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City of the Eucharist

Updated: May 17

Rekindling devotion in the heart of America

On Saturday, May 4, thousands of Catholics gathered in downtown Kansas City, Missouri to reaffirm their devotion to the Real Presence — the largest such assembly the city had seen in 83 years.

For more than five hours on a blustery, unseasonably cold spring evening, they converged on the north lawn of the Liberty Memorial, the city's de facto public square, to take part in Behold KC, a historic Eucharistic congress sponsored by Missouri's Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

From both sides of the state line, attendees joined together to publicly profess their faith, centering their celebration on its source and summit: Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist — body, blood, soul and divinity.

Reflection, Communion, Adoration

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker opened Saturday's event.

"It's a great day anytime we gather to adore our Eucharistic Lord, and I am thankful to see so many of you here today to do just that," Butker said. "If we're being honest, the only reason I've been asked to speak here today is because I'm known for my ability to kick a funny-shaped ball between two yellow posts. That ability has allowed me to be a part of some thrilling times here in Kansas City."

"But with all of this said, the game is not the center of my life," he noted. Rather, "it is Jesus Christ that is the most important part of my life, and it is my love for Him that drives me to be the best I can in all areas of my life: as a husband, as a father — and yes, even as a kicker."

Butker was followed by composer and event emcee Steve Angrisano, as well as a number of area Catholics who recounted the impact that Eucharistic devotion has had on their lives. Also featured was an address by several Protestant pastors, who voiced affinity with their Catholic brethren and prayed that God would shower His grace upon the city.

Meanwhile, throngs flocked to confession along the perimeter of the grounds where, for hours, dozens of priests ministered to penitents seeking reconciliation with God.

As the sun began to set, nuns from various orders took to the podium to lead participants in the rosary. With thousands praying in unison, the ancestral devotion roared to life, reverberating off the walls of nearby buildings and into the streets below.

Following the rosary, it was time for Mass. Flanked by members of the Knights of Columbus, a vast column of diocesan clerics — scores of them — ascended the steps of the Liberty Memorial to the altar atop its north terrace. Crowning the display was the arrival of Behold KC's chief architects, Bp. James V. Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Abp. Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City.

In his homily, Abp. Naumann thanked Bp. Johnston for spearheading the event, and reinforced the theological veracity of the Real Presence; Bp. Johnston, in turn, led the Prayer of Consecration. Afterward, the bishops distributed communion to the faithful, assisted by myriad priests; like the confession lines earlier in the evening, the queues for communion were long, but they moved quickly, with the Eucharist offered at various points throughout the grounds.

Mass transitioned seamlessly into an hour of Adoration. With the Blessed Sacrament enthroned in a majestic golden monstrance, Bp. Johnston led a Eucharistic procession along the perimeter of the assembly. Following this, he returned to the terrace to reinstall the Eucharist atop the altar. Kneeling there before Our Lord, he was joined by Abp. Naumann; and together the two prelates led participants in Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

For Such a Time as This

Behold KC was inspired by the discovery of an old photograph in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan archives.

Captured in the black-and-white image are thousands of faithful attending a widely-forgotten Eucharistic gathering on the north lawn of the Liberty Memorial (today, officially, the National World War I Museum and Memorial) — a monument erected by the citizens of Kansas City to commemorate the tragedy of the First World War. Dated May 4, 1941, the photograph itself serves as a memorial of sorts, as it depicts Catholics in America's heartland seeking solace in the Eucharist just seven months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor hurled the United States into World War II.

Once unearthed, the image was forwarded to Bp. Johnston, who then shared it with Abp. Naumann. With an eye to furthering the National Eucharistic Revival — the US bishops' three-year initiative to reinvigorate belief in the Real Presence — they set about strategizing how to organize a new Eucharistic assembly for the faithful of Missouri and Kansas.

In the lead-up to Behold KC, Bp. Johnston reflected on the significance of its precursor, held 83 years earlier:

"This event was inspired by our ancestors, who on May 4, 1941 held a similar event in the same place on the occasion of the first Eucharistic Congress in Kansas City. That generation, perhaps intuitively, knew that it would need to turn to God on the brink of a terrible world war. It's my hope that our generation will also turn our gaze to Jesus Christ, who remains the world's only hope and who gives himself to us completely for our life and our salvation." 

"Kansas City is known as the 'City of Fountains'," Bp. Johnston noted, "During this upcoming year ... let us address any indifference that might have crept into our worship, seek out those who have been absent from our assembly and pray for a profound renewal of Eucharistic faith for all, that every soul may draw from 'the fountain from which all power flows.'" 

In similar fashion, Abp. Naumann exhorted area Catholics to take part in Saturday's event by pointing to history to underscore the power that public professions of faith command:

"In 1979, when Pope John Paul II made his first pastoral visit to Poland, more than a million people crowded into Warsaw's Victory Square for the celebration of the Mass. Still under the rule of atheistic communism, more than a million people began to chant: 'We want God!' This was the beginning of the collapse of communism in Poland and the end of the so-called Iron curtain that kept so many enslaved to godless regimes.
On May 4, we will have the opportunity to make a powerful public statement that God is at the center of our lives, that we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that we love the gift of our Catholic faith and that we believe and treasure the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
In a culture and a society that in so many ways seems to be turning away from God, we have the opportunity to proclaim that Kansas City wants God, loves God and worships God."

The Final Analysis

From across the 48 counties represented by their respective dioceses, Missouri and Kansas Catholics answered the bishops' call. Trekking to Kansas City in the thousands, they rededicated themselves to the Blessed Sacrament and reaffirmed their love of God.

And the results were palpable. As Behold KC drew to a close on Saturday, a discernible joy had begun to permeate the crowd. Everywhere, people were worshipping Christ in the Eucharist — men and women; young and old; some kneeling, with hands clasped; others standing, arms aloft. Together, they punctuated the event's final moments with a collective cheer, applauding in thanksgiving for the graces afforded them that night. With that, the City of Fountains seemed to assume a new mantle: City of the Eucharist.

Speaking with a handful of attendees afterward, I was struck by how deeply Behold KC had impacted them.

"My overall impression was amazement," said Barbie Farnan, a parishioner at St. Therese of the Little Flower in Kansas City, Missouri. "I used to work at the Liberty Memorial. I have attended the Royals' and Chiefs' victory parades that passed by it. I have walked that lawn countless times, and standing in the middle of it tonight and looking at the crowd all around me and at the long lines to confession, I was simply awestruck. Nothing that I've been involved with at the Liberty Memorial in the past can compare to what I saw tonight."

Mary Jo Wynne, who attends Mass at both St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in Westwood, Kansas, and Christ the King in Kansas City, Missouri, was equally effusive.

"I haven't been to anything this inspiring for 50 years," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "I got quite emotional seeing all those priests from both sides of the state line processing toward the altar at the beginning of Mass, and I was very eager for the Transubstantiation to take place."

"I also noticed that among the thousands of people here, there was so much happiness," she observed. "Everyone is fighting their own battles, of course, but tonight it seemed like those had melted away — like God was renewing us and filling us with His peace."

"This was an occasion like no other," she added. "It was so beautiful."

Likewise, Brother Harold Naudet, CSC, visiting from Austin, TX, was exuberant in his assessment.

"I was awed," he said. "Tonight, thousands of Kansas Citians were fed spiritually by the bishops and priests of the two dioceses in a banquet that began two thousand years ago at the Last Supper. Despite the cold, the thousands stayed — they braved the winds and stayed, kneeling in Adoration."

"Adoration," he noted, "was the name and summation of the whole night."

Elaborating further, the three observed that the United States, now largely post-Christian, is destabilizing, and in desperate need of the transformative power of the Eucharist.

"This sort of event is greatly needed," said Farnan. "We see in the nightly news how sad our world is and how confusing life has become. America needs prayer and community now more than ever. We need Jesus. We need the country and the whole world to know that there is still so much good and that there is so much love all around us. We just need to reach out and take the hand of someone near us and move forward together."

"The world is falling apart," Wynne lamented. "Our America is falling apart. Nothing is as it once was. It's going to take a supernatural intervention from God to get us back on track, because it's not going to happen, humanly. But prayer always works. Eucharistic devotion needs to be encouraged, and tonight is exactly the sort of thing that can help that."

"The Church is suffering, and society is in great spiritual decline," agreed Br. Naudet. "We must combat this with the rosary and with Eucharistic prayer — especially public Eucharistic prayer like we experienced tonight, which will generate desperately-needed graces for conversion and healing."

The trio voiced a strong desire for more Eucharistic assemblies, in Kansas City and across the country. By the very nature of its success, Behold KC — billed as a "once-in-a-generation event" — left them wanting more.

"I would love to see this happen every year. I think it would benefit our city and our nation tremendously." said Farnan.

"It would be absolutely marvelous to make this an annual event," agreed Wynne. "It made me proud to be a Catholic. It made me very grateful that I believe in the Holy Eucharist as the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. If we were to have it again, I would tell everyone that I could: Don't miss the graces that God has waiting for you at this event — go!"

Brother Naudet concurred: "It was the experience of a lifetime for the thousands of us present, but it should not be once in a lifetime that we have such an experience of the glory of the Eucharist. Tonight, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist was adored by His own Body, the Church; and God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — was here, in maximum power. We need more of this — much, much more."

I closed my conversation with the three by asking if they had any final words for Bp. Johnston, Abp. Naumann and the army of organizers who helped bring Behold KC to fruition.

"Thank you!" Farnan exclaimed. "Thank you for doing this for our city. Thank you for being great examples and leaders for other cities to follow!"

"Eternal gratitude to our bishops, our priests and religious, and all those who made tonight possible," seconded Wynne. "Blessed are they, and blessed are those who attended. I'm so grateful that God gave me this opportunity."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Br. Naudet echoed, his voice filling with emotion. "This wasn't just a human production — it was a divine happening."

After a moment's pause, the 96-year-old broke into a smile, adding: "I hope I'm here for the next one."

Writer, editor and producer Stephen Wynne has spent the past seven years covering, from a Catholic perspective, the latest developments in the Church, the nation and the world. Prior to his work in journalism, he spent eight years co-authoring “Repairing the Breach,” a book examining the war of worldviews between Christianity and Darwinism. A Show-Me State native, he holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University and an Executive MBA from the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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Wonderful. Outstanding. It is time. We need these now for our nation and the world.

See, USCCB, it doesn't take a 'program' costing millions of dollars. A simple and powerful return to the Blessed Sacrament; the Holy Spirit will provide what the money cannot.


May 07

 "This wasn't just a human production — it was a divine happening."

Becomes a lifelong memory when one can even sense the presence of the Trinity. How blessed were they ? They will never know how this forever changed their lives until they meet Our Lord on the other side. Hopefully other cities take notice and follow their example.

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