RICHMOND, Virginia — As the culminating event for the commemoration of its bicentennial year, the Diocese of Richmond had big plans for its first eucharistic congress.
It envisioned thousands of parishioners gathering in a convention center to celebrate its history by listening to keynote and breakout session speakers, praying, participating in eucharistic adoration and celebrating Mass.
But as COVID-19 spread, those plans were greatly curtailed. The congress, held Nov. 6 and 7, was primarily a virtual event, one that reflected the times but also the diversity of the diocese.
Speakers’ presentations in English, Spanish and Vietnamese were taped for participants to access. Parishes were encouraged to gather in prayer. Multiple tracks were designed for young adults, youth and children and adults with special needs.
However, Mass and a Holy Hour Nov. 7 were live, with 80 people in attendance at each liturgy. Six bishops and three archbishops, including Cardinal-designate Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, who gave the virtual keynote address Nov. 6, concelebrated the livestreamed Mass attended by 80 people at the recently designated St. Peter Pro-Cathedral in Richmond. St. Peter was the diocese’s first cathedral, dedicated in 1834.
During his homily, Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout spoke about communion and mission, the bicentennial’s themes. Drawing upon the Great Commission in Mark 16:15-20, the bishop noted that the Richmond Diocese had carried out that commission for 200 years.
“The people of the church of Richmond have transformed the unforgiving, hostile wilderness and vast territory of the diocese into a refuge of the presence of God,” he said. “It has taught the faith and celebrated the sacraments in many languages, responding to the needs of native-born and immigrants alike.”
He noted they have carried out the mission in faith, hope and love.
“The church of Richmond has brought the unity of the faith to the chaotic broken world, so that the power of God would conquer everything that harms the dignity of the human person,” Knestout said.
“It has ministered to the weak, vulnerable and sick, bringing the healing power of the sacraments and the comfort of our faith in times of conflict, pestilence and pandemic,” he said.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, delivered the Holy Hour homily at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Arlington was part of the Diocese of Richmond until it became a diocese in 1974.
The bishop alluded to the pandemic.
“Perhaps these months have reminded us of how easy it is to take the precious gift of the holy Eucharist for granted and to lose what St. John Paul II referred to as ‘eucharistic wonder and awe,'” he said. “We will always have that wonder and awe when we receive the gift with devotion.”
Burbidge also noted the turmoil and injustices that the nation is experiencing.
“Now, more than ever, it is Jesus we must bring into our streets and communities in the sure and certain hope that he will heal, renew and unite us,” he said. “That is what we will actually do today: carry Jesus in a eucharistic procession on our streets and into a world desperately in need of his presence and saving work.”
In his keynote address, “A Eucharistic Vision for Today’s World,” Gregory said this requires action.
“True eucharistic devotion is not a substitute for social justice, Christian involvement with the world, or Gospel-based charity,” he said. “In a similar vein, those who promote and encourage a deeper eucharistic devotional life must be aware that the favored result of a eucharistic spirituality is a greater commitment to the charity and justice called for in the Gospel by Christ himself.”
Those who participate in eucharistic devotion, the cardinal-designate said, have an “obligation to take upon yourself the very mission of Christ.”
“One cannot pray before the Blessed Sacrament — the Bread of Life — and not eventually also recall that all those who dine on the Lord’s generosity have a responsibility in justice and in charity to respond to the needs of those who hunger for ordinary bread each day,” he said.
Gregory explained what should result from eucharistic devotion.
“The true evidence of a proper eucharistic devotional life is a deeper commitment to the needs of the poor, the forgotten, the ones whom Christ identified as the least of his sisters and brothers,” he said.
“True eucharistic devotion must connect us with the still unfinished work of eradicating racism in our society — a topic that has come to the fore in recent months perhaps as never before,” the prelate added.
Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.