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Text of Cardinal Gregory’s keynote address at African National Eucharistic Congress

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory gives his keynote address at the African National Eucharistic Congress on July 22, 2023 at The Catholic University of America. (Photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann/The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington)

(The following is the text of Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s July 22, 2023 keynote address to the African National Eucharistic Congress held on the campus of The Catholic University of America.)

It is my great privilege and honor to welcome you to the Archdiocese of Washington! It is a tremendous joy to have you here as we celebrate the Eucharist – Christ’s gift to all of us! In a special way, I greet my brother bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, all of those in consecrated life, and distinguished guests, who have taken time out of their extremely busy schedules to be with us. The Church of Washington is delighted to host the Fourth African National Eucharistic Congress, especially during this time when, as the Church in the United States, we have turned our attention to an effort that we call Eucharistic Revival which intends to renew and deepen our relationship with Christ and each other through the Eucharist.

The theme for this year’s Congress is taken from the Gospel of John, “That they may all be one.” This theme is particularly relevant to our modern-day lives, as our society and world face numerous armed conflicts and so many types of violence, racism and a general lack of civility that seems to be pervade every aspect of living – including in our politics, businesses, and everyday interactions. Christ calls us – He demands – that we, as His followers, His believers, and His disciples, be one. We are to be united in order to love and serve Him in bringing about the kingdom of God here on Earth. We are to remember that Christ is our unity – He is the way, He is the truth, and He is our life. In this passage from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus praying to the Father. He is interceding and petitioning the Father on our behalf. As Jesus is concluding His earthly ministry and is ready to return to the Father, he asks the Father to not only help the disciples persevere in their faith and ministry, but to also inspire future disciples who will proclaim the Gospel. 

Guess what – we are those future disciples! It is with your deep faith and Eucharistic devotion as expressed in each one of the beautiful cultures found among the nations of Africa, and throughout the African diaspora that you are the current and future disciples that Jesus prayed for to continue sharing His good news in our own time in our own way.

The great nations and cultures of Africa have so many treasures to contribute to the life of the universal Church. Your lands are fertile territories of evangelization now building upon the missionary zeal of earlier disciples who shared the faith with you and in so many situations today are receiving the gifts of the sons and daughters once the recipients of faith efforts and now the conveyors of that same faith grown rich in African lands to many other places around the globe. 

In today’s Scripture passage, Jesus is calling us to be one family of faith, responding to the cries of those in need, those that we encounter every day. Working together as one family can have its very good times and certainly also times of challenge. We have all lived enough years to know that unity is rarely easy. You know this all too well! It would probably be easiest to simply stay within the familiar – where we find security and the comfort of our own friends, family and customs. 

However, the path of unity is what Christ calls us to in the Eucharist. We celebrate the Eucharist being our very answer and reason to come together in our charisms and vocations. We will not find our way to truth without focusing on the one who is the Truth in the Eucharist. 

In the Eucharist, we respond to Christ’s invitation to us to be one with Him in receiving Holy Communion. The One who has redeemed the world – who has redeemed us – invites us to experience Him fully alive and personally each time we receive Him in the Eucharist. None of us is worthy of receiving this great gift. However, this is the great mystery that brings us together as one in joy, healing and peace in our restless world. We are desperately crying out for peace, equality and understanding that we know can only be found in the one who is the giver of all life and peace, Christ Jesus.

As we sincerely walk this path of unity and Eucharistic encounter together, we quickly see our interconnectedness as brothers and sisters in the Lord – each worthy of respect – despite any differences of opinion, cultural values and faith devotional practices. This respect compels us to love one another as Christ loves us. It obliges us to work for peace and justice for every member of our human family.

If we are to achieve lasting unity and truly be one, we surely need sincere and productive dialogue, willing accompaniment, and love – built on the spiritual foundation of unity for all Catholics – the Eucharist.

For it is in receiving Christ’s Body and Blood that we are remade into His image and likeness and we partake in his divine nature. This Eucharistic encounter is what unites us. It is when we receive the Eucharist that we are nourished and strengthened for difficult dialogue and long-term accompaniment. Think about it – we are a beautiful reflection of our global community! No matter our language, liturgical style or cultural expressions at Mass, the foundational element of the Eucharist at Mass unites us as Catholics around the world! What an incredible gift that the Lord Jesus has given us in the Eucharist!

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival project, which includes an in-person conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, next year in 2024 and to which you are all invited, seeks both to deepen our belief as Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and help us learn more about what our belief requires of us. I hope to see every one of you there.

When we focus our lives on the Eucharist, we essentially agree to respond to our world in charitable ways that will bring about necessary just changes in every nation and among all peoples. The Eucharist is not only for us who receive it – it is to be shared, and therefore, received by those who have yet to know the risen Christ in any way. As witnesses to the loving grace and truth of our Lord, we are to be modern-day prophets participating in bringing the healing power of Christ to our society and especially to those who are often pushed aside to the peripheries.

Are we following the example Jesus gave us to handle the challenges and joys of our ministries, communities, and families? We must stay in prayer about how we can demonstrate the grace, mercy, peace and love of Christ we undeservedly experience with those we encounter each day. 

Every month, Pope Francis shares with us a special prayer intention. During this month of July, Pope Francis shares with us his monthly prayer intention, which is for all to have a Eucharistic life. How wonderful is this that the Holy Father’s prayer is for us to place the Eucharist at the very center of our lives! Why? Because Jesus came to show us how to love as He loves – perfectly. The Eucharist at the center of our lives transforms us to demonstrate His love and share the Gospel in every one of our encounters with our brothers and sisters. 

We are responsible for one another, our community, and this planet that we share. Demonstrating love is more than verbalizing our heartfelt intention – it is walking together through daily life and all it can bring. 

We live in a time – as it was in every previous generation – where it is quite popular to try to anticipate or know the future somehow – whether through social or traditional customs. However, we are anchored in a different kind of reassurance of our future and our present. As we face various obstacles in our lives, with the Eucharist as our center, as Pope Francis encourages us, we choose to focus on the living Lord whose Real Presence changes us, our relationships, and our perspectives and all for the better. We must prioritize the Eucharist – sitting often in silent prayer in Adoration before the Lord who freely offers us the Gift of Himself in the Eucharist. 

Jesus lovingly draws us to the sacred table and reminds us each time we receive the Eucharist at Mass, whether reverently on our tongue or in our hand, that He is with us. We are not alone. What a blessed and comforting reminder that we all need. Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is with us, and He is coming again. As a family of faith, this is exciting for us and motivates us to keep going when we are physically tired, discouraged or losing hope.

Our focus on the Eucharist is a consistent reminder of Jesus’s promise to us, as we hear the priest say, “do this in memory of me.” The Eucharistic celebration is an encounter with the Lord that brings us together as one around His table in communion with one another for the purpose of working together until He comes again in glory. Christ offers us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist to share with all those we meet as we live Jesus’s example of humble, selfless lives constantly treating people with kindness and care. Jesus showed us in His earthly journey how to live well our human life. This is exactly what the Eucharist allows us to do – to be truly engaged and curious in our daily living with the power to resist worldly voices that aim to seduce us with temptations that divide us and draw us away from Him.

With the Eucharist at the center of our lives, we find the source of revitalized energy to give the gift of our time and ourselves to one another with much-needed patience. This is the path to unity and peace that we crave. When we are fed by the Holy Eucharist and are then sharing the love of Christ in our world, we will witness peace in the presence of chaos, thanks to the real presence of the very Prince of Peace, who offers the gift of His peace for all the world. Catholic doctrine unequivocal instructs us to believe that Christ is truly present – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – in the Eucharist. It is this profound truth that moves us to respond in so many generous ways. We must be willing to leave our comfort zones and open ourselves, our understanding, and devotion to Christ Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist at the center of our lives will open our hearts to God’s transformative, healing love to be shared with all of our brothers and sisters who need us. 

You are doing this throughout the world. You are devotedly participating in genuine spiritual encounters and serving as Christ’s hands in so many of our worldwide communities in your ministries. Thank you for all you are doing for our people and our Church – thank you for who you are. We will continue to hold you in prayer as you are emboldened by the holy Eucharist to continue your loving and dedicated service.

May each of us recommit ourselves to responding to the call of Christ to us in the Eucharist and to center our lives on his Real Presence. With renewed reverence for the gift of the Eucharist, may God continue to guide us on our path to unity – to be one as a family of faith always in Him. Amen.