New York News

Thousands Pack Shrine Grounds to Renew Their Faith at the NYS Eucharistic Congress

The New York State Eucharistic Revival is part of a Church-wide effort to renew worship to Jesus through Communion. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

by Alicia Venter, Staff Writer

AURIESVILLE, New York — Thousands from across New York gathered for a celebration the weekend of Oct. 20-22, the first of its kind in the state, to have their faith in the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist reinvigorated through worship, adoration, and a procession. 

Starting on Friday, Oct. 20, and lasting through Sunday, more than 6,000 people came together at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville for a celebration of holy Communion. 

Among the attendees included clergy from across the eight dioceses of New York state, leadership from the Knights of Columbus who spearheaded the logistics of the event — including Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly — and parishioners from Buffalo to Brooklyn.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re alone in your faith. And when you gather with so many people, it lifts up your spirits and inspires your movement,” Bishop Robert Brennan said on Saturday.

While the leadership of the New York State Eucharistic Congress was filled with excitement and joy at the large turnout of faithful Catholics, they also felt an intense desire to remind them of the importance of holy Communion in their relationship with God. Auxiliary Bishop Gerardo Colacicco of the Archdiocese of New York explained that the 24/7 Eucharistic adoration during the event was a spark of passion “and it’s going to ignite.”

The state congress is part of a three-year national Eucharistic Revival sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The nationwide effort came to fruition after a Pew Research Center survey found that only 31% of Catholics believe in Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, which is a core tenet of the Catholic faith. 

For Father Joseph Gibino, vicar for evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Brooklyn, the state congress offered a unique opportunity to spark inspiration for the diocese’s eucharistic revival. Due to weather conditions, the diocese’s revival, scheduled for earlier this month, was postponed, with plans to hold it this spring. 

While in Auriesville, Father Gibino saw that some parish contingents displayed banners and wore matching-colored shirts identifying who they were and where they came from. He remarked that he can picture having the same thing done by the various groups who will participate in the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Eucharistic Revival. 

Other celebrants at the event included Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, who served as the judicial vicar for the Diocese of Brooklyn from 1993 to 2002. Noting that this year’s state congress served as a chance to “listen to God’s voice,” he added there is always  time to explore the power of faith and the sacraments.

“God has this burning desire, this thirst for our hearts,” Bishop Scharfenberger said. “He wants nothing more than to bring us here.”

The clear expression of faith during the weekend came on Saturday, Oct. 21, when thousands processed through murky weather behind a monstrance across to the shrine site. In addition to practicing continuous adoration and attending Mass, the attendees were also encouraged to take part in confession. 

Seven confessional booths were available, as well as a tent with more spaces to partake in the sacrament, which only 43% of Catholics say they go to at least once a year, according to a Pew Research center survey in 2015.

This, Bishop Scharfenberger said, goes hand in hand with the Eucharistic revival effort. The sacrament of penance gives Catholics the opportunity to “clean the windows so that we can see the light of [God’s] love a little bit more,” he said. Throughout the whole weekend, there were lines outside each confessional booth.

Tomás Rodriquez Balbuena, a Bronx resident, said in Spanish that he attended the state congress with his fellow parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe “so that our spirit becomes great.”

Event organizers felt the shrine was the ideal place to hold this revival beyond just its immense 160-acre size. Three saints were killed during the 1640s for their faith on the site, and they were canonized as part of the eight North American Martyrs in 1930.

They are the only martyred saints on the continent. The location is also the birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Around 9,000 pilgrims come to the shrine each year, estimated Julie Baaki,  executive director of the shrine. 

“Just being on these grounds, the blood of the martyrs are here, which just makes it so special,” she said.