The superlatives from the 1,500 high school-aged Catholic teens who attended the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress Youth Rally helped to best describe the day.
“Absolutely incredible!” “Amazing!” “Spiritual!” “Inspirational!” “Awesome!” “Powerful!” “Wonderful!” “Uplifting!” “Moving!” These are just some of the reactions from the teens who participated in the March 24, 2023, Youth Rally in Fort Myers.
The theme for the Eucharistic Congress was “The Word Became Flesh” (John 1:14), which served to remind the young women and men of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and that the Lord knows them and calls each by name to follow Him.
The evening Youth Rally was bracketed by two high points, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and an outdoor Eucharistic Adoration by candlelight in a neighboring amphitheater.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane said he was humbled by the presence of so many youth representing dozens of Parishes and each Diocesan Catholic high school.
“You have to know, the Lord works through you,” Bishop Dewane said. “You can be a sign for people. You have to know that you can’t just aimlessly fumble through life. The Lord prompts you in any number of positive ways. The Lord does that for you in a very powerful way, demonstrated by all of you being here. But, do you respond?””
When coming up with the National Eucharistic Revival (the impetus of the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wanted to encourage the faithful to devote time to getting to know better Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the Bishop explained.
“It is in a precise way, in the Eucharist, the Lord is given to us, and we receive Him,” Bishop Dewane said. “We must have the strength to spend time in front of the Eucharist – in Adoration – to learn precisely what it is the Lord asks of you.”
“Put yourself in a relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Eucharist,” the Bishop continued. “It is Christ. It is His Body and Blood. It is His Real Presence! What better place to go and spend some time with the Lord? Let the strength that Jesus Christ is, Let His presence, in the Eucharist, fill your heart, fill your mind, fill your soul with His indication of what it is He wants from you and for you to do in your life.”
The Mass, was for the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, appropriately as the Blessed Virgin is known as Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
Organized by the Diocese Office of Evangelization, the day was filled with inspiring talks, worship music, opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and an outdoor Eucharistic Adoration.
Prior to the opening Mass, the youth were uplifted by the music of The Vigil Project, which also performed inspirational music during the outdoor adoration where the teens knelt in the dark, holding candles and reciting prayers. Bishop Dewane concluded the Eucharistic Adoration by leading everyone in reciting the Divine Praises.
The featured speaker was Father Timothy Anastos, one of only 50 Eucharistic Preachers in the U.S. He reminded the youth how the Eucharist reveals that Jesus wants to be close to each of us, delights in us for all of our flaws and uniqueness, and He wants to be helped by us in spreading His glory into the world.
“So often we can think that Jesus is really far away, He’s up in heaven, he doesn’t really care about us, He’s doubted us,” Father Anastos said. “But in the Eucharist, the Lord reveals Himself. He comes down to us. At every single Mass He is present in the tabernacle. He is there waiting for us. He is there. He will never abandon us. You will always have access to Him.”
After a dinner break, the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and breakout sessions took place. The youth were split into men and women sessions offered in English or Spanish. The men heard from Jimmy Mitchell and Joel de Loera, with a talk themed “Men as Defenders of the Faith.” Meanwhile the women heard a talk titled, “The Eucharist and Authentic Womanhood,” presented by Andrea Thomas and Mary Ann Weisinger-Puig.
The success of the day was apparent in the smiles and delight of the teens as they departed from the closing adoration with their friends preparing for their journey home.
“What can I say, but WOW! That was great! I wish all of my friends had been here. I want them all to experience something like this!” said one young lady before heading home from Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park. She was overcome with emotion during the adoration, being among so many other teens who thought about Jesus in the same way that she did.