HAMMOND – Close to 1,000 Catholic faithful of all ages from throughout the Diocese of Gary gathered at Bishop Noll Institute on Aug. 26 to celebrate the Holy Eucharist through worship, adoration, education, prayer and fellowship.
“Inspiring Presence: A Eucharistic Encounter for All Ages” featured a variety of speakers, including Scott Hahn, a well-known theologian, speaker, college professor and author, and Alessandro DiSanto, who left a career in finance to co-found Hallow, a Catholic prayer and meditation app especially popular with young adults.
Bishop Robert J. McClory established the theme of the day with an opening Mass that led the faithful to focus on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ consecrated on the altar. “We come with hearts full of gratitude and hearts seeking His mercy,” said the bishop in greeting.
In his homily, the bishop related the unbridled joy he saw recently in the smile and tears of a young altar server during a Mass at World Youth Day: “I saw (the) deep gratitude, deep joy (that) we should all have when we come to Mass. In today’s gospel (John 6:51-58), we hear that the bread that comes from heaven (unlike the manna of the Old Testament) will live forever … Jesus reveals to us the great gift of the Eucharist.
“You coming here today tells us that you want more,” added the bishop, who urged the congregation to put whatever is in “our hearts right now – work, prayer, glories … something that is heavy on your heart – on the altar with the Eucharist.
“When we leave Mass with joy in our hearts, to be Eucharistic witnesses … the Lord has beautiful plans for all of us.”
Allison Maciejewski, was one of dozens of parishioners from St. John the Evangelist in St. John identified by their bright red T-shirts. “It is always inspiring to see so many hearts on fire,” she said. (To be with) 900 others who set their Saturday morning aside to be with Jesus Christ was 100% worth it, as it is to know that tomorrow we will again share that fire in our hearts.”
Many in the crowd were anxious to hear Dr. Hahn in person, having gained insights from his writing.
“His books are remarkable,” said Maura Marcotte of St. Mary, Crown Point. “They have opened up the faith to me; after reading ‘The Last Supper’, I will never see the Mass the same way again.”
Rene Vergara, a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, said the opportunity to hear Dr. Hahn was “a priority” for he and his wife Michelle. “He was instrumental in my wife converting in 2021,” Vergara explained. “We got married and she was discerning for four years. After reading his books, she became a Catholic.”
“I wanted to see Dr. Hahn,” said Ricardo Delgado, a young adult member of St. Thomas More in Munster. “Over the past year I have been reading his books, and while I have been Catholic all of my life, I now understand the background of (parts of my faith) that I never knew.”
Dr. Hahn opened his presentation by offering a blueprint “for what we do at Mass,” as he explained it.
Analyzing Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24), Dr. Hahn asked his audience of several hundred to ponder why Jesus did what he did “on this, his first day back from the dead … why he didn’t immediately reveal his identity to the two disciples … and why he disappeared when they finally recognized him.”
As Jesus “drew near and went with them,” his two disciples told him about the fate of the man they believed in. “We had hope” they lamented, until Jesus was crucified, prompting Jesus to call them “foolish men because you don’t take the Word of God seriously” and likely spending the next several hours of their journey explaining his gospel to them.
“This had to be the single most exciting bible study in all of recorded history,” suggested Dr. Hahn, “and their eyes were opened,” the same words used in the Old Testament to explain what happened when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden.
Another connection between the Old and New Testaments, explained Dr. Hahn, involves the sacrifice asked of Abraham (Gen. 22) and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the only one of three crucified men not to have his legs broken. “That is because a sacrificial lamb must be unblemished,” noted Dr. Hahn.
“If the Eucharist was just a meal, then the Crucifixion was just an execution, but the Lamb of God lays down his life for us on Good Friday – his body, blood and soul,” said Dr. Hahn.
Dr. Hahn closed with a story about a high school friend he reconnected with long after Dr. Hahn’s conversion to Catholicism. In school, he had been a Protestant while his friend had been a Catholic. With their roles now reversed, they began a six-month conversation that led his friend to return to the Catholic Church on the basis of the wonder of the Eucharist.
“The fulfillment (of our faith) is here in the Eucharist,” he said. “I want to encourage you to really study and pray leading up to the great climax of the National Eucharistic Revival next year.”
Ann Kinser, a parishioner at St. Thomas More, was seeking “a deeper understanding of the Eucharist and the opportunity to grow its wonder. Dr. Hahn is an amazing speaker, and the way he related the Old Testament to the New Testament was something I had never heard before.”
A parishioner at St. Paul in Valparaiso, Jessica Clements, “came to listen to Dr. Hahn explain the Eucharist. I so enjoyed it, learning how Jesus can really open our eyes in a number of miraculous ways.”
Kyle Kemlage, a visitor from St. Charles, Mo., had his eyes opened by Dr. Hahn’s analysis of the story of The Road to Emmaus. “Now I want to read his books, and I’m going to share with my wife the insights about the Real Presence that Dr. Hahn (imparted) to his high school friend.”
Young adults had the opportunity to hear digital evangelist DiSanto share his personal story of how searching for God took him from a lucrative Wall Street career to a life devoted to helping people deepen their prayer life.
A series of losses in his busy life made him “fearful to ever trust a relationship” and almost caused him to lose his eventual wife, Sam, until he realized that he feared “surrendering power to my spouse. It took me awhile to get there,” he admitted, but he was finally able to trust again and commit to marriage.
Two important lessons DiSanto learned, he said, were to accept that “I am not worthy” and commit to “turning to talk” with God.
A friend shared that he found peace through meditation, and when DiSanto asked a priest whether Catholics had anything like that to offer, “He said, ‘We’ve had that for over 2,000 years, but we call it prayer.’”
Eventually, DiSanto and a group of friends established Hallow as a way to lead others to a deeper prayer life with a modern twist.
“I liked his story; he’s a regular person and found out how to help himself and his friends pray more,” said Claire Rosario, a member of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Whiting who uses the Hallow app. “It’s great that someone close to my age can make such an impact. I can pray while being a busy mom with Hallow. It sets a reminder schedule and I can listen to the Bible while putting away the dishes.”
The diocesan event ended with Eucharistic Adoration and benediction led by Bishop McClory. “We lay before (God) all our burdens,” he said, “and pray You may transform us into the people You want us to be.”
Caption: Bishop Robert J. McClory (front, right) raises the monstrance during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at Bishop Noll Institute on Aug. 26. Area faithful joined the diocesan gathering where Bishop McClory celebrated Mass before an estimated gathering of 1,000 in Hammond, and, later, nationally-known guest speakers presented Catholic perspectives on faith matters. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)