October 20–22, 2023 marked the Eucharistic Congress in Auriesville, New York which drew 11,000 faithful to the geographic center of the state to spend time in worship and adoration of our Eucharistic Lord. Held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs – where three of the North American martyrs gave their lives for the faith – the New York Congress has been called a prototype for the National Congress set to take place in Indianapolis, Indiana on July 17-24, 2024.
The principal Mass on October 21 was celebrated by Most Rev. Terry R. LaValley, Bishop of Ogdensburg, and concelebrated by sixteen Bishops and hundreds of priests from throughout New York. In his homily, Bishop LaValley proclaimed, “This Eucharistic renewal we all yearn for will not be achieved through programs alone, however good, but through a deeper personal encounter of love with our Eucharistic Lord.” His Excellency spoke about our call to be witnesses to Eucharistic Faith and shared that October 21 marked the eleventh anniversary of St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization. St. Kateri, who was born near Auriesville, “is one of the foremost models of Eucharistic faith and love in Church history.”
Attendants testified to the powerful experience of praying together at Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. The Masses were offered in the Coliseum, the largest Church in the country; even more impressive was that they were celebrated at the high altar—located seventeen feet above attendants. Fr. Bryan D. Stitt, director of Worship for the diocese of Ogdensburg and pastor of St. Mary’s in Canton, acted as the Master of Ceremonies at the Mass. He commented, “It was very much looking up at Calvary, every Mass is the re-presentation of the Cross and to see it so clearly depicted there, (before) the large Crucifix was beautiful. The people that went to this event were not questioning the true presence by and large but they were still weighed down by the struggle of life. The Eucharist is about our Lord changing lives, of Him nourishing us that He may change our lives. It was just what we needed, what the whole state needed.”
Anita Soltero, assistant diocesan director of Faith Formation and director of Youth ministry for the diocese of Ogdensburg, served on the planning committee for the Eucharistic Congress and lectored at the Saturday Mass. “WOW – just WOW! I can’t even begin to describe the immense gratitude I feel for being given the privilege to be part of this historic and most blessed event. Seeing so many people with such strong Eucharistic devotion, joy for the Lord and deep faith was my own Eucharistic revival.”
Before the Mass, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan gave a brief video greeting from Rome where he was attending the Synod of Synodality. Throughout the weekend there were numerous talks from renowned speakers in both English and Spanish, including Most Rev. Joseph Espaillat auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York, who gave the talk “Adoration: Fulfilling our Vocation to Love”; Dr. Peter Kreeft, who spoke about “The Eucharist as the Remedy and Response to Secularism,” Lisa Lickona presented on “The Eucharist in the Lives of our American Woman Saints,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly on “The Eucharistic Heart of a Father,” Katie Prejean McGrady on “Fostering Eucharistic Love Within the Family,” and Tim Glemkowski, organizer of the National Eucharistic Revival, on “The Need for a Eucharistic Revival.” Members of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and Sisters for Life also gave inspiring talks; these religious orders provided meditative music for the weekend between presentations as well. A choir from Siena College in Loudonville led the music at the Masses.
Fr. Justin Maria Cinnante, O.Carm., of Transfiguration Parish in Tarrytown, New York, brought a group of about twenty students from Iona Preparatory School in New Rochele where he serves as a chaplain. “They had a beautiful experience to be able to adore our Lord where the martyrs gave their lives for the faith,” he said. It was especially moving for him because during the pandemic he led a group of a few hundred faithful in 40 hours of Eucharistic Adoration at the Coliseum in Auriesville on the weekend of the Feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They prayed especially for our nation and hoped that the Coliseum “would be filled again.” They had chosen this location for their pilgrimage because it was where the faith was first brought to the country, noted Fr. Justin. The first missionaries that came here were those martyrs that came to New York State, so they wanted to return to where it first began for a renewal. They offered Adoration, prayers, and talks for the country so that “the faith would be ignited once again.” The pilgrims were delighted that, soon following their 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration, the Bishops announced the Eucharistic Revival, Pope Francis led the world in consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Roe v. Wade was overturned on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. It was a “fruit of their devotion, we really prayed for this revival of faith, and at the Eucharistic Congress) the Coliseum was packed and there was the Eucharistic procession.”
During their pilgrimage to the Eucharistic Congress, Fr. Cinnante and the students walked the ravine, where some of the saints were martyred, and attended the Mass and Adoration. He added, “They were excited to be supported in their faith by other Catholics as well and plan on going to different shrines quarterly to experience the saints that were there.”
Fr. Matthew MacDonald, parochial vicar of St. Mary’s in Washingtonville in the Archdiocese of New York, commented, “It was very encouraging to see so many people from across New York State come for our Eucharistic Lord and who hunger for His presence. It was an opportunity not only to listen to preaching and for praise and worship but an opportunity for silence with Jesus. It was an opportunity to be present to Him, to receive Him and open your heart to Him. It was beautiful how they would bring the monstrance (to the Coliseum) throughout the weekend and also into the St. Kateri chapel (where 40 Hours of Adoration took place). So many people—priests, religious and laity took part; it will bear fruit for a lot of people. As a priest, it was a shot in the arm.”
Continuous Confessions were also offered throughout the weekend. Msgr. Dennis J. Duprey, dean of the Clinton-Northern Franklin Deanery in the diocese of Ogdensburg, heard over seven hours of Confessions. “I was very impressed with the numbers and young people from colleges and—those studying law, marine biology, etc.—from secular and Catholic universities, who came from Plattsburgh to Ithaca to Cornell to Rochester Institute of Technology. I was also amazed about their faith. Sometimes we think that the faith is centralized to middle age to older adults. Honestly, the fervor of faith among the young is strong. Maybe not the numbers but the fervor is there. There was great participation and reverence at Mass.”
Many faithful noted the significance of the Eucharistic Congress occurring at the Shrine of the North American martyrs, especially due to their great love of the Blessed Sacrament:
“Playing the central roles in the powerful missionary drama of New France were eight Jesuits who died as martyrs for the Christian Faith. They were the first in North America to be canonized as saints by the Catholic Church. Six of the eight were priests: Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, and Noël Chabanel; two were lay assistants René Goupil and Jean Lalande. The eight are commonly known as the Jesuit Martyrs of North America.” (Saints of the American Wilderness: The Brave Lives and Holy Deaths of the Eight North American Martyrs, John A. O’Brien)
Fr. Stitt noted that amid the “really big moments” the Eucharistic Congress also still afforded “some quiet opportunities to visit the ravine (where three of the saints were martyred) and have quiet moments of prayer. The coliseum is so big that there were quiet moments when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. It’s important because we build off the foundations of the saints. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. I was particularly touched to have the lector read one of the petitions in Mohawk. The same language that was spoken to the natives here is now proclaiming the Gospel.” He also recalled the story of St. Isaac Jogues, “martyr of the Mass.” St. Isaac returned to Auriesville as an emissary from France. It wasn’t planned out but he died because of his Mass kit. The story goes that he was going back to the Mohawks after his captivity. He planned on going back in the spring and in his absence there was a famine. Many people died and they believed the trunk that he left with his Mass kit was black magic. (They had never seen a key in a lock). His mission was to spread the Gospel and the sacraments. The next year he was martyred on the spot where he was hoping just to offer Mass. We came to Auriesville to offer the Mass he wasn’t able to.”
Msgr. Duprey continued, “In 53 years (of priesthood) I had not seen a Eucharistic procession that well-ordered, with singing and prayers, and thousands of participants. The reverence was stunning. People just fell to their knees—older people, younger people, priests, Bishops, and Sisters—as we stopped along the way. It deepened my faith. I have Mass and the Eucharist all the time. Sometimes you wear it like an old shoe and you forget to hold it in your hands and in your heart. I have more intensity and more fervor. Sometimes we get discouraged with the future of the Church but we ought not to be at all. God is working. If we cut our young people loose we are fine.”
“I was touched by the number of ethnicities – Latin, Haitian, Colombian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, the languages and multiplicity. During Mass there were elements of that in the General Intercessions, also Mohawk and other languages. It really is an important thing for the faithful to see. New York City brings a multiplicity of that to us. They were there in large numbers. Very enthusiastic supporters of the Eucharist and their faith. People stayed until late at night to adore.”
Deacon James Carlin of Holy Cross Parish in Plattsburgh and Executive Director of North Country Mission of Hope, elaborated, “It was a much more impactful experience than I had ever dreamed. We hear about the sexual abuse scandal; we see Churches closing; we feel the never-ending push of secularism threatening what we believe, and we can become jaded by the headlines. At these events, we come together as a faith community to focus on the good, the beauty, the hopefulness, and the joy of our Church. We see it in the faces and the actions of those around us; we see it in Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. What a beautiful opportunity to celebrate our faith and our God!”
Father Leagon Carlin, parochial vicar at St. Peter’s Parish in Massena—who also heard Confessions during the night—reflected on what he took away from the Eucharistic Congress. “A great hope! The Church is alive when it is animated by the Sacraments. Seeing so many faithful people coming together to proclaim how essential the Body and Blood of Christ is to their lives, with many of them also going to Confession, receiving Jesus’ merciful love, was inspiring. This was especially true because of how fully alive they were!”
“My heart was warmed by the sheer number of people. One can read ‘8,000 people’ on paper until the end of days, but seeing that number in person was striking. Especially in the Eucharistic Procession, turning around to see a sea of thousands on the hill behind, gathered in procession with Jesus, was unlike anything I have ever experienced before.”
Roseanne Trevail, a student at SUNY (State University of New York) Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, where she is working on her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology, enthused, “I particularly loved the Mass on Saturday morning. It was beautiful to be with so many other people who love Jesus too. I also enjoyed the incorporation of other languages into the Mass readings, prayers of the faithful, etc. All in all, it was an excellent day spent with Jesus and my brothers and sisters in the faith.”
Several members of the Newman Association at SUNY in Plattsburgh attended the Eucharistic Congress and shared their impressions:
Freshman and RCIA candidate, Brandon Bertrand, testified: “Seeing and hearing the moving voices of thousands during mass lifted my spirit. Seeing the Lord and Savior, our King, lead a parade of clergy. Attending adoration in multiple forms whether it be at the Colosseum or in one of the crowded chapels. Hearing ordination stories from various priests, seeing holy statues, hearing the soft voices of children singing the hymns. To even do a morning prayer in the car with my club members. As long as the Lord was present, it was my favorite part.
“I had seen a lot of surprises that day. I had seen a little choir of small children no taller than my knees, come together to sing beautiful angelic hymns. I had seen monks from different religious orders. Tears were brought to my eyes during the precession of the Lord. Just like the people of his day gathered around him when he walked the grounds, not a soul hesitated to do the same.
“This whole trip wasn’t only an impact on me, not only on my club members, but to the people I share this with. To the people, I cast my line out to. I would go to this Congress every day. It’s not every day you get to see your Lord and Savior walk the Earth.”
Erica VanValkenburg, a junior and secretary for Newman Association, added: “I went to the Eucharistic Congress mostly out of curiosity, since I hadn’t heard of it before. It gave me a sense of peace, as the location was beautiful and definitely sacred ground. My friend and I bought rosaries at the gift shop, both dedicated to St. Kateri, and when we touched the one my friend bought, we both got a really strong feeling that she was there. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised that I ended up enjoying it a lot despite having no clue what I was getting into. The coliseum is beautiful just like the whole place, and I’d love to go back.”
Graduate student and president of the Newman Association, Riley McQuade, explained, “I attended the Eucharistic Congress because I wanted to see what it was about. I didn’t know much but had heard great things! Plus it helped that it was at my favorite shrine, the Shrine of the North American Martyrs. I took away hope from this experience. Hope for my faith. Hope for the faith of others. Hope for the future of the Catholic Church. Hope that there are always going to be others out there who share my faith and believe it even stronger than I do. One of my favorite memories I will take away is watching how much this event impacted my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I went with. I could see how much this event meant to them and the profound impact it had on them. Honestly, what surprised me was the amount of people that were there. There were so many people and it was so beautiful to see them all there for one purpose; worshiping Jesus. I am so incredibly grateful to have had this experience!”
Desiree Kirk, advisor for the Newman Association and campus minister, reflected, “Another (amazing) moment was watching the faces of my students surrounded by so many faith-filled people who just couldn’t stop smiling, praying, adoring God. To see all of these young college students find such joy in the grounds of the shrine, in the true presence of Jesus, as they literally walked with him among the thousands. The power of that moment of that day I know will live in me and them forever. I was brought to tears many moments that day for the impact was something I cannot describe and to bring a group of the next generation who will carry this light of Christ unto others and keep it lit within themselves is a gift like no other. This was a success and amazing day. Thank you to all those who did Confessions, and to the Priest from Scotland who broke bread with us even though from a different parish. Everyone blessed us with their presence before Christ. The prayers and music from that day still can be heard in our hearts a week later. Thank you God for this experience.”
Recent Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate, Catherine Bracy of Carthage, reflected on how the Eucharistic Congress has impacted her life. “There’s so much to say about the Congress! Though I’ve returned to my mundane day-to-day, I’ve been inspired to visit Our Lord in Adoration when available at my local parish. I really appreciated the genuine fellowship I witnessed people having. The speakers were amazing and I look forward to revisiting them on YouTube and sharing them with people. Above all, I was amazed to see the variety of Catholic faithful, lay and religious, to come out of New York State! God moved in a powerful way that weekend!”
Marie Nacht, who was born in the Bronx, grew up in Elmont (on Long Island), and now lives in upstate New York, echoed, “It was wonderful to devote so much time in front of the exposed host. The homilies and talks were informative and helpful in keeping my focus on the Eucharist. Everyone was so joyful and friendly. There could have been so much chaos but everyone worked together and I didn’t see or hear any complaints at all. Finally, the procession was inspiring!”
“There was a group of about eight or ten children that were very focused on the procession and very energetic. I first noticed them as we sang: ‘O Sacrament Most Holy.’ Their voices were little, but they sang with gusto!,” recounted Fr. Stitt. “After another priest was carrying the monstrance, I was able to see them. They snuck through the low limbs of the bushes and trees along the procession route to get around to the front of the canopy over the monstrance. Once they were a few paces in front, they all fell to their knees and then once the Blessed Sacrament passed by, they would jump up and do it all again. Is there any wonder that the Lord said that to enter the kingdom, we must become like little children?”
“There were also many young people and young families as well,” concluded Soltero. “Many people say: ‘Where are all the young people, where are the families?’ ‘The church is dying.’ ‘What will happen when all the devoted elderly are gone?’ Well – I can tell you – the Church is NOT dying; the young ARE there and so are families. I saw them this weekend and they are FULL of Eucharistic Devotion! I saw them walking to the Adoration chapel. I saw them praying the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and I saw them at Mass, I saw them getting on and off buses. I saw them in the choir singing with great joy! I saw them in the many seminarians helping with Holy Communion.”
“All is not lost,” Father Carlin affirmed, “Jesus is still with us, perhaps now more than ever, in our greater need. There is much to be hopeful about, and the Eucharistic lens helps us to see that clearly.”
In the closing Mass on Sunday, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany challenged attendants not to think that the end of the Congress meant “game over” but to think of it as a “game changer.” “If, in fact, we believe that we receive the real Precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—then we know that that Eternal food transforms us and makes us into what we consume . . . . Allow the Lord to make us truly be his holy people beginning now . . . Jesus, Your name is written on every column of this Coliseum, your name was born in the hearts of those who shed their blood in your name on these grounds. May your name be etched in our hearts and wherever we go may we bring your love.”