INDIANAPOLIS — For three years, Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., has been the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ point person for its three-year National Eucharistic Revival and the National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held July 17-21 next year in Indianapolis.
As chairman of the National Eucharistic Congress Inc., he has experienced many inspiring moments and faced unexpected obstacles in leading both.
While in Indianapolis for November’s National Catholic Youth Conference, Bishop Cozzens spoke with The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, about the blessings and challenges that have come with the revival and in the planning for the congress.
The following interview is edited for clarity and content.
The Criterion: It was two years ago when the National Catholic Youth Conference was in Indianapolis that the bishops in the U.S. announced that the National Eucharistic Congress would be held here in July 2024. Have the intervening couple of years of preparation for the congress been challenging and maybe fruitful for you? And how has all this activity maybe contributed to your anticipation for the congress?
Bishop Cozzens: In order to plan the National Eucharistic Congress, the U.S. bishops founded a (nonprofit) corporation, which has a board of five bishops and four laypeople. We had to hire a staff to be able to execute the congress. … There has been a lot of incredible work and planning. Now there’s a staff of 16 full-time people who are planning the congress.
Of course, we’ve had to help raise funds with this. We’ve had to learn logistics. We’ve had to learn from what other groups have done. And we’ve had to learn a bunch of things we didn’t know about – like hotel rooms, transportation and security.
And, of course, we’re not just planning the congress. We’re also planning the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which are the four routes to Indianapolis that pilgrims will be taking on their way to Indianapolis.
All of those things are going to be beautiful and inspiring events. But they couldn’t have happened without the dedication of employees, people who are really dedicated, working hard and really mission-driven to make this event a success. And also without generous benefactors, people who believe that what we’re doing will have an impact on the country. …
There’s been a lot of learning and there’s always a lot of struggles and there’s always obstacles that you don’t know you’re going to run into. But, to me, all those point to the fact that the Lord’s doing something beautiful.
There are going to be lots of beautiful grassroots movements as we go. We saw that in our test pilot program, which we did last summer here in Indiana, where we (walked) 110 miles between Fort Wayne and South Bend.
We asked parishes to host us for the night. And every parish was different. They really took on the project. Some had all their first Communion kids lined up to greet the Blessed Sacrament as it comes into the parish on the pilgrimage. And they organized all-night adoration.
We even had one Protestant church put up signs about the Eucharist with ‘This is my body’ from the Scriptures on them. And then they served lunch to the pilgrims as they came by. So, I think it’s going to be really a beautiful grassroots experience.
The Criterion: Talk about how you’ve seen the work of God’s providence in the planning for the revival and the congress.
Bishop Cozzens: It’s definitely been a Holy Spirit-led experience, especially when you consider we actually started planning it before COVID.
Bishop (Robert E.) Barron (of Winona-Rochester, Minn.) had the idea in November of 2019 that we should do some kind of national initiative to restore Eucharistic faith. I was a chair-elect of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, and Bishop Barron was the chair. (Bishop Cozzens’ three-year term as committee chair ended with the close of the USCCB fall general assembly in November in Baltimore.)
We met with leaders of other committees in January and February of 2020, and everybody was supportive of doing something. We were going to bring it to the bishops’ meeting in June. And then, of course, the world changed in March, and we never had the meeting in June. It wasn’t until November of 2020 that, when I became the chair, we were able to bring this idea to the bishops.
By that time, COVID had happened. So, there was a great amount of support and even a sense of God’s providence. We were prepared to begin to go right away. That was because God had been preparing us for something we didn’t know was coming.
But it’s truly been an experience of the Holy Spirit just to see all the apostolates, all the parishes, all the people who’ve taken on this movement as their own across the country. The response has been much greater than I expected.
I think there are 19,000 parishes in the country, and we hoped to have parish point persons for the parish year (the second year of the three-year revival) in 5,000 parishes. We thought that would be really good, especially when a lot of parishes are combined. So, we thought that’d be roughly a third of all parishes.
But we have 8,000 parish point persons. And we’re headed for 9,000. We might hit 10,000 before Christmas.
To think that we could be in over half the parishes with our small group study, with all the materials that we’ve given for this – that’s, I think, unheard of for a USCCB initiative.
The Criterion: How has seeing the impact of the revival and hoping and planning for the impact of the congress had an effect on your own Eucharistic faith, your own relationship with Christ and the Eucharist?
Bishop Cozzens: I’ve always been committed to the daily Holy Hour, ever since I became a priest. I got convicted about that by Archbishop Fulton Sheen and his preaching about that.
But it definitely has made it more important. And what’s been beautiful is the opportunity to teach so much on the Eucharist. God prepared me. I taught the Eucharist to seminarians for about seven years before I became a bishop.
I loved to teach that class. I used to always ask that they put the class right before Mass, so we could go from studying the Eucharist to celebrating in the Eucharist, which we did every day.
So, then it’s been beautiful to sort of begin to teach that to the people and to invite people to experience all the dimensions of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is really, as St. John Paul II said, “the secret of my day.” It’s the secret of my life. It gives meaning to all my activities.
I believe the ultimate goal of the Eucharistic revival is not actually about statistics. It’s about hearts that are set on fire with love for Jesus in the Eucharist. And the more hearts that are set on fire, the more that Jesus in the Eucharist will be shown to the world.
The Criterion: What words of encouragement might you have for people to consider taking part in the congress next summer?
Bishop Cozzens: A revival is a work of the Holy Spirit, not a work of the bishops. And the Holy Spirit will come and revive our Church in response to the persistent petition of the Church.
So, come to Indianapolis to be part of the revival and to open your heart to encounter Jesus yourself, but also to pray that God would send the Holy Spirit upon our country in a new way, and especially on the Church in the United States so that we might be strengthened in our hearts to be who God wants us to be.