,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta said in welcoming the crowd.

Bishop Lynch in a homily focused on the Eucharist spurring people to social justice.

“Our common act of remembrance of Jesus’ passion reminds us that God is to be found in the one who suffers, God is to be found in the sick, God is to be found in the marginalized, God is to be found in the rejected, God is to be found in the outcasts. They teach us,” he said.

“The theme for this year’s congress, then, conveys two profound aspects of our eucharistic faith: the reassurance of Jesus’ perpetual presence to us through his real presence in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist’s commissioning of us to an apostolate of justice and peace in the world in which we live,” Bishop Lynch said.

The theme comes from “Jesus’ words to his closest friends, to whom he has entrusted the continuation of his ministry. These words are addressed to us as well.”

He cast a wide net of issues that represent the church’s concerns, from respect for human dignity and just wages to concern for the environment and healthy marriages and family life.

“These are all a part of our belief and our embrace of the Eucharist and the mission that God left us when he left himself present to us,” he explained.

“If we go forth to share our faith, we will discover that he remains present to us in and through those whom we serve. For they are the prolongation of the Incarnation for each of us.”

Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop David P. Talley celebrated an evening Mass to open the congress June 5. Afterward, many joined in prayer for a healing service led by Alan Ames, an Australian who heads an international healing ministry.

Some 300 young adults moved on to hear SiriusXM radio personality Lino Rulli share his story of faith.

The opening eucharistic procession June 6 included more than 100 banner-waving parish, school, ministry and spiritual groups, displaying different languages, dress, instruments, songs and dances. In a slow march, they filed into the convention center for about an hour, passing before the Eucharist displayed in a large monstrance on the altar.

Speakers during the day included Rulli; Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the Atlanta Archdiocese; Kerri Caviezel, an advocate for youth and a pro-life counselor; Teresa Tomeo, an author and syndicated Catholic talk show host; and Steven Ray, apologetics speaker and Catholic convert.

Father Michael Depcik, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and one of the few deaf priests in the country, taught in the American Sign Language track.

Programs were offered in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, French and American Sign Language, along with one for young children. The main halls had enough chairs to seat 10,000 people.

“I have said this many times in the past: If just one person has a deeper relationship with Jesus because of the congress, then we have been blessed. We are all our brothers’ keeper. It’s our shared responsibility to help others get to heaven. We do that both one-on-one and in community,” Deacon Dorner said later in an email to The Georgia Bulletin, Atlanta’s archdiocesan newspaper.

“This is what heaven is going to look like,” said Rachel Barolette about the huge turnout for the congress. A member of St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Snellville, she was a first-time attendee.

Nearly 70 exhibitors set up in a lively marketplace, representing everything from Catholic schools to booksellers and from fair trade coffee to colorful T-shirts.

Business was brisk at where visitors photographed themselves among life-size cutouts of Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. “Nonstop picture-taking all day, which is fun. That’s why we bring them,” said Brian Stashak, a booth volunteer.

The 13-year-old exclusively Catholic site recently reached its 1 millionth customer, he said.

Folks with Ignatius Press said the fastest selling books at their booth at the congress included “The Noonday Devil,” a book by Benedictine Abbot Jean-Charles Nault on acedia, which is the vice of sloth, gloominess and lack of purpose that the title calls “the unnamed evil of our times.”

Also selling out were “Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life” by Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, Vinny Flynn’s “7 Secrets of Confession,” and “Tweeting With God,” questions from teens answered in tweets by Father Michael Remery, a priest of the Netherlands, now in an expanded book context.

Sister Kathleen Thomas from the Daughters of St. Paul was helping in the Pauline booth, where she said the best-seller was “still” the Bible, along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in English and Spanish and children’s books.

“The Rosary With Pope Francis” was also popular, she told The Georgia Bulletin.

Nick Shaw, vice president of Carmel Communications, said interest in spiritual books has remained strong even in the digital age.

For many, the congress opened their eyes to worldwide church.

Teenager Dinachi Okonkwo, who worships at St. John Vianney Church in Lithia Springs and attends the congress often, said: “You see a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds and cultures, and they are all coming together for one common cause. It’s because we are Catholic.”


Nelson is a staff reporter at The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Gretchen Keiser, the editor, contributed to this story.