INDIANAPOLIS (OSV News) — For Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, the love that teens showed for the Eucharist at Lucas Oil Stadium in November during a night of adoration and the closing Mass at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis was a preview of the National Eucharistic Congress to be held in the same city and stadium July 17-21 next year.
On Friday night of the conference, Nov. 17, as Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Espaillat of New York processed into the stadium with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, thousands of youths fell to their knees in adoration. Bishop Cozzens walked in procession with Bishop Espaillat into the venue that had been turned into a massive place of worship.
The Minnesota prelate, who was the principal celebrant of the conference’s closing Mass the next day, is overseeing the 2024 congress as chairman of the National Eucharistic Congress Inc. It will be the first national Eucharistic gathering in the United States in 83 years.
The congress is the culmination of the three-year National Eucharistic Revival, launched in 2022 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to renew and strengthen Catholics’ understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The revival focused on diocesan leadership in its first year and parish life in its second year, with missionary discipleship as the focus in its final year.
Before the closing liturgy at NCYC, Bishop Cozzens spoke to The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, about how next year’s congress will offer the faithful the same opportunity young people had at NCYC to encounter Christ “through a love of the Eucharist.”
The following interview has been edited for clarity and content.
The Criterion: What were your impressions from being present during the time of adoration in the stadium?
Bishop Cozzens: It was inspiring to be there, especially with the young people. Of course, I was praying for them, but also for the Eucharistic revival and for the Eucharistic congress. There was just a sense of the Lord wanting to continue to bless the young people and our country through a love of the Eucharist.
It was beautiful to be up on the stage praying before the Blessed Sacrament surrounded by 12,000 young people.
The Criterion: The Eucharist has long been at the heart of NCYC. What can the rest of the church in the U.S. learn from the witness of the teens’ encounter with Christ in the Eucharist at this conference?
Bishop Cozzens: It’s part of what we’re trying to do in the Eucharistic revival. Those of us who have been doing youth ministry for the past two decades have seen this reality. Young people love to be with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Many of them actually come to understand the Mass through adoration.
They come to encounter Jesus in his presence in adoration, and then it draws them into the Mass. So, they start to go to Mass more.
It’s a beautiful thing, too, that teens come to know the love of Jesus and want to express their emotion and their devotion toward him. It can have an impact on their whole life. It’s also the reason why we as a church have to be involved with young people. It’s when people are young that they make their most important decisions in their life.
The church has a responsibility to be there to present Christ to them so that, as they’re making those vocational choices and deciding what they’re going to do for the rest of their life, they know Christ and can be a part of it. That’s the beauty of NCYC and other youth events in the church. We can accompany youths at those important moments.
The Criterion: How might what happens at NCYC be a way for Catholics in the U.S. to anticipate what will happen in Indianapolis next July in the National Eucharistic Congress?
Bishop Cozzens: Since I landed in Indianapolis (before NCYC), I was filled with a desire to pray and an enthusiasm for what Indianapolis means for the church right now because of the coming Eucharistic congress. We’re going to have a huge impact on the church here.
These kinds of events can be life-transforming. Look at the event of World Youth Day in Denver (in 1993) and what that did for the church in the United States. So, NCYC is kind of a foretaste of that. It’s why I love coming. This event is a rare opportunity for our young people to have an experience of Christ and his church that they can’t have elsewhere.
The Eucharistic congress is going to be that. It’s going to be a rare opportunity to have an experience of Christ and his church that you can’t have elsewhere and that we haven’t had in the United States in decades. It’s going to be an event centered on the heart of our church, which is the Eucharist, where the church herself in all her cultures and races, her beautiful diversity, gathers together to celebrate this gift that makes us one.
Seeing the power of this event certainly helps me to remember the power of the event that we’re planning.
The Criterion: What can the organizers of the Eucharistic congress learn from NCYC to make it more effective in drawing Catholics from across the country into a deeper relationship with Christ and each other through the Eucharist?
Bishop Cozzens: There are members of our team who are here this weekend. They’re scouting everything and watching everything. NCYC has been great to give us full-access passes for our team so they can learn from what’s happening here and how they do it and what they do. That’s been a huge help.
One of the reasons why we chose Indianapolis is because of the positive experience of NCYC. Even in the bishops’ minds, they’re used to coming here for this kind of an event. They know that this is a good city for events.
We’re significantly larger than NCYC, so we have challenges that they probably don’t have. But there certainly is a lot that we can learn from how they do what they do. We just have to multiply it.
Sean Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.