Seminarians and priests lead a Eucharistic Procession during the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Eucharistic Congress on June 10 attended by about 600 people. (Photos by David Bernacchi)

For anyone who loves practicing their Catholic faith in God’s outdoors, time spent at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Eucharistic Congress on June 10 was heavenly.

A warm, sunny day greeted about 600 people who embraced the opportunity to pray, worship, learn and serve others as part of a three-year renewal effort initiated by U.S. bishops centered on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

“This has ignited my fire. This is what I needed, and this is what so many need. I want to share this with others,” said Suzette Irwin, a member of Divine Mercy in South Milwaukee.

The congress opened with a Votive Mass of the Most Holy Eucharist at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center in St. Francis, but much of what followed — a Rosary, Adoration, prayer wall and even the Sacrament of Reconciliation — was offered outdoors.

“I am overjoyed that so many people gathered today to rekindle a living relationship with Christ in the Eucharist,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said following the event.

Archbishop Listecki celebrated the Mass surrounded by about 50 priests and Saint Francis de Sales seminarians who then led a procession out of the west side of the Pastoral Center and around the building to a 575-chair Eucharistic Tent at the Pastoral Center’s main entrance off Lake Drive.

Eucharistic Adoration there was one option given to those attending the Congress, and other opportunities included Reconciliation, intercessory prayer for parishes and other intentions, a service project and formation talks.

Everyone returned to the tent for a concluding Holy Hour led by Fr. John Burns, who gave a keynote homily. Fr. Burns is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who is also a national Eucharistic preacher for the Eucharistic Revival.

Archdioceses and dioceses across the United States offered local congresses June 10 as special opportunities to focus on the Real Presence of Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The congresses throughout the United States were part of the National Eucharistic Revival, a massive three-year initiative that began one year ago on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 19, 2022.

The Eucharistic Revival was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops after a Pew survey found only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“I frankly wasn’t surprised,” Fr. Burns said. He traced lethargy and exhaustion found in today’s Church to a casual approach to the Eucharist.

“At the core, we’ve lost something very essential. We lost our sense of awe; we lost our sense of wonder,” he said. He encouraged those present to remain strong in their faith in what cannot be seen with their eyes.

Fr. Burns reminded those present that faith in Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Catholic faith. The Eucharistic Revival aims to restore understanding and devotion to this great mystery by renewing the worship of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

“I’ve had some very profound experiences of the Lord in front of the Eucharist,” said James Waddell, a member of St. John the Evangelist, Greenfield, which has offered continuous Adoration for 40 years.

Waddell attended the congress with an old family friend who he said was instrumental in his family’s return to the Catholic Church 25 years ago. Now, two of his sons are seminarians and a third works for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“Eucharist is a big part of my life,” said that friend, Barbara Hammons, formerly of Cudahy. Hammons, who has attended Eucharistic congresses in Ireland and Quebec, was happy to find that time visiting the area overlapped with the congress.

Sam and Ali Berg brought their four children — ages 1 through 6 — to the Congress after someone from their parish, St. Francis de Sales in Lake Geneva, invited them to attend.

“This is something we wanted to introduce to our children and be a part of,” Ali Berg said.

“The procession was a highlight. We like the kids to see how many people are excited to be here,” Sam Berg said. “It is a family-friendly way to encounter the sacraments, which is sometimes hard to come by.”

The events across the nation conclude a year of diocesan revival, with the next phase focusing on Eucharistic devotion at the parish level.

Some local parishes are marking the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — celebrated this year on June 11 — with their own special revival prayer and other events. Some reintroduced the cup with the Blood of Christ at Masses that weekend and will host more opportunities to help everyone grow in their understanding of how Jesus becomes really present in the Eucharistic at every Mass.

In a related development, part of a National Eucharistic Pilgrimage next spring will spend 14 days traveling through Wisconsin — including about six days in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Four pilgrimages will converge on Indianapolis on July 16, 2024, for the 10th National Eucharistic Congress. Organizers hope to draw 80,000 Catholics to the event, which will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium.