The Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta was packed Saturday as about 30,000 Roman Catholics gathered for the second and final day of the 13th Eucharistic Congress of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
The two days of teaching, preaching, music and worship were a hallmark event for the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the 750,000 Catholics who attend its 100 missions and churches.
The theme of this year's event, which brought together converts, cradle Catholics, scholars and clergy, was, "I Am the Living Bread."
On the issues facing the Catholic Church and all faiths in America, Helen M. Alvare said, "A big challenge is the marriage and family crisis —- not just because it's internal, but it's also external to the United States. It has what I call tentacles.”
"Without a solid marriage and family culture, society really is in big trouble," said Alvare, an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va. "And particularly among the poor and among immigrants, their marriage and family life is falling apart at a faster rate than people with more money.
"It's not just a sex issue. It's not a 'This is where you follow Catholic doctrine' issue. It's more, are you going to be able to fulfill the meaning and purpose of your life, which is loving care for other persons who are given to you? And are we going to be able to build a strong society, not just for Catholics, but for the whole country?"
The Archdiocese of Atlanta’s annual Eucharistic Congress has been held around the Feast of Corpus Christi for the last 13 years. Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue began the event in 1995 to encourage Eucharistic Adoration in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. At present, over 600 volunteers make the Eucharistic Congress possible.
The event opened with a procession joined by children of the Archdiocese who received their First Communion dressed in white dresses and suits.
Tom Peterson, president of the non-profit organization Catholics Come Home, said, "The biggest problem facing the Church, and Christianity in general, is the world doesn't think we need God. We have become too smart for our own britches.”
"We believe with our intellect and our money, we can do what we want. We are happy. We are wealthy, and we don't need God. Isn't that the same as the original sin of Adam and Eve, where through our pride we become our own gods?" Peterson asked.
"I think it's very important that not only Catholics, but the larger Christian community as a whole, focus on becoming more humble, praying for humility and praying to know and do God's will," he said. "We don't know what we're missing.
"So many people are starving for Jesus in their life. They just don't know they're starving for it. They've been deceived. The world has gotten in their face, and it's distracted them. But they know they're not happy down deep. As St. Augustine said: 'Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.'"
This year's event included a Healing Mass, the Revive Young Adult Track, as well as tracks for the Deaf, Hispanics, Vietnamese, Kids and Teens.
The General Track included as speakers Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta and former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Most Reverend William George Curlin, founder of the Mount Carmel House for homeless women; Steve Ray, convert and author of "St. John's Gospel", "Upon This Rock", & "Crossing the Tiber"; Dr. Helen M. Alvaré, pro-life advocate, author and former pro-life Secretariat of the USCCB; and Matthew Kelly, speaker and best-selling Catholic author.
The two days of teaching, preaching, music and Masses have become a hallmark celebration for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It has grown from slightly more than 1,000 attendees at the first congress in 1996 to a meeting that includes programs in multiple languages, which reflects the rapid growth and diversification of Catholics in Georgia. The archdiocese has grown from 311,000 in 2000 to an estimated 750,000.
The congress draws Catholics from Georgia and neighboring states.