SALT LAKE CITY — Catholics throughout Utah gathered at their parishes on Sept. 17 for the 2022 Pastoral Congress, which had as its theme “Eucharist: Life, Joy and Thanksgiving.”
The format this year was the same as last year: the keynote addresses in English and Spanish were given online, then parishioners discussed the material. This year, however, parishioners were able to participate in a live Q&A with the presenters.
Some parishes chose to have their gathering on a different day. For example, St. Joseph Parish in Ogden will host theirs on Sept. 22. In Cedar City, Father Adrian Komar will consult with the Christ the King Parish council, which meets at the end of the month, before scheduling the congress there. And in St. George, Fr. David Bittmenn met with an English-speaking group on Sept. 17, but plans to schedule another day for the Spanish-speaking community, which had a different event on that day.
In his prerecorded welcoming remarks for the Pastoral Congress, Bishop Oscar A. Solis said the theme of the Congress was intended to highlight the importance of the Eucharist and stewardship.
“Each of us is called to serve one another and to be good stewards of the world of creation God entrusted to our care,” said the bishop, whose comments were recorded separately in English and in Spanish. “Creation belongs to God, but he gave us the privilege to be cooperators and to take care of our common home.”
“When we receive holy Communion, we say, ‘Amen,’” he added. “It means ‘yes’ to Christ’s sacrificial love for us and for us to share what we have received, humbly offering and joyfully sharing our gift to others through acts of charity, generosity and sacrifice. So let us be good stewards, like Christ.”
The bishop then offered a prayer, asking in part that Holy Spirit would guide those who gathered, and “that what we have begun in this spirit may be brought to completion by your power and by your love.”
Susan Northway, the diocese’s director of Faith Formation, also gave comments in English and in Spanish. “It’s marvelous to see all the people from all our missions in parishes across our large state once again gathered as communities of faith, hope and mutual support,” she said.
“Thank you for choosing to come together for some truly inspiring words. Thank you also for opening your hearts to learn more about the Eucharist,” she added.
The Pastoral Congress’ keynote speaker in English was Michael Murphy, executive director of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, who has a graduate degree in systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame.
Murphy focused much of his presentation on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and how the Catholic idea of stewardship puts the Eucharist into action.
“I think that many people don’t recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread,” even though the Catholic Church teaches that during the Mass “there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood,” he said. (CCC 1376)
Many Catholics today tend to see themselves not as participants in the Eucharist but merely as onlookers, Murphy said, even though the Church teaches that the Eucharist is not just a commemoration of the events of Jesus Passion and death, but it also calls Catholic to actively participate in the mystery itself, not just bystanders but also participants.
“People who don’t go to the Eucharistic celebration deprive the community of the gift of themselves,” Murphy said, adding that to be a follower of Christ is to be a member of a community.
To help join in the community at Mass, a person should ask what he or she did during the week that they can bring to the table of the Lord, he said. “That is a stewardship question.”
“Jesus takes our gifts in ways that we can’t imagine, small and large, and Jesus transforms them,” he added, and quoted St. John Chrysostom, that if a person wants to turn to Christ, a conversion of heart, mind and purse is required.
The Spanish keynote speaker was Dr. José Antonio Medina, who talked about the parts of the Mass, especially how they emphasize the role of the Eucharist in the faith of the People of God. The title of his talk was ‘The Eucharist: Transforming the world and our communities.’
“We have selected this theme as a focal point for the explanation of the Eucharistic; of course, this is just one of the multiple dimensions that we can get out of the Eucharist,” Medina said.
“The Eucharist is life, is joy, is thanksgiving,” he added, noting that “celebrating it is to be always thankful for all the gifts that God has given us because God is accompanying us.”
Medina used some documents from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as aids for his talk.
Among the questions that participants were asked to ponder at the Pastoral Congress were what are the things that people can do so the Eucharist becomes a community celebration, and how is Jesus present through the Eucharistic celebration besides in the bread and wine?
“It’s very important that people take the celebration as a whole; ineach part of the Mass Jesus manifests his presence,” Medina said.
After the presentations, those participating in the congress held small-group discussions. While some groups focused on the questions provided by the speakers, others had their own particular interests. For example, at St. George Parish, Fr. Bittmenn led a discussion about how to develop a spiritual capacity so that one can discern things of God, and also how to teach the Eucharist.
Among those who participated in the Pastoral Congress was Angie Palfreyman, who is in her third week of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes at Holy Family Catholic Church in South Ogden. Raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Palfreyman, 32, said she has been searching for the truth since she was 18 and has found it in the Catholic Church.
“I just wanted to learn more, just to see what it’s about, to put myself out there to let people know that I am ready to learn,” she said of attending the Pastoral Congress. “It was weighing on my heart. I just thought, “There’s got to be something coming up;’ I just felt something.”
Although she recently had been bedridden, Palfreyman was determined to participate in the Pastoral Congress, she said. “There’s a message for me in there somewhere, and it was wonderful for me learning from Michael [Murphy],” she said.
Palfreyman said she was struck by Murphy’s words on the topic of who Jesus is for Christians. “He’s somebody that’s constantly with me,” Palfreyman said of the Savior. “Not only to see that with the Eucharist every Mass, but to feel it every single day, that’s just a fantastic gift. And to feel the Holy Spirit talking to me all the time. Jesus for me is he’s love, he’s peace, he’s kind. Jesus is my best friend.”
As she listened to Murphy’s presentation, she had a feeling of gratitude for the transubstantiation of the Eucharist into the body and blood of Christ, Palfreyman said.
Pastoral Congress was an “opportunity to grow and to learn and to understand more of what Catholicism is all about,” she said. “It is my foot in the door, if you will, of learning from this. We’re all here to learn, to pray and to study and get answers.”
“Those who do have some answers” and can share them, “that’s fantastic,” she said.
Carl Leuschner, the parish’s director of faith formation, hopes to be able to share the recordings from the Pastoral Congress with others who were unable to attend that day. He was particularly struck with the thought Murphy shared that along with the Eucharist at Mass, meals partaken of at home are meals of thanksgiving, he said.
To view the video Pastoral Congress presentations, visit the diocesan website, www.dioslc.org.