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‘A mountaintop moment’: How the Eucharistic Congress wants to unify the Church

Editor’s note: When nearly 20,000 young Catholics — mostly students — gathered at SEEK, a massive conference sponsored by campus ministry apostolate FOCUS, in January, The Pillar featured reporting from Catholic student journalist Jack Figge, who served as a ground-level correspondent at the event.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens processes with the Eucharisti during the 2024 SEEK conference. Credit: Jack Figge/Pillar Media.

In fewer than six months, 80,000 Catholics will travel across the U.S. as pilgrims, to fill Indiana’s Lucas Oil Stadium for days of prayer together — or, at least, Tim Glemkowski hopes they will.

Glemkowski is the CEO of the National Eucharistic Revival, a nationwide program to increase devotion and love for the Eucharist across America. Since 2020, Glemkowski and his team have been leading the three-year revival, which launched on June 19, 2022. It began with a year focused on Eucharistic devotion at the diocesan level. 

Now in its second year, the revival’s focus is on individual parishes. Organizers have recruited over 8,000 parish leaders to foster Eucharistic devotion by increasing opportunities for adoration, hosting education seminars, and creating a parish culture centered on the Eucharist. 

The pinnacle, though, arrives this summer, when the revival will culminate in a national pilgrimage that ends with the 10th National Eucharistic Congress, the first one in 83 years.  

The revival is a response to the call from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for a movement within the Church in America to foster increased devotion to the Eucharist. Leaders of the revival say that this three-year program, though, is really intended to be a moment within the broader movement focused on fostering authentic Eucharistic encounters. 

On paper, the plan for the summer seems simple: four Eucharist pilgrimages will launch on May 17. Each one will depart from one corner of the country. Pilgrims will then traverse hundreds of miles and convene in Indianapolis on July 16.  

That gathering will commence the 10th National Eucharistic Congress, to be held in the Luca Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Organizers hope that thousands of Catholics from across the country will travel to Indianapolis for five days of worship and learning about the Eucharist. 

But behind the revival is a logistical nightmare, as organizers attempt to plan one of the largest gatherings of Catholics the United States has seen—a cross-country Eucharistic pilgrimage. 

Even though it's complicated, the organizers are trying to keep in mind why they are hosting the convention: to help others meet the person of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  

To better understand the planning of the congress and pilgrimage, along with the relevance and need for the revival, Pillar correspondent Jack Figge spoke with Tim Glemkowski during the recent FOCUS SEEK conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tim Glemkowski, left, and Sr. Alicia Torres, of the National Eucharistic Revival Executive Team. Credit: Jack Figge/Pillar Media.

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We are in January, and it is about six months out from the National Eucharistic Congress.

Where are things in the planning phase and what's going on behind the scenes right now? 

Yes, I would say this is a big month. We just launched today day passes and weekend passes, which gives people the ability to access the congress more easily if they can't get off work that long, can't stay four nights, or do Indianapolis with kids. It really opens up the congress. At the beginning, we said that we wanted to model the phrase ‘open wide the doors to Christ.’  

A lot of the programming is pretty locked in, so we're going to start releasing more and more of the details. We have already been updating the website a little bit so people can look there. But in terms of speakers, breakouts, and experiences, the bones have been set for about six months. I would say the flesh and meat are going to get put on the bones over the next few months. And then, honestly, it's six months to the congress, but the pilgrimage starts in four months. 

Once that starts, we are in congress season, and then momentum is really going to be building toward it. It's going to come fast, sooner than we all think. 

The pilgrimage is interesting because there are so many things that could happen, so many moments for the Lord to work.

What is the importance of those four pilgrimages as a public witness? 

A pilgrimage of this size has never been done before. I think people do not even fully realize the scale: 68 dioceses, 6500 miles of Eucharistic procession happening, and each day they will be stopping with local parish communities that are doing their own events. We are stopping at prisons, and we are doing service Saturdays where there will be mission experiences in each of the big cities we are stopping in. It is going to be remarkable. 

To me, this pilgrimage is important for two reasons. First, it is a witness. The witness in a procession, to me, is always about the people who see the procession. And it is also a witness to the people who are in the procession. My faith is bolstered when I follow behind Jesus as he goes out into the world.  

But, in my experience, it is more than just witness: I think it's also intercession in cruciform fashion. We are going to pray our way through the entire United States of America with Jesus in the Eucharist. We are going to show this country, the United States of America, that its life, its purpose, its meaning, and its existence derive itself from Jesus and no one else. 

I think that will be  a really powerful sort of moment for the Church: witnessing to the culture, witnessing to people who encounter the pilgrimage, witnessing the people who follow in the pilgrimage, but also interceding. 

God is our only hope. I'm convinced of that, and I think He is on the move. We like to say, if you're a CS Lewis fan, we like to say, ‘in this Eucharistic rival, Aslan is on the move’. The pilgrimage is going to be, in some ways, the most profound public witness to that fact. 

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The National Eucharistic Congress seems like it is marketed and oriented toward younger people.

How is the congress going to attract and welcome all people, as the Holy Father has often called on us to do? 

What's beautiful about a lot of our efforts for the young Church in ministry over the last 40 years is that they really set the gold standard for how ministry across the Church should be. Everything we have seen here this week at SEEK is stuff that would be really compelling to any age group.

We were actually blessed to have one of the people who kind of crafted SEEK as an experienced lead for our event planning for the first six months, which helped us frame things out. 

There's a lot of the best of these worlds that we're able to bring in terms of creating what these events do well, which is they create evangelistic moments, moments where people can encounter the Church at large and can sort of recognize the breadth of the Church beyond my local parish, my local high school, or whatever. 

But here they can also encounter Christ personally in a really powerful way that people often point to often as really life-changing. What's unique about the congress is that this is the Church's moment. The United States bishops are calling the entire Church together. 

Certainly, demographically, you are going to see a broader swath of the Church from different ages, different people and groups, and everything. For us, this is not a moment in an apostolate’s life; it's the Church's moment of renewal.  

Everyone coming to Indianapolis is coming for their own encounter with Christ but also to stand in proxy for the entire Church across the United States, to ask for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the entire country. 

This is a moment of conversion for the Church in the United States; it is not just one group's point to connect with their community. In that sense, that really informs the planning for us so that we can really make this as transformative and a conversion-engine-oriented moment as possible, but also to really make sure we speak to the entire Church across the United States as much as possible.

Eighty thousand people are expected to attend the congress, but there are so many more Catholics in the United States.

What is the National Eucharistic Congress doing to make the congress more accessible to all Catholics across the United States? 

The first thing people have to remember is that the congress is the moment within the movement. The movement of the Eucharist revival has already been pushing this mission of a rekindled relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. We are halfway through the parish year right now, with over 8,000 parish point persons. 

There are about 15,000 parishes in the United States, so over half of them have actually assigned a point person to work with our team to implement the work of the Eucharistic revival and its four pillars in their parish context.

The Congress is a mountaintop moment in the midst of that entire journey, but by no means is it the exhaustive effort of the US bishops with respect to the Eucharistic Revival. It's one of the reasons the pilgrimage became such a compelling idea. The pilgrimage is going to go out to hundreds of thousands of people in all of these other parishes who are going to help people connect to this moment in a particular way. 

On the ground at the Congress, we are going to have EWTN and Relevant Radio streaming content the entire time. Other media partners are going to be helping people tune in and engage with sessions and have a digital experience of the Congress.  

People who want to connect with the Congress are going to be absolutely able to do so, and then after the Congress, they are going to continue to be able to access it through the digital paths. 

There are 70 million Catholics in the United States, and about 20% of them attend Mass every week. Our target audience is the Catholics who attend Mass every week. 

The goal of the National Eucharistic Congress is not necessarily to move the needle on unbelief in the Eucharist; that's not our target market or our audience. Our target audience is Catholics who want to go out on a mission to be part of the renewal of the Church that is so desperately needed in their local areas. There are plans to send them from the congress to renew the Church wherever they go. 

Sometimes people get caught up in the stats that 30% believe in the Eucharist, and 80,000 are coming to congress so what is it doing? Most of the people who attend the congress are going to believe in Jesus in the Eucharist, and they're going to come for a personal experience of revival. 

One thing that you have mentioned is the partnerships being formed between the revival, the congress, and other Catholic organizations.

What’s the significance of those external partnerships? 

Everyone says that this is a bishops’ initiative, and it is, but it's actually this beautiful example of how the Church is supposed to operate. The bishops, hearing from the Lord in their hierarchical teaching prophetic functions of the Church, introduce and inaugurate a vision for the Church. They heard, ‘We need to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist in order to receive the new life He wants to give to the Church right now.’ They, the bishops, mobilized the Church around this initiative, and then everyone else springs into action and actually implements it on the ground across the Church in the United States. 

We have these apostolates, especially our 15 or so core apostolate sponsor partners who have really stepped forward and committed to supporting this financially with resources and getting the word out. The reason we have 8,000 parish point persons is because the Augustine Institute and all these other different partners helped us get the word out. 

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That's what the New Evangelization should look like: hierarchy and apostolates, the charismatic and institutional functions of the Church operating together. If we do that, we can actually get some work done, we can actually create some progress.  

What I hope this becomes is a model for how the Church can work together. The task of the Church right now is the question of reform and renewal broadly considered, such as how do we, as a Church, help the means of the Church more more adequately lead to its end, which is all of us becoming saints and helping other people become saints. 

We hear a lot about two ‘factions’ in the Church, the more traditionalist wing and the more progressive, and how they're each becoming their own movement.

How is the National Eucharistic Congress trying to unify the Church in this moment of division?

My experience has actually been that bishops, dioceses, apostolates, movements, or orders on sort of both sides of that divide are surprisingly working with events like the revival and the Synod on Synodality.

Before this, I worked for the Archdiocese of Denver, and my last job before coming to this job was to run the diocesan phase for the Synod on Synodality. What we did is include, with each listening session that happened in the parish, the questions that were read out and introduced, and then everyone would go to adoration for 30 minutes, in order to not just listen to their own thoughts and ideas of what the Church should do but to say to the Lord, ‘What are you doing and how can we get behind it?’ And so to me, that's like a truly synodal experience.  

It is less about saying, What are my opinions? Certainly, we can reflect on our own concrete experiences of the Church and sort of see how that arises or how that lends itself to a perspective on what the Church is missing. 

The question behind both the Synod on Synodality and the Eucharistic revival is the core question of how does the Church renew itself? 

The thing we have  been sent to do for all of history is to introduce everyone to the greatest news the world has ever heard, which they think they are tired of, which is that Jesus Christ is the answer to every question and longing of the human heart. And that the death and resurrection secured the freedom of each person, at every time and in every place. 

The reality is that both of these initiatives are attempting to address the question of how does the Church more adequately lend herself to addressing that end. The fact that we as a Church are getting lost in the division and in the camps and holding up and waving different banners and flags instead of really focusing on that core question is really disappointing. 

This is God's Church. This isn't my Church. We are invited into a mission that the Father has: to bring all of his children back into relationship with Him. 

If the Church is in need of reform and renewal, which I think she is, the Father has more to say about that than I do. What I think the Father has revealed is that one of the ways He's bringing that renewal is through a rekindled relationship with Him by the Eucharist. 

A lot of people don't know this, but the Eucharistic revival started with listening sessions. It was an incredibly synodal experience. I think we risk flattening either initiative when we just try to make it about different camps. We've been trying to be very unifying and very broad in how we talk about the need for Eucharistic revival so that it is not just for the personal affectation of several people or one camp in the Church, but it's really for everyone. 

I think the division between the two initiatives is a product sort of a media narrative than it actually is an on-the-ground, lived reality. I think in many places, the two are working together, more than working separately. 

What are you personally hoping for from the National Eucharistic Revival? 

I have discovered in my own life that Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is everything. When I was 18 years old, I met a person in the Eucharist—not just an idea or a concept—and it changed my life forever. 

There are far too few Catholics — even if they have a notional awareness of the doctrine of the Church and learned it in religious education programs — who actually know the lived reality and the joy that comes with encountering the Lord in the Eucharist. 

Mother Teresa said this to her sisters. She wrote them a letter one time, and she said, “I fear that too few of you ever really come to know Jesus as a person." She said this to her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, and if that's true of them, how much more is that true of Catholics in the pews? 

It's my conviction that having a lived relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist that transforms us is not just the answer to every question and longing of our hearts; it should be synonymous with being Catholic. 

If the numbers of Catholics who believe in the doctrine are 30%, or whatever they are, then the percentage of Catholics who actually have that lived relationship is even fewer. 

To me, the number of people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ should be 100%. 

My hope would be that we refuse to be comfortable ever again with the idea that, as a Church, an individual would not be aware of and would not have the opportunity to experience what it means for Jesus in the Eucharist to become a person—not just an idea but a person you can have a relationship with.

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