Christian Unity and Communion

F. DeKarlos Blackmon is a Mobile, Alabama native. He is currently the Director of the Secretariat of Life, Charity, and Justice for the Diocese of Austin, TX. He serves as a consultant to the USCCB Committee for Cultural Diversity for African American Affairs. DeKarlos has taught Scripture, sacramental theology, and moral theology, and a frequent speaker about liturgy in multicultural contexts, pastoral leadership, and education. He served at St Joseph’s in Huntsville as the liturgist and music director for twelve years, and also served as the Chairman of our Diocesan School Board. He is actively involved in pastoral ministry, outreach, promoting civic improvement, and developing youth. He holds graduate degrees in pastoral ministry, business administration and public management. Blackmon served as the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver for six years, and the President of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights for three. We are delighted to welcome DeKarlos and his wife Kanobia back to their former home diocese to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary with us. During the Eucharistic Congress on June 29, DeKarlos will speak to us about, “The Eucharist and Multicultural Communities of Disciples on Mission.”

In the Diocese of Birmingham, we have a storied history of traditionally African American parishes, integration (especially in the history of St Joseph’s in Huntsville), and the many joys, sorrows, and struggles that have and continue to shape the way our communities live and interact. DeKarlos brings a living witness to these experiences. But he also brings a tremendous amount of experience of the multicultural nature of our Universal Church from outside Alabama as well.

“For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.[s] 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galations 3:26-27

“…preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Ephesians 4:3-6

Archbishop Samir Nassar was ordained a priest of the Maronite Catholic Church in 1980, in the Archeparchy (Archdiocese) of Damascus, Syria. In 2006, he was elected bishop by the synod of the Maronite Church as the Archbishop there, and Pope Benedict XVI approved his election later that year. Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, things have become very difficult for Christians there. Many of the churches have been destroyed. The Archbishop himself has been very close to bombing attacks. He now spends much of his time abroad raising awareness for the plight of Christians there. Most of his See is in shambles and very few churches remain in use. He has said very often that in this situation, the Christians of Syria cannot trust the government or the rebels, and they are often left to fend for themselves without protection from either side. Archbishop Nassar will speak about, “The Eucharist, Unity, and Suffering Persecution.”

We have a parish of the Maronite Church here in Birmingham, St Elias. Many of the people in the Birmingham area know of it because of the beautiful food festival they host every year. However, the pastor Chorbishop Richard Saad (affectionately known around town as Fr Richard) is a frequent visitor to many Diocesan and parish functions at Latin Rite parishes. St Elias, like most Maronite parishes in the USA, is a Lebanese community. The Maronite Church is a fully Catholic Church, which adheres to the West Syriac Liturgical Rite, and uses the Syriac (Aramaic) language with some communities using hymns in Arabic or English in the US. The Maronite Church traces its heritage to St Maron, who was a contemporary and friend of St John Chrysostom. Parts of their liturgy go as far back as the Apostle James, and they also occasionally incorporate parts of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. The Maronite Church in this way occupies a unique place which bridges the Syriac Churches of the Middle East, the Byzantine or Greek Catholic Churches (such as St George Melkite Catholic Church in Birmingham), and the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Churches. They share valid apostolic succession, completely valid sacraments, and the same Faith as other Catholics, thought their liturgical expression is different because of location, ethnic heritage, and development which happened before our modern era of communication. One thing unique about the Maronite Church is that they have maintained full communion with the Roman Catholic Church throughout history, and therefore they have no counterpart Orthodox Church as is the case with most Eastern Rite Churches. What a beautiful heritage of Christian Unity and Communion!

Both of these Speakers will give a tremendous witness of how the Eucharist unites us in our One, True Faith. Whatever our race, color, financial status, language, origin, or other differences may be, a worth reception of Holy Communion unites us to God and to one another in one-and-the-same Lord Jesus.

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
1 Corinthians 10:16-17

The Holy Eucharist: Charisms and Gifts

The Holy Eucharist: Charisms and Gifts
Very Rev. Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L., Chairman, Eucharistic Congress

“Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world” (Catechism, no. 799). What charism(s) do you have?

Many people, thinking charisms only to be about great and extraordinary things, would say they have not received any at all. But even the most quiet, unassuming, and/or introverted person may have received some spiritual grace that can help the Church to grow and can help lead others to Christ.

Indeed, St. Paul teaches us that “grace has been given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7, 12-13).

The Catechism further teaches us that “through the Spirit and his action in the sacraments, above all the Eucharist, Christ, who once was dead and is now risen, establishes the community of believers as his own Body” (no. 805). Every worthy and devout holy communion helps us to become more fully what we are – the Body of Christ.

All of this to say, the charisms – special graces of the Spirit to help build up the Church – are connected with all the sacraments, but especially with the Holy Eucharist. We should pray that at the upcoming Eucharistic Congress, there will be a special outpouring of these graces, so that as we thank God for the Diocese of Birmingham’s first fifty years, we may enter into our next period of history with new vitality and dynamism.

Maybe this all sounds a bit too charismatic – and for many, that is not their preferred spirituality. When we think of “charismatics”, we might think of a very effusive or animated style of prayer, perhaps even accompanied by particular phenomena, like speaking in tongues. Indeed, many not only do not “connect” with that sort of spiritual experience, but do not find it appealing.

In the Church there are many legitimate spiritualities. These are like facets on a diamond: all reflect the same source of light, but in different angles and aspects. Every spirituality, moreover, can have its excesses or shortcomings, since every spirituality is ultimately a human expression – and we are given to extremes.

St. Paul does not limit his teaching to just one spirituality, however. “Grace has been given to each of us”, he says. So, we go back to our opening question: What charism(s) do you have? This is for each of us to discern: taking into account temperament, spirituality, and state in life. The Lord knows how each one of us is “wired” and he works through that to build up his Church. He really does give gifts to all; our task is to put them to work not for our own benefit but for that of his Church.

Kathia and Andrés Arango, a married couple who will share their own gifts with us at the upcoming Eucharistic Congress, have worked for many years especially to help Hispanic Catholics identify and use their charisms. We look forward to having them as part of the Hispanic Track and to the ways they will help us grow into the full stature of Christ!

La Sagrada Eucaristía: Carismas y Dones
Pbro. Lic. Bryan W. Jerabek, Presidente, Congreso Eucarístico

“Extraordinarios o sencillos y humildes, los carismas son gracias del Espíritu Santo, que tienen directa o indirectamente una utilidad eclesial; los carismas están ordenados a la edificación de la Iglesia, al bien de los hombres y a las necesidades del mundo” (Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica, no. 799). ¿Qué carismas tiene Usted?

Muchas personas, pensando que los carismas se traten sólo de cosas grandes y extraordinarias, dirían que no los tienen en absoluto. Pero aún la persona más callada, modesta y/o introvertida puede haber recibido algún gracia espiritual para ayudar la Iglesia a crecer, y así esa persona es capaz de guíar a los demás hacia Cristo.

En efecto, San Pablo nos enseña que “sin embargo, cada uno de nosotros ha recibido su propio don, en la medida que Cristo los ha distribuido…. en orden a la edificación del Cuerpo de Cristo, hasta que todos lleguemos a la unidad de la fe y del conocimiento del Hijo de Dios, al estado de hombre perfecto y a la madurez que corresponde a la plenitud de Cristo” (Efesios 4:7, 12-13).

El Catecismo nos enseña además que “por el Espíritu y su acción en los sacramentos, sobre todo en la Eucaristía, Cristo muerto y resucitado constituye la comunidad de los creyentes como cuerpo suyo” (no. 805). Cada santa comunión digna y devotamente recibida nos ayuda a hacernos más como somos – el Cuerpo de Cristo.

Todo lo arriba es para decir que los carismas – gracias particulares del Espíritu para asistir con la edificación de la Iglesia – son conectados con todos los sacramentos, pero en especial con la Sagrada Eucaristía. Nosotros deberíamos rezar para que, en el venidero Congreso Eucarístico, habrá una efusión especial de estas gracias para que, mientras le damos gracias a Dios por los primeros cincuenta años de la Diócesis de Birmingham, podamos dar inicio a la próxima etapa de nuestra historia con nuevos vigor y dinamismo.

Quizás todo esto parece un poco demasiado carismático – y para muchos, no es su espiritualidad preferida. Cuando pensamos en los “carismáticos”, podemos pensar en un estilo muy efusivo o animado de la oracion, tal vez acompañada hasta de fenómenos particulares, como el hablar en lenguas. Efectivamente, hay muchos que no sólo no se conectan con tal tipo de experiencia espiritual, sino no lo encuentran atrayente.

Pero en la Iglesia hay muchas espiritualidades legítimas. Éstas son como las caras diversas de un diamante: todas reflejan la misma fuente de luz, pero de diferentes ángulos y facetas. Cada espiritualidad, es más, puede tener sus excesos y defectos, ya que cada espiritualid es, a fin de cuentas, una expresión humana – y nosotros tendemos a extremos.

San Pablo, sin embargo, no delimita su enseñanza a una espiritualidad solamente. “Cada uno de nosotros ha recibido su propio don”, nos dice. Entonces, volvemos a la duda del inicio: ¿Qué carismas tiene Usted? Cada uno de nosotros lo debe discernir: tomando en cuenta nuestro carácter, nuestra espiritualidad y nuestro estado de vida. El Señor nos conoce a todos personalmente y sabe bien trabajar con nuestras particularidades para edificar su Iglesia. De veras, él da dones a todos; nuestra tarea es de ponerlos en uso no para ventajas propias sino para ventaja de su Iglesia.

Kathia y Andrés Arango, un matrimonio que compartirán sus dones con nosotros durante el inminente Congreso Eucarístico, han laborado por muchos años especialmente para ayudar a los católicos latinos a identificar y poner en uso sus carismas. ¡No vemos la hora de recibirlos como parte del “Hilo Hispano” del Congreso, y de ver cómo nos ayudarán a crecer hacia la plenitud de Cristo!

The Eucharist and the Family, the Domestic Church

Several weeks back in the One Voice, there was an article highlighting Damon and Melanie Owens, a couple who will be leading one of our breakout sessions at the Eucharistic Congress. Many people have asked about them, because in our Diocese they haven’t become a household name… yet. Damon has been on the Catholic speaker circuit for years. Anyone who has been through or taught the Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School program in our Catholic schools or in confirmation programs has had the opportunity to witness Damon’s tremendous knowledge of Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as well as his tremendous energy, passion, and obvious love for Christ and His Church.

Damon has also been featured in many of the largest conferences, congresses and convocations around the country. He and Melanie have taught Natural Family Planning for many of the twenty-five years they have been married and have founded many organizations and Diocesan offices which promote and support marriages and families. An impressive speaker in her own right, Melanie holds a master’s in social work from the University of California at Berkley and has spoken together with Damon at many events which are focused on marriages and families. They have a lot of experience dealing with raising children, too; they have eight!

But the question we keep asking as we look at our speakers and our themes for the Eucharistic Congress is: what does this have to do with the Eucharist?

Much of Pope St John Paul II’s meditations on marriage and on the Theology of the Body centered around the theme of “sincere gift of self.” This is the idea that someone can, possessing a certain sense of self-mastery and self-control or ownership, freely choose to give themselves as a complete and total gift to (and for) someone else without holding anything back. This is the kind of gift that we see within the persons of the Blessed Trinity: Eternal Father, co-eternal and begotten-not-created Son, in a relationship of such perfect and powerful self-giving, the union with the Life-giving Spirit. In the perfect essence of God, the distinct persons of the Trinity perfectly give themselves without reserve, but because God is perfect, He completely gives himself without losing or sacrificing anything.

This self-gift is evident also in Jesus sacrificial love on the Cross. As John 10:18 tells us, Jesus freely gives up His life out of Love. As the second person of the Trinity, He gives totally of himself to the Father and sacrifices nothing. In His perfect humanity, Jesus gives Himself for us as a perfect and total sacrifice of Love. Less dramatic-looking but perhaps even more profound, is the way Jesus makes a total gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

It is somehow believable that within God’s One Divine being, the Three persons of the Trinity would be able to give themselves totally in a perfect, eternal and mysterious union. God is perfect and worthy of this kind of gift; and because He is infinite and perfect, He loses nothing from this donation of Self. It also seems somehow reasonable that out of obedience to the Father and out of His own perfect love for all human-kind that Jesus would offer himself up on the cross. But for us, we know that our marriages, families, and vocations are not perfect. We cannot perfectly give, and when we give ourselves totally to one another we will experience loss and sacrifice, like on the Cross. As individuals, it can sometimes be more difficult to believe that God – ineffable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same – would present His total gift of self to us under the accidents of a simple piece of bread and a meager cup of wine. Not only under species which are simple, humble, defenseless, and unable to speak, but allowing himself to be consumed into our bodies. It is from the Eucharist that we “recuperate” what our imperfect gifts of self lose, and strengthens us with grace to continue in the imitation of God’s Love.

St Francis of Assisi, in “A Letter to the Whole Order,” puts it so beautifully:

“O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself for our salvation [that] He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour your hearts before him… Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, [so] that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

As the Psalmist says, it is too wonderful, too great, too much to understand! Most of us do not have enough sense of self-worth to believe that God would really wish to be consumed by us, and yet He does. And so, the Eucharist shows us the love of the Triune Persons for one another, and the love of the Eternal God for each of us and the union He desires with us. But there is more…

When we receive Holy Communion, all of us who receive are brought into this union with God. We are all united to the Body of Christ. And as St Paul tells us, the mystical Body of Christ is His Church! It is interesting that when St Paul talks about the Body of Christ and its many parts and members as in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12, we do not see much of a distinction between those passages and the way He speaks about the Body of Christ as the Eucharist. He seems to move between the two ideas seamlessly. In 1 Corinthians 10, St Paul says we all partake of the One Bread, which remains one though we are many parts. Through the Eucharist, the mystical Body of Christ is united.

The nuclear human family is the most evident example of this love that we see in our humanity. Evidence of the love of the Holy Trinity can be seen in the love of mother and father, husband and wife, whose love profoundly expresses itself in the life-given person of their child. In this participation in procreation, and also in the decision to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom, we become imitators of the Life-giving Trinity. It isn’t a perfect image, though. Father and mother are not un-created, and their child is not co-eternal. What we see in the family is something fashioned after God but limited by our physical world and human nature. But families in this way, build up the Church and society in the “shape” of God. The love of the Trinity is expressed in the family, as is the Eucharistic self-gift of Jesus. Christ’s love for the Church, as he lays down His life for her, gives the image of the sacrificial love we see both in marriage, and in priestly and religious celibacy. And the Mystical Body of Jesus joins, blesses, feeds, and forms families and communities who in turn build up the Church.

The limits of this page and of the knowledge of this author can only express so much of these great mysteries. But we look forward in anticipation to see what Damon and Melanie Owens have to say about The Eucharist and the Family, the Domestic Church during the Eucharistic Congress at the BJCC on June 28-29, 2019!

How is YOUR parish preparing for the 2019 Eucharistic Congress?

People in parishes all across the Diocese have been working hard to be ready and to make sure everyone feels welcome. Many parishes have appointed a specific Parish Preparation Rep. If you don’t know who your parish’s rep is, contact your parish office. If your parish doesn’t have one, consider volunteering! Ask your pastor and then contact the Office of Discipleship and Mission.

We can’t possibly mention every parish and their work to prepare, but here are a few highlights:

St Francis University Parish in Tuscaloosa contacted their bulletin provider, Diocesan Publications, and had them design and print a banner to display in their vestibule. Diocesan has made the banner available for any parish in the diocese to order. You can find it using this web address: which will take you straight to their site.

Our Lady of Fatima in Birmingham brought many parishioners on a parish retreat at the retreat center at St Bernard’s in Cullman. During the overnight retreat, they studied Bishop Baker’s Called, Formed, Sent letter and received an update on the congress from a member of the EC2019 Planning Committee.

Holy Spirit in Tuscaloosa had an event to launch bible studies and small groups and invited Dr. Steven Ray to come give a talk at it. Several other parishes have had the Office of Discipleship and Mission come and present a small group leader workshop in an effort to start or support such groups as well.

St Stephen the Martyr Campus Ministry Chapel in Birmingham has launched a couple of new events centered around Eucharistic Adoration. One of them, called BHM Catholic Underground, has brought in people of all ages from many different parishes.

Our Lady of the Valley Ft Payne has been coordinating a donation to provide a bus to bring those who cannot or prefer not to drive down.

Students, Scouts, Legion of Mary members, and many others have been volunteering to make rosaries for all Congress attendees. Our Lady of the Lake in Pell City has sent well over 500 with more to come!

Students form John Carroll Catholic High School’s Students Modeling Christ Club donated money they had raised to help support the Congress’s Youth Track!

We’d love to hear about how your parish is preparing for the Eucharistic Congress! Most especially, we’d like to hear about how you are spreading the word and inviting people to be present with us. The EC2019 Planning Committee has been sending out posters, prayer cards, invitation postcards, and lots of other materials… How have you been using those? Contact the Diocesan Office of Discipleship and Mission if you’d like to share, or send your info to the One Voice or Diocesan Social Media pages.

Eucharistic Congress Facilities and Schedule

For the Eucharistic Congress, we have reserved facilities at the BJCC, Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. For those looking to stay overnight from Friday to Saturday, the Sheraton Hotel has sustained damage to many rooms and is now full, but there are still rooms available at the Westin Downtown. The Redmont is also a short walk away from the BJCC. There are now group rates or reserved blocks, so simply book through your favorite travel provider or through the hotel directly. For those who don’t mind driving a few minutes to save a few dollars, there are several hotel options in Fultondale right off Route 65, with lots of breakfast options.

The large conferences on Friday evening and Saturday, the Spanish language track, as well as the Closing Mass, will be in the North Exhibit hall, the largest exhibit hall. A portion of that room will also be reserved for our Vendor Exhibit Hall. There will be booths from local apostolates and religious communities, as well as organizations and vendors form around the country. The adjacent large convention room, the South Exhibit Hall, will host our Youth Track. The BJCC Concert Hall, arguably the most beautiful space in the complex, will host the Apostolic Nuncio’s address to the English-speaking crowd, as well as Dr Scott Hahn’s breakout session. Breakout sessions and the Children’s Track will be just a short trip up the escalators in the North Meeting Rooms. All this is to say, we have room for A LOT OF PEOPLE!

Which brings us to the next point: we need to go out into the highways and byways, as Jesus says, as invite people in to the celebration! Flyers have been emailed out to your parishes and are available on Posters and prayer cards are being distributed among all the parishes as well. A stack of snappy, attractive blank postcards will be delivered to your church for you to mail to friends, neighbors, relatives, fallen-away Catholics, or anyone you’d like to invite. The Eucharistic Congress is supposed to be a public gathering which demonstrates our love for Jesus truly present in the Eucharist; but it can only be public if we invite people to be present! Wonderful talks, beautiful music, and the opportunity to be together with thousands for a special Holy Mass are very nice ideas, but they will only provide the maximum impact if we all share them together. So please, let’s all mark our calendars, and start inviting!

Perhaps, you might be someone who is still struggling to understand what “Eucharistic Congress” means and don’t know what to expect. Bishop Baker is encouraging you to, “Come and see!” Aside from the beautiful tradition of venerating and learning about the Eucharist, and the impressive candlelight procession Friday night, this Congress also falls on the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of our Diocese. And in the words of Fr Joe Culotta of St Mark’s, “Everyone knows that a 50th anniversary is something to celebrate!”

Many of us in this Diocese receive postcards, mailers, and personal invitations to events at the local churches of other Christian denominations. They want to make sure we know we are welcome. It is time for us to do the same!

Apostolic Nuncio: Eucharist is the Source of the Church

In recent issues of the One Voice, we’ve heard a lot about people who are coming to speak at the Eucharistic Congress, June 28-29, at the BJCC. One of those speakers whose name has appeared often is Archbishop Cristophe Pierre. It is not surprising that many people do not know who he is. Archbishop Pierre occupies a traditional position in the Church called the, “Apostolic Nuncio.” At this point, most people are probably thinking, “That title didn’t make it any clearer who he is!” So what is an apostolic nuncio, or a papal nuncio as it is sometimes called, and why should that matter to us?

According to the official website,, the position of the Apostolic Nuncio is described as:

“The Pope, as the Vicar of Christ on earth, in order to ensure that each country has a tangible sign of his care for the Lord's entire Flock, appoints an Apostolic Nuncio (Ambassador of the Holy See) as his personal and official representative both to the Church in the United States and to its Government.”

In 1929, the Vatican became an independent city-state engulfed on all sides by Italy. This means that the Holy Father is now not only responsible for the spiritual pastoring of the Catholic Church, but that the Holy See also represents the Church in matters political. So, Archbishop Pierre is an emissary of Pope Francis to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in matters related to the faith, and the administration of Church disciplines.

Christ promised he would always be with us. He has kept this promise in one way, through His true presence in the Holy Eucharist, which is NOT a sign but is really Him. One way He additionally left us a physical sign of His presence in the Church, is by establishing Peter as His Vicar. Every pope since Peter has been that sign. Obviously, Jesus knows that being able to see, hear, and be with someone we can look in the eye is very important to us as human beings. Our faith is filled with outward signs and physical expressions because God made us body and soul as one person. If those signs were so important that Jesus established them in Divine Wisdom, it would be a tragedy if most of the people of the world never got to physically see or be with that sign, the Vicar of Christ. The Church has established nunciatures, regions of the world that are served by an ambassador of the Holy Father so that we can always be reminded how connected we are to him.

In addition to matters of the faith and church administration, the Apostolic Nuncio also serves as an ambassador to the United States government. The Vatican is an independent city state, a sovereign nation of its own. This is because Pope Pius the XI saw the need to separate the church from political affiliations that deviated from the truth. It was a brilliant maneuver that has served the Church well. But as such, the governing body of the Holy See now maintains diplomatic relations with many foreign countries in an effort to serve Catholics all over the world. While we may not see or hear form the nuncio on a regular basis, we can be sure he keeps a very busy schedule working on our behalf.

One of the functions he performs in representing the Holy Father is to deliver messages when His Holiness cannot bring them himself. This was the case with the letter Archbishop Pierre sent to Bishop Baker which was printed in last week’s issue of the One Voice. Pope Francis asked Archbishop Pierre to extend congratulations on the anniversary of our Diocese and let us know of his prayers for the upcoming Congress. Rather than just having someone in Rome draft an email, Pope Francis sent it through his proxy, the Nuncio. When a new bishop is named, Archbishop Pierre will notify him. When a bishop retires, the nuncio will be the one to accept his letter of resignation on behalf of the pope. When new documents are published, or some liturgical guidance is given by Rome, it will usually come through the nuncio’s office and then to the other Bishops.

Archbishop Pierre was born in France in 1946. He entered seminary in 1963 (at just 17!) and was oradained in Rennes in 1970, after having interrupted his studies for two years of military service (all French young people do two years of military or civil service). After studies in Paris and Rome, he was appointed to the Vatican diplomatic training school. He was made nuncio to Haiti by Pope St John Paul II and endured years of very difficult and sometimes dangerous church-state relations. Then he was sent to Uganda, where he bravely argued against the governments campaigns which would have forced people to violate the Church’s teaching on respect for the dignity of human life. He worked to find solutions to stopping AIDs which did not include forcing people to violate their consciences. In 2007, he was moved to Mexico, where he is credited with improving government and church relations with artful skill. Now he comes to us in a time of trouble, appointed in 2016. The scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church once again have been placed very squarely on his shoulders. We should pray for him every day.

Why are these positions and the traditions they represent so important? All of these offices and complicated archaic names might seem a little odd and superfluous until we consider the Apostolic nature of the Church. Jesus set up His church on the rock of Peter. Peter, with the other eleven (then ten, then eleven again…) apostles guided and instructed the Church. They laid their hands upon others, such as Matthias, and passed on their apostolic mission from Jesus so that the Church would continue to spread, grow, and thrive. We can trace the “lineage,” or succession, of all of our Bishops back through two millennia directly to the Apostles. This principle, called Apostolic Succession, is a key element of what it means to be truly Catholic.  It is how we can trust that we remain connected to the true Gospel of Jesus. While my parish is made up of my local people and our pastor, I belong to an ages-old church that encompasses the whole world, is for everyone, and has room for everyone in it. In fact, it was Christ’s final command to our bishops that they make disciples of all peoples! This connection to something greater, bigger, older, and universal is something we should be proud of. It should bring us great joy, comfort, and confidence.

It also relates in a special way to the Eucharist. Where does the Eucharist come from? We receive the precious body and blood of Jesus from the Holy Mass, the unbloody sacrifice, united with Jesus on the Cross. The sacrifice of the Mass is mystically offered, one sacrifice in many places and times, by ordained priests. And priests are made so by Bishops, and Bishops by other bishops going back to the Apostles. This succession is not merely political. It isn’t simply about controlling the message. It is about Jesus Christ remaining with us always, until the end of time, by sacramentally providing us with the Bread of Heaven.

Truly, the Nuncio is a physical example of the missionary discipleship Jesus has required form the Church.

So what will happen at the Eucharistic Congress?

Last week, this page featured an article explaining what a Eucharistic Congress is, where the idea to have one came from, and why Bishop Baker decided to move forward. In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the Diocese of Birmingham being made its own See, a Eucharistic Congress is a great opportunity to thank God, to consider more deeply our call to be Missionary Disciples, and to learn how to draw our strength in that call from the True Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

But how exactly will that happen at the BJCC? What will happen at this event that will accomplish those goals?

On this page you will find a provisional schedule for the event. We will begin Friday evening with a welcome at 6:30. Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of Str Augustine, FL, will talk to us about the Eucharist and reconciliation and reparation. His address will be bilingual. We will then all leave the BJCC and process outdoors (weather permitting) to the Cathedral of St Paul by candlelight. On the steps of St Paul’s we will pray for a short while, and then the Eucharist will be brought inside the Cathedral where Jesus will remain exposed for adoration throughout the night.

Saturday morning, the BJCC will open at 8:30am. The exhibit floor with vendors and ministries will be open for you to browse. At 9:00am we will gather for an opening prayer, and then the main activities will begin. Throughout the day, our brothers and sisters who need talks in the Spanish language will remain in the main meeting area where they will have several inspiring talks and a time for Adoration. The teens (middle and high school) who are present will be invited to move to a special conference room with talks and music set up just for them. There will be a room with sessions for children from Kindergarten to 5th grade. And there will be several options available to English speaking adults in the smaller conference rooms. Each of these adult break out sessions will be delivered twice, so you don’t have to be afraid to miss one for the sake of another. There will be maps and helpful people around to assist you in traveling from one place to another.

During this whole time, the exhibit floor will remain open, and there will also be a small chapel with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament if you wish to spend a few minutes there. For lunch, there will be concession stands open to purchase food.

At 3:00pm, all the activities will wind down except the exhibit floor. And at 4:00pm we will begin the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as Bishop Baker announced in last weeks One Voice, where all the clergy and people of the Diocese and our guests will join with many of our neighboring bishops in giving thanks to God for the blessings given to our Church. At the end of this liturgy, Bishop Baker will commission many who have accepted the call and been formed in this new vigor for missionary discipleship, and he will send us out to bring the light of the Faith to all our neighbors.

Please make sure you continue to read these articles, prepare to be at the Eucharistic Congress, and invite everyone! Next week in this space, we’ll hear about the literal road to the Congress, which as many of you know is under construction…

Malfunction Junction

One question that has been coming up incessantly during our preparations for the Eucharistic Congress has been, “What are we going to do about the construction on Malfunction Junction?” The short answer is, “At this point, who knows?” That probably wasn’t the answering you were hoping for. But rest assured, the topic has not been overlooked. One complication is that the new UAB football stadium is being built in one of the local parking lots that was used for buses arriving at the BJCC. Another major concern is that the highway construction zone is fluid and ever-changing.

Bishop Baker, James Watts, and Alex Kubik paid a visit to the Mayor’s office several months ago to seek some assistance in this matter. Mayor Woodfin’s staff has been extremely responsive and helpful; and has pledged to continue working with us up until the very last minute. The website includes a live map of the area which is constantly updated with day-to-day exit closings and changes. Donny Grundhoefer, the Diocesan Facilities Director, has been in touch with ALDOT to coordinate our Eucharistic Procession route, as it will need to cross the construction zone. We have been told the presence of a foreign dignitary like the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Pierre, may serve to motivate support for our plans. We pray this is true.

Is there any good news? Yes! The new 17th Street exit from I65 has been a welcome addition to the traffic pattern. While commuting has been difficult, the city has continued business as usual without any catastrophic failure. The BJCC has no plans to cease doing business, and the new shops and restaurants in the UpTown area continue to do business. All of this suggests that there is life going on north of 6th Avenue North and that bodes well for us. We are asking parishes that are remote to consider chartering buses to simplify arrival and parking. Not every parish can afford this but working together we can ensure everyone who wishes to can attend. Especially the homebound, the inconvenienced, and all those who cannot drive themselves. Those who live closer to the BJCC may not benefit from buses, but it may be useful to carpool to cut down on the traffic and parking volume.

With the support of the city and state authorities, we will be able to provide an up-to-date driving, parking, and procession plan as time draws near. For those who like to plan way ahead, this might require a little extra patience. But detailed instructions and even maps will be made available via email and the Congress website. Alerts will be sent to parishes and made on Diocesan social media as they become available. Please continue to pray for all those involved in making sure we have a safe, hassle free trip to and from the BJCC. And keep your eyes and ears open for the updates as they become available!

Next week, look for updates on registration (there isn’t any), cost (there isn’t any), and lunch.

Sister Bethany Madonna, SV: The Eucharist and Social Justice

On Saturday, June 29, 2019, one of our Eucharistic Congress breakout sessions at the BJCC will be given by Sister Bethany Madonna, SV. SV stands for “Sisters of Life.” This author has been a friend and fan of the Sisters of Life since 1995, just four years after the community was founded. Then-Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal O’Connor, established the community with Mother Agnes Mary Donovan and seven other women in 1991. The community exists to “protect and enhance the sacredness of all human life.” Since that time, the Sisters of Life have opened homes for unwed mothers, provided retreats and support for anyone suffering in the aftermath of abortion, opened a retreat center in Connecticut, taught sessions on the Theology of the Body and NFP, and now have sisters across the country and in Canada. Their sisters have worked in all sorts of other apostolates which promote the cause of human dignity. The number of vocations the community has attained in just these few years is nothing short of astounding. And they have earned a reputation as some of the happiest nuns anyone has met. In the yearbook of religious communities, they would be awarded most likely to be caught smiling when no one was looking.

Sr Bethany Madonna, who lives at the community’s mother house in NY and whose day to day responsibilities include the formation of new novices, has been a main-stay on the “Catholic Conference Circuit” over the last few years. While a student at the University of Central Florida, Sr Bethany experienced a profound encounter with Jesus that set her on a path to serving the vulnerable. She combines a delightful sense of humility (just self-deprecating enough without going overboard) with a deadpan sense of humor with a delivery that rivals even the great Bob Newhart. She focuses on real-life situations that demonstrate our need for God and for constant conversion in living the life of Christ. The stories she tells about the quirkier aspects of living in religious community, and also living in New York, are spellbinding. If you have any doubts you can watch videos of her speaking to more than 15,000 people at the recent SEEK2019 conference, hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students; or you can ask any of the several hundred students and adults from Alabama who were there.

And what does any of this have to do with the Eucharist, or our Eucharistic Congress?

In keeping with Bishop Baker’s, “The Eucharist and…” rubric, Sister will be speaking on the topic, “The Eucharist and Social Justice.” In many ideological circles, those two things have very little to do with one another. But the Church, in Her wisdom, has always found a connection between the mystery of the Incarnation and the moral imperative to serve the poor and vulnerable, and to strive for justice for all men and women. And as Missionary Disciples, we learn from the Church that there is a deep connection between the Incarnation of Christ, and the Eucharist.

Two years ago, the bishops of the United States held a convocation in Florida. The impetus for this gathering was the acknowledgement that within the Church, there were two main bodies of people who were concerned with issues related to the dignity of the human person: those who were pro-life (and largely focused on abortion and end-of-life ethics) and those concerned with issues more typically associated with Social Justice in the political realm (rights of workers, immigration, racial inequalities, etc.). What the bishops were concerned with was bringing the two together to discover and appreciate in one another the one common essence and origin of all these positions: namely, that human beings are created by God in His own image and likeness, with inherent dignity that must be honored and protected at even the highest price. Such a price, that God Himself became man, like us in all things but sin. Jesus took upon himself our nature, to redeem it, to restore our place as adopted children of God and heirs to Heaven. Such is God’s perfect view of our human dignity, that He would take on our nature and unite Himself to us. In this way, we see the supreme dignity which belongs to each and every human person. And since God has paid such a high price for us while we were still separated from Him through sin, we now bear the moral responsibility to uphold and protect that dignity in each and every person; but most especially those who are weak and vulnerable and cannot protect their own dignity. This same imperative is what drives us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and fight for legal protection for the unborn, infirmed and elderly. There is not a dichotomy between the true Christian motivations behind either of these perspectives, but one singular knowledge that in His Incarnation Christ has first loved us.

At His Ascension in Heaven, Jesus promises us He is with us always, even until the end of time. The Apostles taught us that in a very real and tangible way, Jesus kept this promise explicitly in His true presence in the Holy Eucharist. If in a general and global way Jesus united himself to humanity through His Incarnation, He does so in an intimately personal way through the reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In this sacred mystery, Jesus unites Himself to the nature of each one who receives Him. The Incarnation speaks to us of the dignity of the whole human race, and the Eucharist speaks to us of the dignity of each human person. Jesus desires this intimate union with every human soul. His desire to elevate and redeem us did not stop simply at taking on flesh to unite to our nature but went so far as to provide a way to unite himself to the soul and body of each human being who believes and makes a worthy reception of Holy Communion. In a very mystical way, there is a deep connection between the Eucharist and the Catholic understanding of Social Justice.

St Paul tells us that true missionary discipleship is not simply the following of a program. He says it is actually about Christ living in us. This is the “sequela Christi,” the response to Jesus’ call to come and follow Him. All the work of the Christian life finds its source and strength in the Eucharist, where our bodies take in the life of Christ and our souls receive transforming grace to become, as St Gregory of Nyssa says, another Christ. When we work for justice and perform works of mercy, it is the Love of Christ which works through us, and it is Christ who is the object of our love in the disguise of the other person.

As we prepare for the Congress, we look forward to hearing Sr Bethany Madonna’s words on this mystical connection between our One, Eucharistic Lord and the many expressions He motivates in us as we seek to build a culture of justice and mercy.

Looming Questions

For nearly two years, Bishop Baker and his planning committee for the 2019 Diocese of Birmingham Eucharistic Congress have been preparing. You may have read articles here in the One Voice or heard Bishop Baker speak about the Eucharistic Congress. But many people still have looming questions about this event. You may be one of them. Even if you do have a grasp of what having a Eucharistic Congress means, you can be certain people in your parish community do not, and they need your help to better understand.

So then, what is a Eucharistic Congress? The term “Eucharistic Congress” dates back to 19th Century France. The events were large gatherings of the faithful centered around the Eucharist, because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, Jesus in the Eucharist is “the source and summit of our faith.” We use the word Congress as a matter of tradition, even though in American English vocabulary it might not be our first choice of word. It doesn’t imply our typical understanding of what a congress is, it means something similar to conference or convention.
We can help one another understand this, so we do not get hung up on the word. A Congress usually consists of times of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in public, usually some kind of public procession with the Eucharist in the Monstrance, talks explaining the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist, and a large Holy Mass with all in attendance.

In John 6, Jesus gives the Bread of Life discourse, and many people leave Him. He has the opportunity to argue with them, to try and explain, or to back-pedal. But He allows them to go, and even says to His closest followers, “Will you also leave?” The truth about the very real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was a make-it-or-break-it issue to Jesus Himself. As Catholics living as a minority among Christians in the South, it is essential that we be firm in this conviction. And that we have a deep understanding of these truths that we can share with others.

Why have a Eucharistic Congress? This June 29, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Birmingham being established as a diocese. In 1969, the Archdiocese of Mobile still covered all of Alabama. Birmingham was established as a separate See, with its own Bishop and Cathedral.
This anniversary is a momentous occasion. We needed a fitting way to celebrate it. Bishop Baker thought this Congress was the best suggestion. Instead of simply hosting a fancy dinner or party, we can give honor and glory to Jesus, and deepen our faith in and understanding of His True Presence in the Eucharist. The Holy Father, and all of the Bishops, have been repeating a call to all of us: Missionary Discipleship. Bishop Baker wrote his pastoral letter, “Called, Formed, Sent” as a way to explain to us what Missionary Discipleship is and should be in the context of our Diocese. In this Congress, we will explore the reality that Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and the sustenance of all our efforts in this Missionary Discipleship. This event will be a launching point for all of us to enter in to this greater effort of living as Jesus did for the sake of spreading the Gospel and getting one another to Heaven.

We have reserved conference spaces for large gatherings and meeting rooms for talks. We have a great line-up of top-notch speakers, who speak at some of the largest Catholic conferences around the country. We have a schedule (almost finalized!) packed with great activities; and we are even planning a procession with the Eucharist from the BJCC down the street to St Paul’s Cathedral where we will have all-night adoration. Hundreds of people have already put work into this preparation. The closing Holy Mass with Bishop Baker will include many of our neighboring bishops, all the clergy, and as many people from around the Diocese as possible!

In the coming weeks, the One Voice will feature speaker bio’s, logistical information, details, and everything you need in order to get to the Congress, and Invite your neighbors, friends, family, people you don’t see at church much anymore… even those who aren’t Catholic. Meanwhile, remember to pray for the success of the Congress and for all those involved.