Jeanette De Melo is the Register’s editor in chief and co-host of EWTN Radio’s Register Radio. From 2005 to 2012, she was the communications director for the Archdiocese of Denver. Previously, she was the associate communications director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. She holds a licentiate degree from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, Italy, and a bachelor’s degree from Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, where in 2018 she also received an honorary doctorate. She lives in the greater New Orleans area with her husband and three children.
As the U.S. bishops discuss drafting a formal statement on the Eucharist, David Spesia, Executive Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expounds upon the need to strengthen our understanding of the Real Presence.
The U.S. bishops are gathering for their spring meeting, and a key item on their agenda is the Holy Eucharist. While the Bishops will consider drafting a formal statement on the Eucharist in the life of the Church, they will also be hearing about a proposed plan for a Eucharistic revival to help deepen the understanding and love of the Real Presence of the Eucharist among the faithful. David Spesia, Executive Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave the Register a preview of this crucial initiative in a June 9 interview for Register Radio. The transcript adapted for print follows.
Jeanette De Melo: So we’ve been focusing a lot on the Eucharist. And of course, there’s been quite a bit of talk about Joe Biden’s reception of communion despite his support for abortion and other issues at odds with Catholic teaching. And this has been the center of the debate over worthy reception of the Eucharist. Yet there’s really a broader reality that Catholics need to face. Right, Matthew? I mean, we know from polls that EWTN News has commissioned as well as Pew Research polls that many Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence.
Matthew Bunson: Well, that’s absolutely right. In our Real Clear Opinion Research poll, we found that barely 50% of Catholics actually believed in the Real Presence. The one saving help in that is the more you go to Mass our poll found, the more likely you are to believe in the Real Presence, that number rises to 69%. But that’s still from a Catholic standpoint, woefully low.
De Melo: So we have a huge opportunity given this reality. It’s really high time to focus on evangelization and catechesis on the Eucharist for all Catholics, not simply to talk about public officials and Holy Communion, which has been very heatedly debated recently. So, with this in mind, we have the U.S. bishops making an effort at evangelization, an effort to focus their strategic plan, in part, on the Eucharist. And they’ve called it a Eucharistic Revival. David Spesia has joined us on Register Radio. He is the Executive Director of Evangelization and Catechesis Office for the USCCB.
David, I learned of the Eucharistic revival plans this week, when I saw an announcement about the appointment of Father Jorge Torres, who is going to be a specialist helping your office and the bishops in implementing what you’ve called a multi-year national Eucharistic Revival. But I hear this initiative has actually been in the works for a while. What is this National Eucharistic Revival?
David Spesia: Yes. We’re very excited about this development. Providentially it’s something that’s been in the works since before the pandemic, back in late 2019. The chairman of our committee at the time was Bishop Robert Barron, and he raised concern about some of the data that you just referred to about belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And a number of other committee chairmen at the bishops’ conference, came forward and said, we really need to do something together on this. So, from the start, there has been a bishops’ advisory group meeting. They’ve had a number of meetings leading up to the pandemic, when suddenly then our eyes were really open to kind of different layers of this issue and deep hunger for the Blessed Sacrament. But then also arose the concern about whether people will return to Mass, and in this context the process has been moving forward. The bishops in their regional meetings at this week’s virtual assembly will be discussing some details about the proposal. And then Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul/Minneapolis and our current chairman of the Evangelization and Catechesis committee will deliver a presentation on Friday, June 18, to the general assembly, updating the full body of bishops.
De Melo: I want to point out that you said the plans began before the pandemic. That also means they began before Joe Biden was elected president so this isn’t simply directed at politicians. And I think that’s really an important distinction we need to make. This is a problem we have as a Church, and of course, not just in our country. But it’s a problem about belief. So, I was very, very pleased to hear about this initiative, and that it really has been in the works for a while. Can you share with us a few more details about it?
Spesia: Yes, absolutely. So, the current plan involves, as you mentioned, multi-year process. And really what we’re talking about is more of a movement. It’s a movement of Catholics to reclaim our faith personally, each day myself, am I open to Christ coming to me, and being present with me and most specially in the Blessed Sacrament. But this movement then would be a process that would begin with some diocesan renewal in year 1, parish renewal in year 2, and Bishop Cozzens is going to lay out a number of details on this diocesan parish revival. But the one thing that I’ll mention, I think it fits with what you just spoke about, is the focus on the truth of the teaching of our faith, the beauty of our worship and devotions, and then the goodness of a Eucharistic life. That is really a life of missionary service being sent out into the world to reach those who are most needs sent out to invite those brothers and sisters who might be away or those who’ve never met the Lord yet.
Bunson: What plans specifically are you thinking about in terms of helping people understand the Real Presence better? Because I mean, we’ve talked about the decline in polling, the number of people who believe but also the impact that has on Catholics’ understanding of where we are in respect to today’s culture?
Spesia: Yes, it’s a great question. I mean, one of the things that has come up in our planning process in our visioning is really to come back to the basic, charismatic proclamation, and really this initial core message of the fate, that Jesus does love me that he gave his life for me and for the life of the world, that he’s living, he’s risen from the dead, and that he’s promised to be with us always, and especially in the gift of the Eucharist. So, this awareness, just that people need to have their hearts open to that reality, to have a desire, then, to learn more about the actual teaching. And to dive into the study and the resources. I mean, we live in the age of resources, all these wonderful apostolates have created incredible materials on the teachings of the saints. And yet, we noticed this disconnect that people don’t want to know more about the faith until they know the Lord. They’ve had that personal encounter, that opens them so. So that’s really one of the important elements and we do have a number of partners who are lined up and ready and willing and offering their resources, their time, talent or treasure, to help us share that the truth of the fate. So in a sense, this is going to be a Bishop led initiative, with a lot of grassroots involvement and participation with contributions.
De Melo: Some of those partners that I’ve noticed are the Knights of Columbus, the McGrath Institute For Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, Augustine Institute in Denver, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, Our Sunday Visitor. There are all sorts of groups that are involved here. FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), Word on Fire. I mean, there’s a great list, and probably as the news gets out, there’ll be many more apostolates that want to help join in this effort, because everybody who’s already very involved in the Church, they already recognize that the Eucharist is the source and the summit of our Catholic life. And many people I think grieve right that that others don’t know that. Others that even sometimes attend Mass don’t know that fully. And certainly public officials sometimes don’t realize either exactly what’s at issue here. And so there’s just a lot of growth all around that that seems to need to happen right now.
You said something, David, that I love the way you said it. I missed the first line exactly, but something about, we need to communicate the truth of the reality of faith. The beauty of the devotion and the goodness of the Eucharistic life and the Catholic Life. That’s exactly right. It seems to me that’s why you have so many committees and groups involved. This isn’t simply about doctrine and knowing teaching. It’s really about an encounter. And that’s what you’ve described so very beautifully.
Spesia: Oh, well, thanks. And it really is working on all those levels. And that’s why I mean, just in terms of how the Bishops conference works, the business is taken care of by these various committees. But we’re excited to say that we have 10 different committees that have stepped forward with committee chairman who are involved in saying this needs to be a multi-committee initiative. It’s not just a matter of Evangelization Catechesis, I mean, that the committee on Evangelization Catechesis, does have the kind of lead role at this point. But it’s a multi-layer, multi-year process. The other thing that I’ll mention, because you’d asked you about the plan was, there’s a potential for year three, national moment, a national event, that it’s something that the bishops need to discuss further. Bishop Cozzens will be laying out some details about this on June 18. And eventually, they would have to vote on this at their November meeting. But that that potential event would also be an opportunity to have us on pilgrimage together, headed towards something that that really, I think, could unite people, as you said, around the Eucharist as the source and the summit of the Christian life.
De Melo: Before we conclude this segment, I wanted to ask a specific question about Father Jorge Torres. He’s been chosen as a specialist to help with this initiative. Can you just give us briefly an understanding of why Father Jorge was chosen? What makes him the leader of this initiative or the specialist in this regard?
Spesia: Providentially, we had a vacant position through the pandemic and his name emerged as someone who’s been very involved in vocation work in his home Diocese of Orlando. He’s someone who’s very involved, personally, with a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and someone whose name just came to the forefront as a person who could be in a lot of ways the face of some of the initiatives of what that we’re putting forward, particularly with regard to Eucharistic missionary priests, which is one idea that’s been given some length of thought, to have a team that could be available to diocese in that first year of the plan. And I think Father Jorge will be a perfect addition to help spearhead that.
De Melo: As well as his bilingual skills, I’m sure. David Spesia from the US Bishops Conference, Office of Catechesis and Evangelization. Thank you so much for joining us here on Register Radio.
Spesia: Thank you so much for having me. God Bless.