First-time event will be culmination of bicentennial year
At a time when COVID-19 could have diminished excitement about the Diocese of Richmond’s 200th anniversary, the diocese will hold its first Eucharistic Congress, the culmination of its bicentennial celebration, the weekend of Nov. 6-7, 2020.
According to Father Anthony Marques, chair of the diocese’s Bicentennial Task Force, the purpose of the Eucharistic Congress is “to gather the Church on a large scale in order to deepen our understanding and appreciation for the eucharist, which is the core of our faith.”
A Eucharistic Congress, he said, expresses the themes of the bicentennial year — communion and mission — which are expressed in the motto taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Shine like stars in the world, as you hold fast to the word of life.”
“The communion of the Church is the bonds that unite us (holding fast to the word of life), and the mission of the Church is to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins (shine like stars in the world),” said Father Marques, who is rector of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. “So the Eucharistic Congress is about strengthening our communion as a Church and renewing our mission to spread the Gospel in all walks of life.”
He explained that the Eucharistic Congress is a large-scale event of what happens at every celebration of Mass when the faithful gather to receive the Eucharist and are then sent forth as missionaries.
“In terms of the bicentennial, we are celebrating 200 years of communion and mission, but we’re also looking forward to the next because this is not just a historical commemoration; it’s meant to revitalize and rejuvenate and strengthen our work for the present and for the future,” said Father Marques.
Adapting to the circumstances
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Diocese of Richmond in the midst of a pandemic has given unique circumstances to most of the year.
“The Diocese of Richmond has been through a lot,” said Father Marques. “There have been a lot of bumps in the road. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’re still here. We’re doing the work of the Church. And my hope is that this celebration will strengthen us to keep going and keep carrying out the work that God has given us.”
Originally scheduled to take place at the Richmond Convention Center Nov. 6-7, the event was adapted to adhere to COVID-19 precautions.
The Eucharistic Congress will now be a hybrid format as certain events will take place in Richmond and will be livestreamed. Other events can take place in a synchronized way, meaning they will take place at the same time at different parishes.
“The nice thing with the hybrid format is we can still gather and we can still deepen our understanding and our appreciation of the eucharist as it relates to the communion and mission of the Church, but we can do it in a way that keeps everybody safe,” Father Marques said.
Most bicentennial events, such as the regional Masses in the Central and Western Vicariates and the Octave of Service, had to be adapted to meet the needs of the present circumstances, but the priest sees positive outcomes.
“I think the fact that we haven’t been able to gather the way that we would like to, the way that we had originally planned, has deepened – at least for some people – their appreciation of the Church when we are able to gather,” said Father Marques. “So I think that the COVID reality has helped us to better appreciate what we already had and maybe didn’t realize it.”
He also noted that the way the diocese has been able to adjust those events and still carry them out “is a reminder that the Church’s mission is ongoing” and that “no matter what the circumstances are, the work of the Church continues.”
Presentations reflect diocese’s diversity
Bishop Barry C. Knestout will kick off the Eucharistic Congress on Friday evening, Nov. 6, with opening remarks, and he will introduce the keynote speakers: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington for the English-speaking track and Bishop Luis R. Zarama of Raleigh for the Spanish-speaking track.
The keynote speeches will be available to view on Friday evening.
Saturday will begin at 8:30 a.m. with an invitation-only Mass celebrated by Bishop Knestout at St. Peter Catholic Church, Richmond, which was the first cathedral of the diocese from 1841 until 1906.
There will be a holy hour later that morning in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart during which the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for adoration. Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge will be the homilist.
Parishes will also have adoration for parishioners as a synchronized event.
After the holy hour, Bishop Knestout will give closing remarks, and breakout sessions featuring nationally renowned speakers for English, Spanish and Vietnamese tracks will be available. Tracks for young adults, youth, children and adults with special needs will also be available. Participants will have the option to listen to the keynote speeches again.
In addition to Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Zarama and Bishop Burbidge, “a number of dignitaries” including Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore will be in attendance to “help us celebrate our bicentennial and remind us of our communion with the larger Church,” according to Father Marques.
Although most people will participate in the Eucharistic Congress virtually or through synchronized events, the priest anticipates that all parishes will be represented on Saturday.
Editor’s note: At press time, some details of the Eucharistic Congress were still being finalized. To participate in the Eucharistic Congress, the faithful must register at 2020.richmonddiocese.org/ec/. Registration will provide email updates about the events of the day. There is no cost to participate.