The Archdiocese of Atlanta is hosting the 2014 Eucharistic Congress from June 20-21. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory choose the theme for the congress, “Go and Make Disciples.” The CatholicMatch Institute spoke with Deacon Dennis J. Dorner Sr. who serves as the Chancellor, Director of Permanent Diaconate, and Chairman of Eucharistic Congress Steering Committee for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
The Eucharistic Congress was started in Atlanta 19 years ago as a part of the Eucharistic Renewal that then Archbishop John Francis Donoghue was promoting. What started as a small event hosted at the Cathedral and a couple of other parishes, has grown into an Archdiocesan and regional event attracting over 30,000 participants.
The theme for this year’s conference is “Go and Make Disciples,” what was it that made you choose this topic?
Each year the Archbishop discerns the theme for the Congress. As a part of the New Evangelization we are all called to listen to and follow Jesus’ great commission and that is the focus of this year’s event. As the disciples were given this sending out at the end of Jesus’ time here on Earth, we also are called to live this as part of our Baptismal promise. It also is consistent with the overall mission of the Congress which is to focus both on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as well as our individual responsibility for promoting vocations.
What are some of the highlights from the congress that you are most excited about?
Two things continue to inspire me every year. The Eucharistic Procession on Saturday morning that highlights the beautiful diversity of our Archdiocese and the joy on the faces of those participating. It is truly like an enormous family reunion every year.
It appears that there is something for everyone at this conference, you have five different languages, seven different tracks, and in addition to that something for children. How far has this event come over these last 18 years?
Besides just the sheer growth in numbers, the changing demographics of our diocese and region are profoundly evident. The beautiful cultural differences of the growing Hispanic communities, the vibrant Asian groups, the number of young people—it just seems to get better each year. Our venue is wonderful. The speakers continue to create a new focus each year that keeps the entire Congress alive and fresh.
What’s new or different about the Eucharistic Congress this year?
Due to space limitations we are not able to add any additional tracks this year. I am happy to report that the Francophone track will return after a one year hiatus. They will be gathering on Friday night. We have some surprises that we are planning for 2015, our 20th anniversary but I don’t want to give them away just yet!
Some of speakers who have been headlined for this event include names such as Jeff Cavins, Donna Cori Gibson, Cardinal Dinardo, plus so many more. What do you think they will add to this year’s Eucharistic Congress, which has not been present before?
Every speaker in each of the tracks brings their own unique gifts and perspective to the Congress. Mother Dolores Hart will be here with her most compelling story of going from a Hollywood star to a cloistered religious sister. I’d like to continue to encourage speakers to share their own personal vocation stories. I believe these witness talks are some of the most inspiring for those gathered.
Has there been something that you have experienced at this event that has impacted your life? Would you be willing to share the story?
I have attended the Congress for the past 15 years. It is the most energizing and exhausting of events I have ever been involved with. From the opening Mass on Friday night I feel like we are providing an opportunity for a truly intimate encounter with Jesus. That might sound a little crazy when you think about it happening in the company of 30,000 people but it is the most profound affirmation of our Catholic Faith that I have ever witnessed. The closing Mass on Saturday evening has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Celebrating Mass with 10,000 other believers is just amazing. As we begin the planning, months in advance, for each year’s event I feel so blessed to be able to play a small part in offering this incredible opportunity for praise and worship.
CatholicMatch is a vendor at the Eucharistic Congress. How do vendors contribute to the experience of the weekend?
Our Exhibitors area is one of the big attractions each year. It is so rare to have so many Catholic and religious suppliers gathered in one place. Someone once referred to it as the biggest and best Catholic bookstore they had ever seen. I always want the Congress to be more than a one day event. The “take away” from the Congress should be more than the event itself and should be lasting. The wonderful merchandise and information provided by our Exhibitors helps insure that long lasting effect. We cannot discount the importance of their financial contribution as well. The Exhibitors registration fees help to ensure that the Eucharistic Congress is a free event to all attendees.
What do you hope people will learn from the congress?
If one person has a close encounter with our Lord, Jesus Christ then the entire effort is worth every ounce of work and every dollar spent.
The congress offers many wonderful opportunities for Catholics of all ages and from many places to come together and practice their faith. What would you say to people who are thinking about going but need just a word of encouragement?
IT’S FREE! You have absolutely nothing to lose. Come and celebrate the greatest gift that God has given us: His Son in the Eucharist.
For more information about the 2014 Eucharistic Congress visit Archatl.com/Congress.