It took the workers and my staff at the Tampa Bay Convention Center on Saturday less than an hour to tear down what was built on Thursday for our third and final convocation on the Eucharist. What we have learned and interiorized in these three years will by the grace of God remain permanently etched in 0ur minds and hearts. Nearly 3500 people came to the Center on Friday and Saturday to deepen their knowledge of Eucharist and what it means to be sent. Principal speakers, Fathers J. Bryan Hehir, Timothy Radcliffe and J-Glenn Murray brought together all the elements of the obligation of the Catholic faithful to “become whom they have received” and to take their faith out into the “marketplace” of the world in which we live. The attendees marveled at the wisdom and insights not only of our key-note speakers but of the workshop presenters as well. I attended a workshop on sports and spirituality in our parishes and schools and marveled at the presenter suggesting that sports can be incarnational, paschal, trinitarian and redemptive if properly approached from a standpoint of faith. The 130 people who packed each of his two presentations remained to the end and acknowledged his work and insights with sustained applause at the end.
About 800 young people joined us on Saturday morning and after a Holy Hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, then came to be “sent” as disciples of Jesus Christ. Upon their “dismissal” they proceeded to make four hundred peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fifty blankets and twenty-five wooden platforms for the homeless at Pinellas Hope. They could have gone right home. They stayed to share their commitment to be disciples. The wooden platforms, by the way, make it possible for the tents housing the homeless to be off the ground and out of the rainwater and mud during the rainy season.
We prayed, sang, and celebrated the Eucharist together, with reverence, full and active participation and most of the sixty some priests who concelebrated the Eucharistic Liturgy said after it was over that it was a stunning experience of the Church at its deepest prayer. If you live in the Diocese of St. Petersburg don’t take my word for it, ask anyone who was there what there what they thought.
There should be video of the main keynote speeches, more photos, and other multimedia from the weekend available on the diocesan website in a few days and failing that, we will have the keynote talks on podcast soon. I will let you know through this blog when they are ready for viewing and/or listening. If you were not there, you can learn a lot by watching or listening. Use of video and podcasts is yet another way in which this Church wishes to share our treasure with ourselves and others. Communicating the Gospel electronically and through the web is growing in its use and its value. But nothing will rival being there.
How does someone like myself thank the corps of colleagues at the Pastoral Center who shepherded this project along from conception to conclusion yesterday? This much I know, they themselves know that they have hit a “home run” for their faith and they could tell from the expressions of gratitude and delight of those leaving the Center these last three years that this has been a major moment in the lives of many. A “core team” met countless hours preparing the programing, anticipating the challenges, and putting the whole thing together. Led by Deacon Peter Burns, they know how grateful I am and so many others for their talent and efforts, The were exhausted during the “tear-down” Saturday afternoon but it was a fatigue laced with satisfaction. If one stuck with the program the last three years, we should soon see a blossoming of understanding of and appreciation for the Eucharist. We should help the children understand it better in the years ahead and as God’s people here, we should become more involved in the work of justice and peace, in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, our state and nation and our world. We are sent forth from Mass to love and serve the Lord and one another. Eucharist is not just an individual privilege of our faith, but it is the bedrock of our duty towards others.
Watch this space and the diocesan website (www.dosp.org) for the presentations of this week-end. Love and thanks from this bishop to all who helped stage the last three years in many venues and to those who came. I am one lucky bishop, to be sure, proven again by the faith of our people.