Area Catholics join a Eucharistic procession to outdoor Stations of the Cross at the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill in Hubertus on June 20 during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. More than 10,000 area Catholics took part in Eucharistic processions, adoration and other prayer when the Marian Route of the pilgrimage made its way through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee June 18-26. The Marian Route will arrive along with three other routes from across the country on July 17 at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. (Photo by Tori Franke)

If you’ve ever been to a huge concert or professional football game, you understand the power of being with tens of thousands of like-minded people.

Now imagine it’s Jesus at the stadium’s center stage, and it’s nearly 50,000 Catholics who are One Body of Christ in a new way — not just fans, but renewed followers on fire to go out and share his mercy and goodness.

This is the “why” of the National Eucharistic Congress starting next Wednesday, July 17, in Indianapolis.

About 250 people will experience the five-day event at Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center as part of a pilgrimage offered by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“God is up to something, and I can’t wait to see what it is,” said Margaret Rhody, Associate Director for Parish Renewal with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. “This will be a transformative journey that our pilgrims will share with tens of thousands of fellow Catholics from all walks of life from all over the U.S.”

Catholics attending the congress will ask Jesus to revive their faith, the Church and the world, Rhody said. They will be sent home to share their experiences in a new chapter of missionary faith.

The congress is part of a three-year National Eucharistic Revival initiated by the bishops of the United States in 2022. The revival’s mission is to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

The first National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years will include opportunities for prayer — including a Mass with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, former archbishop of Milwaukee — as well as dozens of inspiring speakers who make up a “who’s who” of well-known Catholics, along with formation opportunities and discussions. “This will be a turning point in faith for thousands of people,” Rhody said.

Congress Connects with National Eucharistic Pilgrimage

For about two months, thousands of Catholics have taken time to follow our Lord Jesus Christ truly present in the Eucharist during part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage on the way to the congress. The pilgrimage began May 19 as four routes from different regions of the United States.

The Marian Route of the pilgrimage passed through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for nine days in June, drawing more than 10,000 people to more than 60 parishes and other sites to take part in procession and prayer.

“The stories have been stunning and truly beautiful. We’ve had thousands of individuals in southeastern Wisconsin awaken faith, experience healing and give public witness,” said Rhody, a key staff organizer of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s coordination of the pilgrimage’s time here.

The Marian Route will be unified with the three other routes from around the United States as part of the congress opening ceremonies.

Area Pilgrims Will Make Congress Journey with Local Leaders

Local pilgrims will attend Mass early July 17 before boarding buses to the congress. The pilgrimage will be led by Auxiliary Bishop Jeffrey Haines; Auxiliary Bishop James Schuerman; Fr. Juan Manuel Camacho, Vicar of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese and pastor of the four Racine parishes of St. Patrick, St. Richard, St. Edward and Sacred Heart; Fr. Dan Janasik, pastor of St. Leonard, Muskego; and Fr. Joseph Heit, associate pastor of the Family of Five Parishes, Milwaukee.

The U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops was moved to set the revival into motion after surveys showed that fewer than half of Catholics believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

In planning the revival, why did the bishops want to call Catholics from all walks of life from across the country together for the congress?

“We the bishops — as teachers — needed to recapture and help people understand this great mystery they’re a part of and defines who we are,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said. “The pilgrimage to the congress is a chance to step away from everyday life and rediscover the Eucharist as the source and summit of our Catholic faith.”

Exactly What Is a Pilgrimage?

How is a pilgrimage different than a vacation or other travel?

A pilgrimage is a journey, often taken on foot and with others, to a specific holy place, which can lead to a personal transformation. The sometimes-difficult physical outward journey is meant to be a metaphor for the inner journey.

“I think it’s just a human dimension that we take the things closest to us for granted. This can include the mystery of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist at every Mass,” said Archbishop Listecki, who will join the archdiocesan pilgrimage for some events at the congress.

The congress has a much broader aim than solely inspiring the estimated 50,000 attendees to have a greater personal devotion to the Eucharist.

“Each person attending is called to pray together, to worship together, to be formed together and to catch fire to go back to their parishes and back out on mission, back to their neighborhoods, to share their love for Jesus,” said Rhody.

“Through the Eucharist, God desires to heal, renew and unify the Church and the world,” she said. “We want everyone to come together to get deeper formation because you love what you know. We learn in order to fall more deeply in love — and then carry that love back to our families and our communities.”