Ever ancient, ever new

As ‘Come, Encounter Christ!’ wraps up, Eucharistic ministries reawaken cradle Catholics’ faith

Msgr. Daniel Trapp holds the Eucharist aloft during "Come, Encounter Christ!" at St. Matthew Parish in Detroit in December 2015. Though just two "Come, Encounter Christ!" sessions remain, some parishes have begun to offer similar praise-and-worship ministries, which focus on Eucharistic adoration in a vibrant, worshipful setting. Jonathan Francis|Archdiocese of Detroit

Msgr. Daniel Trapp holds the Eucharist aloft during “Come, Encounter Christ!” at St. Matthew Parish in Detroit in December 2015. Though just two “Come, Encounter Christ!” sessions remain, some parishes have begun to offer similar praise-and-worship ministries, which focus on Eucharistic adoration in a vibrant, worshipful setting.
Jonathan Francis | Archdiocese of Detroit

Sterling Heights — With 2,000-year-old traditions, the same ancient liturgy and the well-rooted practices that have defined Catholicism for millennia, it’s not a phrase you often hear from lifelong Catholics.

Yet for those leaving “Come, Encounter Christ!,” it’s a common refrain:

“I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”

The three-day events, centered around Eucharistic adoration and accentuated by powerful testimonies, preaching, and contemporary music and lighting, have drawn thousands of people and consistently filled parking lots and pews.

But more importantly, archdiocesan leaders say, they’ve filled hearts with an experience of the love of Christ.

“I was preaching one of the ‘Come, Encounter Christ!’ events Downriver, and I had several parishioners come up to me — a number of them elderly, into their 80s — and a man who was serving as an usher, probably there every day, with tears in his eyes said, ‘This is the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had, and I’m a lifelong Catholic,’” said Msgr. Robert McClory, moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Detroit and one of the facilitators of the praise-and-worship missions. “That was just one example, and very encouraging to hear.”

Fr. Tim Birney, director of priestly vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit, preaches during "Come, Encounter Christ!" at St. Ephrem Parish in Sterling Heights.

Fr. Tim Birney, director of priestly vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit, preaches during “Come, Encounter Christ!” at St. Ephrem Parish in Sterling Heights.

As the archdiocese wraps up the missions, hosted by dozens of parishes over the past eight months, and looks ahead to a fall synod on evangelization, Msgr. McClory said the impact has been similar across the board.

“Lives are being changed and hearts are being opened to Jesus,” Msgr. McClory said. “We’ve also been impressed with the number of people who’ve gone to confession during the sessions. In this Year of Mercy, it’s been a very effective ministry in opening people’s hearts to the mercy of Jesus.”

Popularized by the annual Steubenville Youth Conferences at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and other youth-oriented gatherings, such Eucharistic praise-and-worship ministries have gained traction in the Archdiocese of Detroit and elsewhere around the country.

In 2012, Catholic recording artist Matt Maher’s incorporation of Eucharistic adoration into his set during a concert at St. Andrew Parish in Rochester helped inspired the creation of a praise-and-worship ministry, Awaken, in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Spurred on by the success of Awaken, in 2015 the archdiocese borrowed the idea to create a series of missions intended to draw people closer to Christ through the Blessed Sacrament as a way to spiritually prepare the faithful for the upcoming synod.

Though “Come, Encounter Christ!” is wrapping up its schedule, parishes are continuing to express interest in hosting such events on their own, Msgr. McClory said.

In addition to Awaken Ministry, ministries such as “R&R with Jesus” at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in North Branch and “Encounter” at St. Thecla in Clinton Township offer parishioners a similar contemplative atmosphere.

At St. Thecla, each “Encounter” features adoration, recorded or sung music, confessions and teams of prayer ministers who spend time listening and praying with those who need it.

“People really need that encounter moment with Christ. A lot of people didn’t even know that they didn’t have that,” said Susan Gore, parish secretary and one of the coordinators for the two-year-old ministry. “They might go to church on Sunday, but they didn’t have that personal relationship.”

Each event features a speaker, usually an “ordinary parishioner” who gives a personal testimony about how they’ve encountered Jesus, Gore said.

“Everybody has a story, and it’s a moment where you can encounter Christ through the words of somebody else — through music, adoration and being there in the presence of God,” Gore said. “There’s something going on in each and every person’s life. People are just amazed. They come back over and over again.”

More than 300 people attended the first “R&R with Jesus” despite little advertising for the event, said Marie Czelusniak, a volunteer at SS. Peter and Paul Parish.

“Fr. Rich (Treml, pastor of SS. Peter and Paul) walked in, and he was astounded,” Czelusniak said. “He keeps calling it his miracle. From there, every time we’ve had it, our format is pretty much the same and people are more familiar with it.”

The format includes a choir singing contemporary worship hymns, “lots of candles on the main altar” and Eucharistic adoration, usually with a guest speaker.

“It’s not a whole hour and a half teaching or anything; it’s a heartfelt presentation generally on the Eucharist or Divine Mercy,” Czelusniak said. During the worship portion, people are encouraged to use their cellphones to help light the church, she said, and during adoration, a priest processes with the monstrance, pausing to bless parishioners with the Blessed Sacrament.

“R&R with Jesus” has become a regular part of parishioners’ faith lives since it started in 2014, Czelusniak said.

A woman prays with hands lifted during "Come, Encounter Christ!" at St. Ephrem Parish in Sterling Heights on May 2. Photos by Mike Stechschulte|The Michigan Catholic

A woman prays with hands lifted during “Come, Encounter Christ!” at St. Ephrem Parish in Sterling Heights on May 2.
Photos by Mike Stechschulte|The Michigan Catholic

“When we don’t have them, people are really upset,” she said. “And it’s not just our parishioners; they come from all over.”

On May 2-4, Joann Leone attended “Come, Encounter Christ!” for the first time at St. Ephrem Parish in Sterling Heights, which featured music by the liturgical band Oremus and preaching by Fr. Timothy Birney and Msgr. McClory.

The opportunity to contemplate and reflect in such an atmosphere was spiritually rejuvenating and “very uplifting,” Leone said.

“I have a friend who teaches and does this for the youth,” Leone said. “She told me about this and said, ‘If you ever get a chance, don’t pass it up.’”

Msgr. McClory said he is “so grateful” to the parishes and pastors who hosted “Come, Encounter Christ!,” and that the archdiocese is ready to help parishes who wish to start similar ministries on their own.

But even absent that, the power of the Eucharist to transform lives is present in every tabernacle, he said.

“It’s ever ancient, ever new. The Blessed Sacrament is a treasure that Jesus left the Church from Holy Thursday on,” Msgr. McClory said. “We’re experiencing one of the most profound, beautiful mysteries of the faith, and that’s unchanged. What is changed and what is new is that when we are intentional about worshipping our Lord and helping people to appreciate the awesomeness of his Eucharistic presence, that evokes a response.

“If everyone who experienced ‘Come, Encounter Christ!’ incorporates some time before the Blessed Sacrament into their prayer life at some level,” he added, “this diocese is going to just explode in beautiful ways.”


‘Come, Encounter Christ!’

There are two “Come, Encounter Christ!” events remaining before the series concludes next month. St. Anthony Parish in Belleville will host a mission from May 22-24, before the series concludes with an outdoor mission June 15-17 at St. Louise Chapel (part of Immaculate Conception Parish) in Lapeer. All events begin at 7 p.m.

In addition, a series of three consecutive one-day “Come, Encounter Christ!” sessions for high school students is being planned for Nov. 9-11 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Schools will receive more information as the events approach.