MEMPHIS, Tennessee — In his welcoming remarks to open the diocesan eucharistic congress, Memphis Bishop David P. Talley told attendees that “we are all the living body of Christ, in that we are what we receive” — the Eucharist.
Christ’s mission “is our mission, for we are members of his body,” he said.
“Our work is with our parishes, our parishioners and all of those who have not heard the words of Jesus Christ,” emphasized the bishop, who was installed as the sixth bishop of Memphis in April 2019.
Guided by the theme, “That All May Be One” from John 17:21, the Memphis Diocese celebrated its 50th anniversary with its first eucharistic congress, held at the city’s downtown Renasant Convention Center the evening of Oct. 8 and all day Oct. 9.
The congress — and the anniversary celebration — was delayed a full year by the arrival of COVID-19,and the havoc it caused.
Passion and a sense of purpose were evident nonetheless — and in great abundance.
The diocese, which was established June 20, 1970, is home to 47 parishes and missions;15 Catholic schools — diocesan, parochial and private; four deaneries, spread across 21 counties in western Tennessee; and has a Catholic population of 70,000.
The “Opening Mass for All” was celebrated Oct. 8 by retired Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib, who was the diocese’s fourth bishop and its first African American shepherd. He headed the diocese for 23 years, retiring in 2016.
The homilist was Bishop Robert P. Marshall Jr. of Alexandria, Louisiana. He succeeded Talley in Alexandria, when the prelate was named to Memphis.
Marshall began his homily by asking for “a moment of silence for members of our diocese who have died from COVID-19, and the families who are still struggling with this pandemic.”
Commenting on the divisive atmosphere in the country, the bishop noted that “in many ways, things are different (since the diocese was founded) and in many ways some are the same.”
“Some issues have been resolved, some buried — for a time — and others forgotten, but these days we cannot get along with our own families,” he noted.
While addressing the country’s division into “red states and blue states,” Marshall also stayed close to the congress’s theme of spiritual and eucharistic unity.
“Our gaze is too narrow, and our perfection incomplete, if we are truly to become one, it is because we open our hearts to Jesus Christ; some days we have the doors to our hearts open, and other days they are chained and locked,” he said.
“May we all be (become)one, just as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one,” he said.
At a breakout session Oct. 9, Marshall talked about “Living The Eucharistic Life,” addressing a number of issues but returning time and again to the theme of achieving oneness with each other and the Eucharist.
He told Catholic News Service that the Congress “was a beautiful event, and there is a great feeling of hope and peace here. I am really excited by that.”
As Alexandria’s bishop for just over a year, he told CNS, “I am still discerning my leadership role here.”
“I oversee 71 parishes and missions, spread out over several civil parishes,” he said. A “civil parish” is Louisiana’s term for counties. “I hope to bring all of my gifts, talents and prayers to my people,” said Marshall.
He also noted that “my time as a bishop here has been one spent in a COVID-19 episcopacy.”
Noelle Garcia, a nationally known Catholic recording artist and youth speaker from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, led a youth breakout session Oct. 9. Her speaking topic was titled “That All May be One In Truth.”
“I was happy to be invited to speak here, because I grew up in Memphis and attended Christian Brothers University; I was also impressed that so much care was taken to make people come back to the Eucharist,” said Garcia.
“With so many churches shutting down (due to the pandemic), I feel that this a way of inviting (teaching) people about the Eucharist and bringing one into the street,” said Garcia.
She told CNS that in her session, “I spoke on truth and how it leads to the Eucharist, but I also talked about how important trust is to a relationship, and how, for example, Adam and Eve broke their word to God.”
Garcia noted that “we know what God said, because his words have power. When he says, ‘let there be light,’ we know that there will be light, because this is his body.”
“Adam and Eve let their trust in him die in their hearts, because Satan convinced them not to trust God,” said Garcia.
A musician for 18 years, Garcia has a number of recorded works available on iTunes.
Her session drew 60 or more people, ranging in age from sixth grade to 12th grade. They also had included eucharistic adoration, she said, “and many of the youths left their seats to come and kneel closer.”
“The teens were very energized and very much open to it all,” she added.
Father Robbie Favazza, pastor of St. Philip Catholic Church in nearby Sommerville, Tennessee, complemented Garcia’s presentation with his own youth session on “That All May Be One In Christ,” emphasizing that “we are chosen to worship and serve.”
“I got very positive feedback from the audience which — like my parish — was pretty diverse,” he said.
The afternoon keynote speaker Scott Hahn addressed the topic of “Renewing Eucharistic Amazement.” Hahn is founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio.
“We’ve all heard the statistic that only a little over 30% of Catholics in America believe in the Real Presence” in the Eucharist, he told CNS later. But there is another statistic that came out of the recent Pew poll that he said “has been largely overlooked” and one he find especially worrisome.
“Most of the 70% of Catholics who believe the Eucharist is merely a symbol also believe that this is what the church teaches,” he said. “If this is true, we’re not just facing a crisis of faith, but a crisis of catechesis.”
The eucharistic congress concluded with a 4:30 p.m. Mass in the Renasant Convention Center. Talley was the main celebrant and homilist. The Mass ended with a four-block eucharistic procession through downtown Memphis to St. Peter Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic church in Memphis.
On the steps of St. Peter, Talley led the Benediction and invited the crowd to the 55th anniversary of the diocese. “see you again in five years,” he said.
Favazza was at the Mass and walked with the crowd to St. Peter.
“It was beautiful, especially the procession, and when the bishop led us in the Benediction of the Eucharist upon our arrival at St. Peter’s,” he said.