INDIANAPOLIS (OSV News) — Local and national organizers of the National Eucharistic Congress — which will take place in Indianapolis July 17-21, 2024 — have been meeting virtually for some time.
But for the first time, scores of them met in person in Indianapolis Aug. 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium, where in less than a year tens of thousands Catholics will gather for the closing Mass of the historic event — the first such event in 83 years. The congress will launch the third year of a three-year National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops to renew devotion to the Eucharist.
“The Holy Spirit is inviting the United States to find unity and renewal through a grassroots National Eucharistic Revival,” Jaime Reyna, event lead for the National Eucharistic Congress, said, quoting remarks from a letter written by executive director Tim Glemkowski. “This movement — discerned and approved by the bishops of the U.S. — is critical to rekindling a living faith in the hearts of Catholics across America, unleashing a new missionary chapter at this pivotal moment in church history. … The goal is to start a fire, not a program.”
More than 25,000 have already registered for the event, said Reyna.
“We just have a lot of people who are excited about gathering,” he noted. “Remember that feeling after COVID when people just wanted to come back together? It’s almost the same way, that there’s that spiritual connection of wanting to come together and pray and for the many different reasons that people are just wanting to come together.”
In addition to general and breakout sessions, the five-day event will be filled with opportunities for prayer, worship and the sacraments, said Father Patrick Beidelman. The pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis is chair of the National Eucharistic Congress liturgy committee.
“We’ll have a large Mass each day, three at the Indiana Convention Center and the closing Mass at Lucas Oil Stadium, … and opportunities for confession all over the place,” he said, adding that St. John the Evangelist Church across from the convention center “will be turned into a place of perpetual adoration starting on Wednesday evening through Sunday.”
The route of a massive Eucharistic procession during the congress is still being determined, he noted.
The day before the five-day congress opens, Catholics from around the U.S. participating in pilgrimages leading to Indianapolis will converge on the city. Planning is well under way for “Eucharistic caravans.” There will be four, each following a different route and each with its own name: the “Marian Route” the “Juan Diego Route,” the “Seton Route” and the “Junipero Serra Route.” Pilgrims on all four routes will begin their journeys with Pentecost weekend celebrations May 17-18, 2024, leaving May 19. They will all reach Indianapolis July 16, 2024.
In his remarks Aug. 30, Reyna spoke with excitement about the speakers scheduled for the general and breakout sessions at the National Eucharistic Congress. Among them are well-known Catholic speakers, including priests, religious and bishops.
The church is diverse, Reyna also noted, and event coordinators are taking that into consideration. In addition to programming in English and Spanish, he said the congress team is working with existing ministries to address other language needs as well.
“We’re talking about Vietnamese, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific Islanders and others,” he said.
The team also is cognizant of engaging those with special needs.
“We are working with national ministry organizations, like the National Catholic Office for Deaf Ministry,” said Reyna. “We also (are) trying to be as inclusive as possible for all our brothers and sisters, including those who may have some physical disabilities, to make sure that they are able to participate and to see how we can accommodate and serve them.”
The event will involve “hundreds if not thousands” of volunteers, said Nikki Slater of Maribeth Smith & Associates, the Indianapolis-based event planning firm contracted to coordinate the National Eucharistic Congress.
While registration for specific volunteer opportunities and shifts will go live next spring, Slater noted that a section of the congress website — https://www.eucharisticcongress.org — will be created soon for people to sign up as interested in volunteering.
The Knights of Columbus are providing many volunteers as well.
“I’m on the volunteer committee, so I’m working with NEC to figure out where they need volunteers,” Scott Schutte said after the meeting in an interview with The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Schutte is state deputy of the Indiana Knights of Columbus. “I’ve got guys who are all excited about being part of the event.”
His current efforts are focused on the four routes pilgrims will walk from the north, south, east and west portions of the United States, all meeting in Indianapolis just before the National Eucharistic Congress begins.
“We’re trying to get with diocesan coordinators (for the routes) to find out where the Knights can provide water, food, a place to rest, maybe direct a little traffic, whatever, or at least participate in some way,” said Schutte.
He noted that the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council is a national sponsor for the congress.
“We want to give our 33,000 men the opportunity to be involved,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Christopher Walsh, the archdiocesan chancellor, said it is “a tremendous honor to be the host diocese for this historic event.”
He noted the archdiocese’s commitment to the effort. But he also recognized the vital help from all of the local organizers — including state and local police, firemen and emergency medical services — for their help “in making this event the success that we certainly know it is going to be.”
Walsh called the National Eucharistic Congress “truly an event for all, as all are united in the mystical body of Christ.
“That is what this is about, and certainly about representing the real presence of Christ in the world today through this event.”
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Natalie Hoefer is a reporter for The Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.