Blog Eucharistic Congress

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.

Blog Eucharistic Congress

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.

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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.

Blog Eucharistic Congress

We Are All Missionary Disciples

We Are All Missionary Disciples
By Christina Semmens

The opening keynote speaker at the upcoming Diocese of Birmingham Eucharistic Congress 2019 will be His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Titular Archbishop of Gunela and Pope Francis’ appointment as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. As the spokesman for Pope Francis here in the United States, Archbishop Pierre’s keynote message will focus upon the theme of Missionary Discipleship.

For those who may be unfamiliar, missionary discipleship is a term made popular by Pope Francis, especially in his encyclical, Evangelium Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).

In paragraph 120 of his encyclical, Pope Francis writes:

“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church, or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization.”

What this means is that each and every one of us—EVERY baptized man and woman, regardless of whether you have any position in the Church, and regardless of your level of instruction in the faith, is an agent of evangelization.

You, me, and every person around us, is called to spread the Good News that Jesus is Lord and Savior of the world. That every person is loved beyond measure by God and has been made in His image and likeness. That all of us are uniquely made and have a particular vocation in this world for which God created us especially for, but that our highest calling is to become holy men and women—saints—who are immersed in the life of the Blessed Trinity. That every person who professes Jesus as Lord has been redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross, in which death and sin has been conquered for all time, and ensuring that anyone who says yes to the Heavenly Father’s invitation will then spend eternity with Him in heaven rejoicing at the Heavenly Banquet Table.

This is the Good News we are called to share.

And where are we called to evangelize? Pope Francis tells us in paragraph #23:

“In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.”

It is this need to preach and share the Gospel everywhere that brings home the reality that everyone is called to be a missionary disciple. Sharing the Good News is not merely for “professionals”—like priests and religious—to be about while the rest of the us lay faithful sit by passively.

The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.

Every one of us is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization. Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. In fact, it is our very experience of God’s love, rather than how much catechetical training we might have, that makes us powerful and profound witnesses to others of God’s saving love and mercy.

THIS is a message that our world desperately needs to hear.

Pope Francis exhorts every one of the faithful to claim our rightful place in the efforts to evangelize. He writes:

“Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries,” but rather that we are always “missionary disciples.” If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim Him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in Him “because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20).

By our baptism, we are ALL missionary disciples. So what are we waiting for?

Speaker Bio for His Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre
Titular Archbishop of Gunela

Archbishop Christophe Pierre was born on January 30, 1946 in Rennes, France. He completed his primary education in Antisirabé, Madagascar, and his secondary schooling in Saint-Malo, France, and in Marrakech, Morocco. He attended the Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Rennes (1963-1969) and the Catholic Institute of Paris (1969-1971).
He did the Military Service from July 1965, to October 1966. He was ordained a priest on April 5, 1970, in Saint-Malo, France and incardinated in the Archdiocese of Rennes. He was Parochial Vicar of the St. Peter and St. Paul Parish in Colombes, Diocese of Nanterre, France (1970-1973).

He has a Master in Sacred Theology (Paris, 1971) and a Doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome (1973-1977).

He completed his studies at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, in Rome (1973-1977), and started his service in the Diplomatic Corps of the Holy See on March 5, 1977.

He was appointed first to the Pontifical Representation in New Zealand and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean (1977-1981). Subsequently he served in Mozambique (1981); in Zimbabwe (1982-1986); in Cuba (1986-1989); in Brazil (1989-1991); at the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (1991-1995).

He was elected Titular Archbishop of Gunela on July 12, 1995, and received the Episcopal Consecration on September 24, 1995, in Saint-Malo, France.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, on July 12, 1995, where he served until 1999. He has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Uganda (1999-2007) and then, the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico (2007-2016). He was appointed as Apostolic Nuncio of the United States of America by His Holiness, Pope Francis on April 12, 2016.

Archbishop Pierre speaks French, English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

For more resources like these to help prepare you, or for more information about how to support the upcoming Diocese of Birmingham Eucharistic Congress by volunteering or through sponsorship, check out

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St JPII Encyclical on the Eucharist

As we prepare for the Eucharistic Congress in 2019 you’d be hard-pressed to find a better read than the Encyclical discussed in the article here at the National Catholic Register!!!


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Embracing our Deeper Mission

Embracing our Deeper Mission

During the last several weeks, articles have been appearing here in the One Voice about the upcoming Diocesan Eucharistic Congress to be held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center (BJCC) on June 28–29, 2019.

I am excited about this upcoming event—particularly because it can serve as both a “wake-up call” as well as an opportunity for all in the Diocese of Birmingham. But why do we need a “wake up call”? Because the routine of daily life can become all-consuming, and even overwhelming as we tend to our work and personal responsibilities. Because the 24/7 siren call of the world’s allurements—good and bad—are continuous distractions to God’s ever-present invitation to embrace our deeper mission.

But what exactly is that “deeper mission”? It is that God is inviting every one of us—all of His beloved sons and daughters—to share in the abundance of His divine life by following Jesus in the way of holiness. Simply, it is that God is inviting us to become saints–or in the words of Pope Francis, to become “Missionary Disciples”.

When I share this idea with people, many people respond that they aren’t good enough, or have what it takes to become a saint. That it’s not possible for them. Since I tend to be a mischievous person, I often agree and say they are absolutely right. But then I add, “It isn’t possible for US. It IS possible for God.” Once we laugh a bit about not letting God be God, and that He truly is calling us to holiness, other questions will then emerge, like “How do I go about discovering my deeper mission?” or “How do I live out my mission in my daily life?

“A Theology of the Head, Heart, Hands and Feet” is a phrase I came across many years ago during my theology studies. Over the years, I have taken the original intent (in which the author used it to describe the process of how people come to faith and belief) and modified it to explain how our spiritual life needs to encompass all of who we are—the head (our continual growth in knowledge of God and His Church), the heart (our life of prayer and meditation), the hands (our service of others through the works of mercy) and the feet (where we “go out into the desert” to spend time with God on retreat). Our spiritual life should be attentive to ensuring that all of these aspects are present as we are living out our life of faith.

Once I share this idea, I then ask them to reflect upon which way (Head, Heart, Hands or Feet) that they have most easily encountered God in their life, and also where it has seemed easiest to hear Him speaking. Once we identify this, we then have a foundation upon which to build into our life the other practices that are necessary for us to share in the divine life and follow Jesus on the path of holiness, and also the opportunity for us to find true happiness by accepting God’s invitation to embrace our deeper mission in life.

One article is not sufficient for laying out how to embrace our deeper mission in life, so in the months ahead, you are going to see numerous articles, videos, and other resources shared here in the One Voice and also at to help you with that endeavor. The focus of all this will be on becoming “Missionary Disciples” and how to share in the abundance of the divine life, while discussing the reality that it is “through the Eucharist” that this will all come together in our lives. I invite you to embark upon this journey and the challenge of preparing for the Eucharistic Congress, because the more we prepare, the more we are able to receive the blessings and graces that God has in store for us.

In the Gospel of Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus tells the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins who are awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom, and how the five virgins who are prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival are rewarded, and how the five who failed to prepare well are disowned. Since we never know when the Bridegroom will be arriving, Jesus tells us we should follow the model of the wise virgins and set aside “oil for our lamps.” Similarly, I hope that by actively preparing for the Eucharistic Congress, we may each discover that we are not only ready to welcome the Bridegroom when He comes, but that we also find that our lamps are burning so brightly with God’s grace, that we are able to embody what St Catherine of Siena once said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” I will be praying that you decide to accept God’s invitation to become whom He created you to be by embracing your deeper mission, and preparing to set the world on fire by becoming saints!


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Roadmap to Discipleship (Eucharistic Congress and Beyond!)

“You can’t get there from here.” This comical line has been used in more TV shows and comedy sketches than you can count. But the phrase derives some of its humor from the reality that we all feel sometimes, that of being helplessly incapable of getting where we want to be or unable to achieve our goals. Many people give up on their quest for holiness and sainthood because it becomes obvious that we are unable to accomplish it on our own. Yet, some people (like the saints) have made it. The question is, if the saints were successful at this seemingly unattainable goal, what did they have or know?

Back in the day, before cell phones and GPS’s, there was this thing called a map. Nowadays, most people’s experience with maps is when you do a search online for your house, and check the satellite image to see if your car was parked in the driveway when the image was taken. But back then, you used a paper map to plan your own route to your destination. There were many possible ways to go, and you had to use your best judgement to pick the route you thought to be best. The saints all had maps, too; but they had maps for life.

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has a very nice framework for this, which is being used on a number of college campuses right here in Alabama. It isn’t a test and no one is keeping score. It’s just a helpful guide for self-reflection. Here’s a summary:

  1. “Am I a disciple yet? Have I heard about the story of my salvation won by Jesus, and have I made a personal decision in some fashion or another to follow Him?” For most baptized and confirmed Catholics the answer is yes. However, it might not be; and that would be understandable. Some Catholics have simply been pushed through a system and have never really taken on a personal decision, often because the question was never asked.
  2. “I am a Beginning Disciple. I have made a deliberate attempt to change my attitudes towards God and the Church. I have received the sacraments, and I genuinely desire to make God a bigger part of my life.” Many people are at this stage. If you are here, you’re in good company!
  3. “I am a Growing Disciple. I have acted on my desires to get to know God better. I pray daily, participate in the sacraments regularly, I work hard to grow in virtue.” This is about the time where we need a reminder that the point here is not to feel judged or judge-y, nor to feel badly about ourselves. It’s just a simple, personal assessment of where each of us is; for our own private use. If you are in this phase, this author would like to meet you so he can get some tips… It is quite possible that many regularly practicing Catholics have already been doing this without realizing it.
  4. “I would call myself a Commissioned Disciple. I have taken an active role in my Church. I have realized the wonderful gift that my faith is to me, and therefore I have decided to take responsibility to bring others into a deeper faith. I invite others into the life of my parish and a relationship with God.” It is interesting to note that no degree from a seminary or sacramental ordination is needed to be here. Nor does it mean that one has it all together. Simply, it just means that one has decided to accept the mission of telling others about Jesus and the life of the Church.
  5. “I am a Disciple maker. I have made decisions about my career, lifestyle, vocation or location based on my desire to help others in their work of discipleship. I deeply study scripture and the teachings of the Church.” The number of people here would definitely be smaller. But you can find them in every parish and school in our diocese! Most people wouldn’t even think that this could be somewhere they could go. But since Jesus call to discipleship is for everyone, it means each of us could aspire to this!
  6. Spiritual Multiplier – Very few of us will likely be on this stage of the map. Having sought out special formation and training in ministry or evangelization, this person has been pursuing discipleship and helping others on the road to their own discipleship for a while, and has a large sphere of influence.

Please do not think of these stages as a report card or grading system. They are not. But every good map for a journey has two very important parts: a starting point and a destination. These stages help us to determine where we are at right now, and where we would like to get to in the future. Then, we use the disciplines of discipleship to map out a way to get from “A” to “B.” These disciplines, mentioned a few weeks ago when we examined discipleship, are Prayer, Sacraments, Study, Fellowship, Stewardship, Service, and Evangelization. These disciplines are like the street names we can use to draw a map. 

 Here are some guiding questions for reflection:

  • Which stage of the roadmap do I think I fit in best? Am I between phases? Have I gone forwards or backwards at any point in my life?
  • Which stage do I want to be in next? What are some elements that I can grow in to put me in the next level of my discipleship.
  • No one can do it alone. Who do I know who could help me, teach me, hold me accountable, or be a good example to me on my way to help me reach this goal?
  • What are some concrete steps I can take to ensure my success? What are some reasonable check-up dates that I can use to help keep me on track?

Consider making your own roadmap to discipleship. As the last words of Jesus on Earth, the call to make disciples is important for everyone. And knowing where you are, as well as where you are going, is always a good thing! In our next and final piece, we’ll look at practical ways this plays out in parish life.

FOCUS article

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Our Mission (Should we choose to accept it)

The word “Mission” or “Missionary” is one of those church-y words that calls up immediate mental images. A common word with what seems like an easy definition. Our Office of Discipleship and Mission website is “” and there was a very intentional debate about choosing that specific name. What is a missionary, and what is the connection with being a disciple? We can begin at the Gospels for guidance.

At the start, Jesus calls his disciples. He then spends three years teaching them. The Twelve spent more time with him than anyone else did. He explained parables to them privately, and had deeper conversations about who He was with them. In other words, Jesus discipled them through a relationship that brought about a transformation the character of each of them. Then, he sends them on their mission. And what was the mission? In Luke 10, they get a trial run, and we learn that they casted out demons and probably healed the sick. But in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus tells them to make disciples, teach them all that Jesus taught, and baptize. It seems that the care of the poor and the sick is a given, an understood thing that isn’t even mentioned here. This distinction is important.

The Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to the Americas certainly did help the poor, sick and needy. But we know from their writings that the reason they came was to preach salvation through the Church that Jesus founded. The social concerns were simply a natural extension of their missionary spirit, and became a vehicle for building trust and showing love.

Recently, I was part of a conversation with Bishop Baker, where a nun asked him, “Bishop, you keep talking about mission; but what do you mean by that word?” Seems like it should be a common-sense answer, but the word gets used in so many ways! Bishop’s answer was interesting. He explained a situation where a high school student gets challenged or questioned about their religion, and is in a position to share the truth of the Catholic Faith. He explained that his idea of being mission-ready was that each student would be able to clearly and joyfully answer those questions in a way that leads others to Christ. Admittedly, this answer was unexpected. Bishop went on to explain that his hope for missionary spirit in this diocese would be that each Catholic would be able to give both verbal and active evidence of Christ living within them. Whether that is through service, answering questions, Christian lifestyle, or friendship.

This conversation brings to mind the patroness of the missions, St Therese of Lisieux. She entered the convent at fourteen, and never left. Yet she is the patroness of missionaries! We see that through prayer, discipleship, and effective life witness, one can be a missionary at home. With this new perspective, we did a quick interview with Martha Maria Morales of the Office of Hispanic Ministries, who recently returned form a mission trip (in the typical sense of the term) in Africa, through Catholic Relief Services.

“It is funny that you mentioned St Therese, because she accompanied me in Africa.” Martha Maria was reading a book about four St. Teresa’s. She explains St. Teresa of Avila helps you with the interior life of prayer.  St. Therese of Lisieux is about the little acts of love that make you a missionary in your own home; like saying a Hail Mary for someone when they bother you.

St Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), was a missionary of the mind, answering doubts and questions and bringing peace through truth. St Teresa of Kolkata, was a missionary with dramatic deeds. Martha Maria explained that she learned in Africa that being a missionary is about a full circle of discipleship, cycling through all four Teresa’s.

Martha Maria explained that poverty didn’t shock her in Tanzania. She had seen it before. But it was affirming to see the money we raise through things like the Rice Bowl in action. She did, however, notice a transformation within herself. She looks at everything differently, even water, no longer taking things for granted. A new perspective has shown her that mission isn’t about going places to fix things that WE think need to be fixed. It’s about prayerfully putting to use the things that we can do, give, and be to the service of what others need. “We might not be builders and painters, but we can give and collaborate in the ways that we can. There is a universality of the call… to be a missionary in my family, by my example. Not bible thumping, but example,” Matha Maria adds. “God calls us to restore others dignity, not buildings.”

Returning back to the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel, we see that “mission” is broader than traveling to a remote place to build shelters. It’s about using everything at our discposal to communicate the Love of Christ to everyone, everywhere, always.


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Eucharistic Congress Uncategorized

Why have a Eucharistic Congress?

This article first appeared in the One Voice.“…through the Eucharist!” These words are spoken often by Bishop Baker about the upcoming Eucharistic Congress. Any idea, any plan, any theme that has been mentioned is followed up with these words. While the Church is engaging in conversations about becoming better disciples, or how to better be missionaries to people who are marginalized or “on the fringes,” Bishop Baker has constantly reminded us that all the good that we wish to do in the world must begin and end with the Eucharist. This is why His Excellency has chosen the theme “The Eucharist and Missionary Discipleship” for the 2019 Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. The Eucharist is what transforms us into the likeness of Jesus, making us true disciples. The Eucharist strengthens and emboldens us to follow Jesus’ Great Commission to be missionaries who bring disciples to Him.

In this preparatory year, it is no accident that Bishop has dedicated this year to Mary, the “proto-disciple.” At the Annunciation, as Gabriel proclaimed to her God’s plan for salvation, by the power of the Holy Spirit the Divine and human natures of Jesus became physically manifest in her body. In a similar way, at each Holy Mass the priest prays the prayers of consecration, and by the power of the same Spirit, Jesus true natures become physically present for us to receive into our bodies. We follow the model of the Blessed Mother. Then Mary brings that physical presence of Jesus to the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah where she announces the joyful news to them, and even the unborn John the Baptist reacts. In the same way, each of us is called to leave the Eucharistic feast bringing the presence of Jesus within us to others. And our joyful proclamation of salvation is intended to cause a similar reaction in the hearts of those we meet. But is this usually the case? Or is it more likely that we will simply head off to our favorite brunch spot or get home in time for kickoff, habitually un-mindful that we are echoes of that great disciple who laid out for us her great example of a missionary disciple?

This awareness I refer to requires ongoing effort. It requires a daily discipline of prayer and a lifestyle that allows us to continue to do the same things life demands in a new way; always conscious of the One who lives in us and who calls us to carry him home to others. It requires the disciplines St Paul speaks of when he compares a disciple to a runner out to win the race or a boxer with eyes fixed on the championship. Likewise, our Bishop proposes we take the next year and a half, and consider these images St Paul gives us. That we prepare ourselves as though we were in spiritual training. He is asking us to be vulnerable in assessing our own abilities as a disciple and missionary. This may include getting ourselves a trainer, a spiritual director or a mentor who can help us on the way. It may include surrounding ourselves with a group of supporters who will hold us accountable, like a faith sharing group or a Bible study. If we are to grow to be disciples like Mary as we approach the Eucharistic Congress, we must be open to the possibility of change. This time of preparation and growth will allow us to be predisposed, in imitation of Mary, to the great graces that will come from our public display of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. We will be more likely to respond in an active and intentional way if we are in better “spiritual shape.”

This outlines for us the spiritual and pastoral motivations for why our Bishop would convene this Congress. But the timing of the event is also meaningful. June 29, 2019 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of our Diocese of Birmingham as an independent diocese. Anniversaries are happy occasions, but they also cause us to stop, reminisce, and take stock of our lives. This process of recommitting ourselves to a life of missionary discipleship is one of recollection and self-awareness. What a wonderful way to acknowledge the many sacrifices and hard work of the missionaries who brought the faith to Alabama, and our predecessors who fought so hard for its survival here! And then, when the big day arrives, in the presence of Jesus, we can express to Him our gratitude for making himself known to us through our Holy Mother Church. Anniversaries also cause us to think about where we are going next. This Eucharistic Congress will offer us a chance to intentionally plan a bright future for our local church; one marked with joy, hospitality, and missionary spirit.

Bishop Baker also continues to remind us that this Eucharistic Congress will occur very close to his 75th birthday. It is customary at that time for a bishop to submit a letter to the Vatican indicating that he has reached the age of retirement. Of course, it is up to the Papal Nuncio and His Holiness the Pope whether or not they choose to accept this letter. But the occasion does call for a reminder of a new beginning. And this is the wish of Bishop Baker: a new beginning at the half century mark, a new beginning in the zeal for spreading the gospel as disciples, and a new beginning in our imitation of Blessed Mary as bearers of Christ.

Mark your Calendar: June 28–29, 2019 at the BJCC. See in the coming weeks for more information!

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Eucharistic Congress Uncategorized

What is a Eucharistic Congress?

The first time I heard the term Eucharistic Congress was in the mid-1990’s. Someone was trying to refer to a commonly sung hymn, and he referenced it saying, “You know, the one from the Eucharistic Congress.” Well, I knew the hymn, but I certainly did NOT know the Eucharistic Congress. The phrase called to my mind an image of some strange mix of a PBS special about the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a meeting of the Papal Conclave. I was confused, and I wanted to know more about this mysterious event.

The story really begins in the 16th Century in Spain. St. Paschal Baylon, a Franciscan Friar, grew up a shepherd boy with an intense devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. After joining the Friars, he was sent to France and spent much of his religious life debating French Calvinists regarding Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist. Fray Paschal drew his strength to face dangerous, angry mobs and threats from his unwavering love of the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This devotion was deepened by countless hours spent in Adoration. In the late 17th Century Fray Paschal Baylon was canonized a saint, and Pope Leo the XIII later declared him the “Seraph of the Eucharist” and the patron of all Eucharistic Congresses and Associations. Between his canonization in 1690 and Pope Leo’s declaration, we find the first International Eucharistic Congress.

During this time, the Church was deeply entrenched in battles on two ideological fronts: preserving the dignity of the human person in the recently industrialized world, and Modernism. The secular world seemed to be attempting to “move beyond” faith in God and the moral values it brought, and the effects on the poor and underprivileged were devastating. Bishop Gaston de Ségur saw in the devotion to Jesus’ sublime yet humble presence in the Eucharist a source of focus, clarity, and strength during troubled times. For ten years, a lay woman named Marie-Marthe-Baptistine Tamisier had been lobbying the Bishop and his clergy to establish the event. Bishop Ségur convened the first ever International Eucharistic Congress on June 21, 1881, in Lille, France. Tamisier went on to organize many of the following Congresses over the next twenty years. If their Marie-Mathe was anything like our own Martha Maria Morales in the Office of Hispanic Ministries, I am sure she was known as a woman you could go to when you wanted things to really get done.

The International Eucharistic Congresses continued annually until the outbreak of World War II, across France, Germany, Belgium, and even in Jerusalem. In 1910 the Congress came to Montreal, and then to the United States in 1926, when George Cardinal Mundelein brought it to his Archdiocese of Chicago. For this event, a new train station had to be built, as well as what is now the campus of Mundelein Seminary and the Marytown Shrine. In 1932, the Congress was convened in Dublin, Ireland, and solidified the Catholic and social identity of the newly independent Irish nation. Everywhere International Eucharistic Congresses were held, great graces abounded, and Catholics grew in their presence in the public sphere and participation in their communities at-large. Following World War II, they have continued every 5 years or so, with the next one being held in 2020 in Budapest.

Now we know some of the history of the Eucharistic Congress. But what exactly is a Eucharistic Congress, and what happens there? All of the Eucharistic Congresses have been marked by very large, public gatherings of Catholics. The events are typically too large to be held in a single church, so they are most often held outdoors or in a public arena. Common elements include a procession with the Eucharist in a public setting, a significant amount of time for Eucharistic Adoration, significant availability of the sacrament of reconciliation, talks and catechesis on important matters of faith, and a Holy Mass with the bishop or bishops with all in attendance. It is an opportunity for Catholics to bring those things which usually happen behind closed doors, in our small communities, out into the wide open with the larger community.

In addition to these International Congresses, it has become customary for national, regional, or diocesan Eucharistic Congresses to be called by local bishops and their conferences. Our nearby neighbors in New Orleans hosted the first National Congress, and the dioceses of St Augustine, Atlanta, and Knoxville all have Diocesan Eucharistic Congresses with some regularity.

Bishop Baker has asked that we begin to prepare for our own Eucharistic Congress to be held on June 28–29, 2019 at the BJCC. He has chosen the theme: The Eucharist and Missionary Discipleship. Over the course of the next year and a half, we should be considering our own personal discipleship, and how we can bring others to become disciples of Jesus, too. In the coming weeks, we will have several articles describing our upcoming Eucharistic Congress and how we can all prepare for this exciting event marking our 50th Anniversary as the Diocese of Birmingham.

This article first appeared in the One Voice

More info on history:

From the Vatican

From the IEC 2020 Hungary Site

Historical Images from IEC’s:

Click to view slideshow.

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