2003 Eucharistic Convention - A Brilliant 10th Anniversary
By their fruits you shall know them… And more than one priest at the Eucharistic Convention, after spending hours in a confessional, has said the conversions and confessions at the annual event are something special.
In the coming weeks, Bishop Patrick Dunn, Convention Spiritual Adviser Msgr Paul Cronin, Organiser John Porteous and others will meet to discuss whether the Eucharistic Convention will continue, or whether its 10th year was its last.
In either case, the 2003 Convention fulfilled John’s usual promise – “she’ll be a boomer mate,” as the speakers were well received, and the Masses, Adoration and Rosaries were filled with grace.
Fr Paul Glynn, an Australian Marist, is one of those priests who you just love to be around. Humble and funny, sincere and holy, he was a delight at the Convention. And his Sunday talk on the Eucharist was truly food for thought.
Father Paul, quoting from various papal encyclicals, reminded us that the “Eucharist feeds and forms the Church,” and that the faith of the people is linked to, if not formed by, their commitment to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Father said that most of the miracles in his latest book involved the Eucharist – either at Mass, Adoration, or via Blessings with the Host, when physical and spiritual healings so frequently occur. He stressed that the sacrifice of the Mass is absolutely that of Christ, but also ours, too, if we are to fully live our faith. “We come to the Mass to get the energy to put up with the pains of life, to keep doing our jobs” as parent, teacher, friend. We have to unite our pain and suffering to Christ’s, agree to follow His example, and give up our life and energy to serve God and our fellow man.
Father Paul called us to be joyful people, carrying our faith to others with love and patience and getting the strength and faith we need from the sacraments and from reading holy books. In his twenties, after the brutality of World War II, he questioned his faith, even the existence of God. But reading about the carefully documented miracles at Lourdes touched his heart and rekindled his faith. He believes books about modern miracles can have a great impact on young people searching for truth.
Father also talked about a military psychiatrist who said the majority of his patients were dogged by anger, fear, and guilt. “And if you don’t handle these problems, they handle you.” Talking about these problems is helpful, but taking them to Jesus – at Mass or in Adoration – is a key to healing.
Fr Paul is one of many priests who have remarked that the thing about the Convention that most touched them was their time in the Confessional, where many people were reconciled to the Church, some after years away. When he stumbled with his speech notes on Sunday, Father apologised for not being better organised… seems he had spent so much time hearing confessions that he’d been a bit late arriving backstage! (Note: Bishop Patrick Dunn also spent hours and hours hearing confessions and again celebrated the opening Friday night Mass with great humour and love for his people.)
If he’d had a few sequins on his jacket and wore a Cowboy hat, the white haired Texan could be a Country & Western singer. But Ted Hanley doesn’t sing about looking for love in all the wrong places. Instead, he is the embodiment of peace and a man committed to acts of mercy.
Years ago, as a young professional moving up the career ladder in Houston, the then 24 year old peered out the window of his glass and steel high-rise office. Down below he could see an old street-woman who seemed to be surrounded by a forcefield – no one would get within 10 feet of her. Only after safely passing her would they sneak a quick glance over their shoulder.
As a Catholic, Ted knew he had to do something, so he went and sat next to her. She babbled incoherently and kept pushing her handbag toward him. Ted looked through it and noticed that the documents all had an address in Connecticut, a state perhaps 1,000 miles northeast of Houston. Ted started making phone calls and within minutes he discovered that this incoherent street lady was a beloved mother and grandmother who three years earlier had wandered away from a Connecticut home for Alzheimer’s patients and been given up for dead.
The experience changed Ted. And today, just as former Convention speaker Rita Klaus seems to radiant love, Ted brings peace wherever he goes. He attributes this to his devotion to the Divine Mercy. It has changed him from someone always on the run, to a man of patience who says we must never shrink from performing acts of mercy, either with our hands, our words, or our prayers.
Ted’s love of the Divine Mercy is easily understandable. Years ago when his eldest child was just three and very sick, Ted trudged through the rotten winter weather to take her to the pediatrician. As he sat in the waiting room, holding his suffering little daughter on his lap, his watch alarm went off at 3pm to remind him to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet. As he got up to walk and pray, a bullet slammed into the wall where he had been sitting seconds before. It would almost certainly have killed them both. “I’ve never had to set my watch to remind me to pray Divine Mercy again!” he says.
Ted challenges us to be merciful to ourselves so that we can be merciful to all of God’s children. As you would expect, he encourages a devotion to the Divine Mercy. “Without the Divine Mercy, I’d still be lying to myself. I’d still believe that other people were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison. But because of Divine Mercy, I know that I need to do these things myself, not just write a cheque and think that someone else will do it.”
The Jesse Tree network that Ted created in Galveston Texas is now supported by 65 churches from all denominations. The organisation is a “storage shed of resources in our area.” Through corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, hard work by hundreds of volunteers, and a sophisticated computer network, the poor people of Galveston now have better lives.
Donna Lee must have been about 12 years old when she performed at the first Convention in 1994, because she still looks so young! Even so, she has seen more than her share of hard times.
She was trapped in an abusive marriage (later annulled by the Church) that worsened over the years and included her being held hostage at gunpoint and threatened with death during a seven-hour ordeal. Before this Donna, herself from a dysfunctional home, was living out of wedlock in an abusive, alcoholic relationship. She got pregnant. She aborted her baby. And her sins and depression nearly dragged her down to hell.
“My relationship with Jesus has always been like driving a car. I am always telling him to get in the back seat, let me drive! I know where I want to go and what I want to do,” but her own driving has wrecked her life. “But I am so glad that Jesus never let go of my hand; never got our of the car. He never left me.”
Donna says her return to God was prompted by her two Mothers, her earthly Mother and Our Lady of Medjugorje. In 1988, Donna’ mum went to Medjugorje and invited Donna along. While she didn’t go, something about Medjugorje resonated in her heart. Later that year she went on a Pilgrimage to Medjugorje that changed her life.
“I was in the confessional for an hour. Jesus had been waiting for me for 16 years. He still loved me and he forgave me,” she said, still wracked by the emotion all these years later. Amongst the graces she received in her trip to Medjugorje was a song from, and certainly for, Our Lady - “Mother Mary, Queen of Peace”.
Donna travels the world, playing her music and giving her painful testimony, hoping to help other damaged young men and women find peace and return to their faith. Her trip to New Zealand came less than a week after she had been performing for 40,000 people in Brazil.
On Sunday, Mark said he felt like he had been sucker punched right in the stomach.
It was just before he was to give his second talk, and a Convention-goer blasted him over something her friend had seen on the Teletext news. Mark had done an interview on Radio New Zealand, arranged by the Eucharistic Convention, and as is so common, the edited summary of the interview apparently got it wrong. Badly wrong. Mark was devastated, feeling he had "ruined" the Convention.
Mark was assured this was not the case, and told this was not the first incident like this to have happened over the years. Mark went ahead and gave his talk, but under the weight of a Cross that seems to have been given to him for a reason. As a Catholic writer, Mark writes extensively on the Faith (see www.catholicexchange.com), and he has also been a commentator on the scandals in the American Church. Having seen his own words distorted by kiwi media, Mark now wonders whether he has harshly judged US Bishops because of what he read in the media – “news” that could have been biased, wrong-headed or even malevolent.
In his talk on Saturday, Mark was in great spirit, and the big American with a love of Scripture and awful jokes talked about his personal conversion – from “American Civil Religion” (eg Star Trek), to Evangelical Protestant, to the Catholic Church.
Mark recalled coming from a dysfunctional family, and not just because his grandfather was alcoholic. “I come from the family of Adam, so I come from a dysfunctional family.” As do we all. Mark credits the love, kindness and faith of Protestant friends at University with aiding in his early conversion. Then, through his voracious reading, Mark was drawn to the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church. Many great Catholic writers helped in his faith journey, including G K Chesterton and even J R R Tolkien (the Catholic writer who wrote Lord of the Rings, which is filled with Catholic symbolism and truth). As you would expect, in the week after the Convention, Mark insisted on a “pilgrimage” to Matamata, where much of the Rings trilogy was filmed.
For someone who had never spoken to a crowd anywhere near as large as the 1,800 at the Convention, Robert did very well indeed. The tall Australian gave compelling testimony on the “Tree of Life: New and Old Testament – God’s Food for Eternal Life.” Normally, tape sales indicate how well a presenter was received, and Robert’s tapes were clearly the most popular with Convention-goers.
Robert talked about the three Trees of Life: the first in the Garden of Eden; the second erected by Moses in the Sinai; and third and greatest – Our Lord crucified on Calvary. Robert talked about the water and blood that flowed from the side of Our Lord representing Baptism and the Eucharist. His solid talks on Scripture, complemented by references to the Church Fathers and tradition, were greatly appreciated by the crowd.
Gerry and Margaret Smy
who have been active in the Convention from the beginning, spoke about bringing the Cursillo movement to New Zealand. The movement, which former Convention favourite Tony Zuniga talked about in 2000, “shows us a method and a technique to provide each of us with the tools, the mentality, the strength and the support to make this natural type of evangelisation possible.” The first New Zealand Catholic Cursillo movement will be in Knock-Na-Gree Retreat Centre in July/August. Those interested should contact the Smy’s in Auckland on 267-1516 or by email at Gerry.Smy@xtra.co.nz
(By Bill Moore)
Eucharistic Convention organiser John Porteous and helper Bill Moore were overwhelmed when Spiritual Director Msgr Paul Cronin presented them with Papal honours at the end of the Convention.
Both were awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
The letter from Msgr Novatus Rugambwa in the Apostolic Nunciature to Bishop Dunn included this translation of the award:
“John Paul II, the Sovereign Pontiff, has deigned to confer on (John Colin Porteous and William Moore) the decoration of the Venerable Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, an honour which was especially established for those who have been eminent by reason of their zeal and devoted activity.”
John said the Papal honours were “very humbling”. He believes they are in effect the Church’s endorsement of the Eucharistic Convention and an acknowledgement of the efforts of literally hundreds of volunteers who have worked so hard over the years to make the Convention a success.