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 | By Joey Reistroffer

Truly Present: Moments from the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress

1) Were you there when nearly 2,000 believers from across the diocese gathered at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center to witness the Real Presence of our Lord on Divine Mercy Saturday?

2) Were you there when Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, invited his friend, Bishop Joseph Espaillat, down from the Bronx to experience the first Diocesan Eucharistic Congress held in South Carolina?

3) Were you there when Congress-goers packed the streets of Columbia during a procession to the State House and back?

They followed the raised Eucharist, the two bishops and dozens of priests and deacons. Many prayed the rosary in English or in Spanish. People sang while one marcher strummed a guitar and another bowed a violin. Some limped, others used walkers, daughters helped mothers and they all kept pace. No one was left behind. They were determined not to miss this moment to publicly proclaim their deep faith and unity.

4) Were you there when Dr. Edward Sri, a keynote speaker, talked about the three aspects of the Eucharist: the Real Presence, sacrifice and communion?

“They are meant to change us,” he said. “He gives us the gift of himself because he wants us to make a gift
of ourselves.”

5) Were you there when Father Jeffrey Kirby blew the crowd away with his incredible insight into the beatitudes and their call to discipleship?

“We have to hear, and we have to listen,” Father Kirby said of Christ’s sermon on the mount. “He calls each of us by name. When he said, ‘Follow me,’ he meant it literally. We have to hear the call of Jesus and respond. He leads; we follow.”

6) Were you there during Mass when the altar was perfumed with incense?

“I love the incense,” said Joan Rhodes, from Our Lady of Grace Church in Lancaster. “You’re using your senses — seeing, smelling, tasting.” 

She was there with Jeanne Pyke and 200 others from Our Lady of Grace, where Father Kirby is pastor.

“Our prayers are rising up to heaven with the incense,” Rhodes said of the Mass.

7) Were you there when two bishops inspired the crowd?

Bishop Fabre told the crowd that naysayers claimed he could not put together this Eucharistic Congress.

“I was told it was impossible,” he grinned.

But he put his worker bees to the task, and they never gave up. It was a sweet success.

“Immediately 2,000 people signed up for it,” he said.

It could have been more, but fire marshals capped attendance numbers. It’s not stopping this bishop. Not at all. He has bigger plans.

“In three years … we will have another eucharistic conference, and we hope there will be 10,000 people,” Bishop Fabre exclaimed.

“Who are we? We are the worker bees of the Lord. You are going to work like bees. We want the whole state to be a sweet place to be. And why not the whole world?” he wondered. “We have to continue to work … to make not a place of division, but a sweet place.”

And, he said, that sweet place in this state is drawing people and inspiring many to convert to Catholicism.

It was a “wow!” moment at the conference as Bishop Fabre talked about how faith is thriving in South Carolina. Then he introduced his buddy, “Bishop Joe.”

“This is the first time ever that South Carolina has had a eucharistic revival,” Bishop Espaillat said.

“They said nobody’s going to come. Well, look around you. What do you see?” he asked.

The answer was “a packed convention center.”

Bishop Espaillat said now is a time to proclaim the Gospel, spread the Good News and renew the Church.

“Our world is hurting,” he added. “How are we going to heal the hurt? It has to be the Eucharist. We have a crisis on our hands. And what is the answer? It has to be Jesus.

“We want to start a fire,” he continued. “The reality is we are way too comfortable. … God forbid we should start something new,” but we must, he said.

“Nearly seven in 10 Catholics think that the bread and wine are just symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Espaillat explained. “We gotta unify. We gotta come and speak about Jesus. We are not supposed to be comfortable.”

It starts with the Mass and the Eucharist.

“We are all called to serve,” he said. “Then we need to proclaim the Gospel … to the whole world.

“Be creative,” he added. “How is God calling you to do something different? Allow God to move you in the direction that he needs to move you.”

8) Were you there when people knelt on the convention’s hard, concrete floor during the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and adored the consecrated Eucharist exposed on the altar.

It was a beautiful moment.

And it got even better when Steve Angrisano and Iván Díaz led everyone in song in English and in Spanish.

Yes, it was harmonic when those gathered sang, “Open my eyes, Lord; help me to see your face,” and “Abre mis ojos, ayúdame a ver.”

It seems that those who were there saw the Lord’s face during those moments of eucharistic worship and song.

If you were there, you would have seen him, too.

Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at