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 | By Daniel McCormick

Your Life Is a Gift

Looking Back at the 2021 Eucharistic Youth Congress

On Saturday, Oct.17, at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, over 800 young people and parish leaders from 28 parishes around the Diocese of Birmingham gathered to encounter our Lord more deeply in the Eucharist and to encounter one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The theme of the 4th annual diocesan Eucharistic Youth Congress (EYC) was “your life is a gift,” and this insight of faith oriented all the talks, prayers, and activities of the day. The EYC opened with the celebration of Mass by Bishop Steven Raica, during which he reflected on the ways in which young people’s lives are gifts for the Church and signs of hope for the future.

“Perhaps the question we have to grapple with is,” the bishop said, “do I see my life as a gift?” He noted St. John Paul II’s belief that “we are not reduced to our faults and failings, but by the hopes and dreams we have and the good we can do.” Bishop Raica explained to the youth that their faith would be tested, for “many are trying to suppress the reality of Christ today.” The bishop urged them to remain faithful and look to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque, Blessed Carlo Acutis, and St. Jose Sanchez del Rio. “They proclaim that their life has been a gift to the world.”

As the bishop concluded his homily, he asked, “What is God asking of you today? To know Him? To love Him? To serve Him? To live for Him?” Citing his anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, he said, “Only you can answer that question as I had to do some 43 years ago. I don’t regret it one bit. It has been an amazing journey, and without the Eucharist and my closeness to our Lord, none of it would be possible.”

Following Mass, the keynote speaker, Mari Pablo, contributed stories from her young adulthood in which she awakened more fully to the reality of Christ’s loving presence in the Eucharist, moving beyond distrust in God and in herself and recognizing her self-worth as a daughter of God.

After time for small group discussions, lunch, and recreation together, teens heard from Patricia Sandoval. Sandoval shared her experience as a post-abortive mother who sank into depths of despair and addiction, believing herself to be unlovable and unforgivable, before experiencing the merciful love of God and reconciling with her family and with the Church.

Father Jonathan Howell, associate pastor at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Birmingham, concluded the day with an exhortation and special Eucharistic procession. Reflecting on an experience saving a frightened young kitten, Father Howell encouraged the young people to not be afraid to receive the outstretched love of God and to reach out to others with that same love. Accompanied by music leaders Village Lights, he processed with a monstrance through the crowd of young people, bringing the sacramental presence of our Lord close to each one.

To close the special day, after reflecting on the gifts of life and grace from different perspectives, teens were given small gift boxes with paper and pen and asked to write down some small expression of the ways in which they could offer their lives back to Christ. These boxes were left before the altar in the main church as the nuns sang their evening prayers. On the way out, parish groups enjoyed a pizza dinner and a closing concert by Village Lights.

Through the EYC, all were encouraged to remain close to the Lord and to one another, to recognize their lives as gifts, and to recognize the gift God makes of Himself in the life of grace. Sincere thanks to all the priests who shared the Eucharist and made confession available throughout the day and to all the parish leaders who gathered so many young people for such a beautiful day.