By Fr. Adam Streitenberger
The weekend of August 27-28, 2021 was historic for the Diocese of Columbus and momentous for the Real Presence, Real Future initiative. Priests, deacons, religious, and laity gathered with Bishop Robert Brennan to pray for the Diocese and for the RPRF initiative and to celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist during the two-day “Real Presence, Real Future Gathering.” The full weekend was broadcast by St. Gabriel Radio and live-streamed online.
The Gathering began Friday night at St. Joseph Cathedral. Parish leaders joined by their pastors and deacons gathered for Evening Prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. While in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, Bishop Brennan gave a keynote address on the centrality of the Eucharist. He reminded his listeners that regardless of what the Church faces, two things are constant: Jesus is what matters, and He is present.
“We as a Church can run the best possible schools you could ever imagine and offer the most important social services. It’s all very good, and it’s all very important,” reminded Bishop Brennan. “But none of those things matter unless we’re carrying Jesus, whether we are running or treadmills or pushing the wind, we must carry Jesus.”
Friday evening concluded with a Eucharistic procession around the Cathedral and diocesan offices and ended with Benediction.
On Saturday morning, more than 400 people gathered at St. Charles Preparatory School’s Walter Commons for Mass and two keynote addresses given by Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia. Mass was preceded by Filipino music from the pinOHy Choir, composed of members from various parishes of Columbus.
During the homily, Bishop Brennan challenged his people: “It can be scary at times. The unfamiliar can shake us up a little bit. But God is always at work, and God is always doing something amazing. If God can do something with a tree stump (referring to the first reading of the Mass from Isaiah 11:1-4), imagine what God could do with what already is happening here. We take all these steps in the future together, proclaiming the presence of the Lord.” Music for the Mass was led by the gospel choir from Columbus St. Dominic Church. Following the Mass, traditional African music was performed by the Columbus St. Anthony Multicultural Choir, and later praise and worship music was performed by a trio from St. Paul’s Outreach.
Archbishop Perez seized upon the Diocese’s Real Presence Real Future mission in his keynote addresses after Saturday’s Mass, focusing on the Real Presence in his first presentation and Real Future in his second. “Change is actually part of life,” Archbishop Perez noted in his first talk. “Situations change, and (we) respond to that. We’ve never been the same. Every day we’re a little different. Circumstances in our lives change, and then we respond to those changes, and we ultimately adapt. In 100 years, none of us who are in this room will be here except the Lord,” the Archbishop said, pointing to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in the altar. “His abiding presence has always been here with the Church since its inception.”
Archbishop Perez’s initial reflections were centered on Pope St. John Paul II’s 2003 Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Church from the Eucharist). “The Church celebrates the Eucharist as a mystery of our faith. It’s what we do more than anything else,” he said. “This sacrament is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery that stands at the center of our life. What did the apostles do from the beginning? They devoted themselves not to CYO, not to sodalities, not to casino trips. They devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread, the apostolic teaching, the fellowship of community and prayer. This faith has been handed on to us, and everything else has changed, but the Eucharist has been a constant.”
In the archbishop’s second presentation, drawn from Pope Francis’s Joy of the Gospel, he explained that Real Future comes from going forth after the Mass to become missionary disciples. “The fruit and consequence of the Real Presence is mission,” Archbishop Perez said. “That sending forth [of the Mass] is the essence of evangelization and the missionary mandate that Pope Francis has called the Church to embrace. It is the theme of this whole Gathering,” the archbishop emphasized. “Real Presence and Real Future are connected. Communion and mission are profoundly interconnected. The Church is a community of missionary disciples.”
Encouraging the Diocese of Columbus, as it approaches changes and renewal from the Real Presence, Real Future initiative, Archbishop Perez said, “Our parishes have to become parishes on the way – parishes that face outward and not inward. A community of missionary disciples is one that takes the first step, that takes the initiative, that doesn’t wait. If you want to build a real future, you have to take the first step.” The morning concluded with repose of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.
“It was an extraordinary blessing for the Church,” Bishop Brennan said reflecting on the Gathering. “This is a moment of tremendous grace and of great strength. And as we move forward from here today, it will be with the strength and power that comes from this encounter with Jesus Christ.” Indeed, the weekend, planned by Stephanie Rapp and Pamela Harris, was a graced encounter with Jesus Christ.