REGISTER TO ATTEND the Eucharistic Congress by Sept. 14 at www.rcda.org/heartsaflame. No lunch orders will be accepted after Sept. 19. The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is accessible to persons with disabilities. For more information on registration or transportation, contact your parish.
REGISTER TO ATTEND the Eucharistic Congress by Sept. 14 at www.rcda.org/heartsaflame. No lunch orders will be accepted after Sept. 19. The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs is accessible to persons with disabilities. For more information on registration or transportation, contact your parish.

On Sept. 22, the Albany Diocese will host its first Eucharistic Congress since 1938.

The Hearts Aflame Eucharistic Congress, to be held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, will be an all-day event bringing together Catho­lics of the Diocese to rejoice in the power of the Eucharist in the faith.

“No matter who we are, we need the opportunity to celebrate Jesus Christ in the Eucharist,” said Rev. Anthony Ligato, diocesan vicar for vocations and co-chair for the Eucharistic Congress. Communion “unites us with Jesus Christ, and unites us together as the body of Christ.”

The acknowledgement of the real presence of Jesus Christ — the belief that the actual body and blood of Christ is present in the Eucharist — is one of the core doctrines of Catholicism.

The upcoming Eucharistic Congress invites all Catholics across the Diocese to enjoy fellowship and unity at the historic 600-acre shrine. Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger declared that “this will be a spiritual event, hallowed in part by the very ground on which it is held.”

The shrine commemorates the 17th-century martyrdom of Jesuit missionaries Ss. Isaac Jogues, John Lalande and Rene Goupil, and is believed to be the birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. Tours of the shrine will be available during the event.

Understanding communion

Above all, the Eucharistic Congress will offer an opportunity for Catholics — and guests of other faiths — to grow in their faith and understanding of the Eucharist.

Receiving communion “affects us as people and a community of faith,” explained Father Ligato. “It affects our feelings, our thoughts [and] our actions.”

By accepting the body and blood of Christ, he said, Catholics are called to go forth and act as Jesus Christ in the world, living out His example.

Father Ligato added that the Eucharistic Congress was titled “Hearts Aflame” because “that’s what the Eucharist does for us: It sets our hearts aflame. That’s what the presence of Jesus Christ does for us.”

Mary Fay, co-chair for the Eucharistic Congress and diocesan associate director of marriage and family ministry, added that having “community in today’s world is so important. We live in a digital age, and the one thing our Catholic tradition offers is a family.”

The Eucharistic Congress, she said, “is like a big family gathering, and our meal that we share is the Eucharist.”

The congress, which will run from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sept. 22, will begin with an opening prayer. The event’s first speaker will be Rev. Patrick Winslow, a native of the Albany Diocese devoted to the Eucharist who is now pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Charlotte, N.C.

Much to experience

Father Winslow will be followed by the day’s keynote speaker, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger. Then, at 10:30 a.m., the Bishop will lead the main morning activities: Mass, a eucharistic procession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

“If you want to witness something spectacular, witness the eucharistic procession with over 1,000 people,” Father Ligato promised.

Lunch will be available for those who pre-register for the meal. Afternoon activities include presentations and “witness talks” from Catholics impacted by the Eucharist, a Rosary walk and a children’s activity tent with crafts and games focused around communion.

Father Ligato noted that the Eucharistic Congress can be just as important for children as it is for adult Catholics. He spoke of the excitement he sees in children at the parishes where he is pastor — St. Jude the Apostle in Wynantskill and St. Michael the Archangel in Troy — when they make their First Communion.

“That excitement remains, the more they are brought to Church to recognize the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” he said, and adults “should come with that same openness and excitement,” too.

How it happened

In the spring of 2017, Bishop Scharfenberger was looking into hosting a diocesan-wide event when Father Ligato brought up the idea of bringing a Eucharistic Congress to Albany. The Bishop felt that “the time is right” for such an event, so officials and parish leaders from around the Diocese immediately sprang into action to bring the Eucharistic Congress to life.

“We’ve been planning for a year,” Father Ligato told The Evangelist. “We are truly inspired by the number of people signed up.”

Approximately 1,000 people have already registered for the Eucharistic Congress, and an estimated 100 people continue to add their names to the list each day. Many parishes are sponsoring buses to bring parishioners to the shrine.

“It’s exciting,” said Mrs. Fay. “Our last two events were half [that number]. The Eucharist is the source of our faith, and that’s what drawing people” to the Congress.

“No one person could have brought this together,” Father Ligato said. “I hope [attendees] leave with the presence of Jesus Christ and take that back to their parishes, their homes, their work, and that they are called to transform the world through the Eucharist.”

Bishop Scharfenberger hopes “that the Holy Spirit will make this a powerful time of spiritual renewal for our entire Diocese.”