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Viewpoints

2011 Eucharistic Congress draws record crowd of N.C. Catholics

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CHARLOTTE — The 2011 Eucharistic Congress came to a close Sept. 24 with Mass celebrated by Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis at the Charlotte Convention Center. The Mass was the culmination of a two-day celebration for western North Carolina Catholics that featured addresses by Cardinal Francis Arinze, Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge and Bishop Jugis; educational programming for adults, teens and children; music; confession; and Eucharistic Adoration.

For more photos and video footage from the 2011 Eucharistic Congress, go to the Diocese' of Charlotte's YouTube channel.

The seventh-annual congress drew an estimated 5,100 people to the Saturday morning Holy Hour alone, and thousands more attended the Saturday vigil Mass. The convention center staff set out 4,600 chairs in the main hall of the building, yet it was still standing-room only at both Holy Hour Saturday morning and at Mass Saturday afternoon with several hundred more people crowded into Hall A and overflowing into Hall B.

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During the Friday night keynote address by Cardinal Arinze and sacred music concert by the Diocese of Charlotte choir, about 2,000 people were in attendance. More than 1,000 children and youths registered to participate in the three youth tracks.

Congress organizers put the total attendance at 10 percent higher than last year's congress, which attracted about 10,000 Catholic faithful.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported that this was the largest crowd they've ever seen at the congress, especially with such large numbers of people so early on Saturday morning and despite inclement weather. During previous congresses, they said, crowds grew around midday and swelled to their highest at the closing Mass, but this year, an unusually large crowd was immediately evident just after the Eucharistic procession that kicked off events on Saturday at 9 a.m.

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Rainy weather cut short the annual Eucharistic procession from St. Peter Church on Tryon Street to the convention center Saturday morning. The steady drizzle didn't dampen people's spirits, however. The Eucharistic procession still drew faithful from all across the Diocese of Charlotte who braved the rain to participate in the procession as an expression of their Catholic faith.

They processed through the damp streets, kneeling on wet sidewalks as the Most Blessed Sacrament passed by, carried in a monstrance by Bishop Jugis and followed Cardinal Arinze and Bishop Burbidge – the two key guest clergy at this year's congress.

Cardinal Arinze gave the keynote address during Friday evening's events, which also included a sacred music concert by the Diocese of Charlotte choir at the convention center and overnight Eucharistic Adoration at St. Peter Church. He spoke about the importance of the Holy Mass and the need to keep the Sabbath holy.

One minor accident marred the events on Saturday. During the Eucharistic procession, a young man walking with members of St. Matthew Church fell and injured his head. The man was taken to Presbyterian Hospital's emergency room where he was treated and released.

Lines for confession remained more than 100 people long throughout the day inside the convention center, and all tracks – English, Spanish, and children/youth programs – were heavily attended. Information and commercial vendors, 95 of them, also remained active all day.

The congress was organized under the leadership of Father Roger K. Arnsparger, diocesan vicar of education, who chaired a steering committee of laity and clergy from across the diocese that includes 25 subcommittees who work throughout the year planning the congress. More than 250 volunteers assisted during the two-day congress.

Father Arnsparger said he was edified by the steering committee and many volunteers who helped put on the congress, to make it a "wonderful spiritual experience for the people of the diocese."

The Eucharistic Congress is an opportunity for the faithful "to come together as a diocesan family," he said. And the congress affords the faithful moments of quiet to spend time in prayer and adoration of our Creator.

"The moments of silence I found to be very striking," he noted, particularly during Holy Hour and in the Adoration chapel, where people offered prayers of adoration and praise to God. "The quiet time was profound."

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— Patricia Guilfoyle, editor. Photos by SueAnn Howell, Doreen Sugierski, Annette Tenny, Ruben Tamayo, Lew McCloud and Bill Washington.

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