As the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo continues its journey on its Road to Renewal, some parish families are renewing and restoring the connection to the most sacred and important element of Catholic living: the Eucharist.
The Road to Renewal program is offering “Life in the Eucharist,” a five-part retreat which serves as a means to bring the faithful closer to Jesus Christ, and to each other, by exploring the mystery of the Eucharist.
“What it’s designed to do is reawaken the person’s love and understanding of the Eucharist. And what’s been exciting is it’s been the first real family activity we’ve done, where the committee was members of the six parishes in our family, and was advertised as such,” said Msgr. Richard Siepka, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle in Cheektowaga and moderator of the group of six neighboring parishes currently known as Family #9.
St. Philip’s recently completed the five-week program, which focuses on five themes all centered around God’s love through Jesus Christ: Nourishment, Reconciliation, Transformation, Abiding Presence, and Mission.
Others retreats got underway earlier this month. Parish Family #10 is hosting sessions among its members: Immaculate Conception Church in Ransomville, St. Brendan on the Lake in Wilson, St. John the Baptist in Lockport, and All Saints in Lockport. Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and Diocesan Shrine concluded the series in early October.
Sharon Pikul, who coordinated the retreat at St. Philip the Apostle, estimates 50 to 60 people attended the event weekly. She spoke to WNY Catholic on the eve of the program’s final evening.
“One of the things that people have said to me during the course of the week is that this was a prayerful experience. They appreciated the opportunity to be able to hear a little bit of teaching, but also sharing of a witness that helped them to notice that people are struggling the same way they are,” Pikul said. “We are being able to see a connectedness with each other in community as we come together for adoration in this kind of a setting. That it’s a prayerful experience is a beautiful thing.”
The Life in the Eucharist program is inspired by the mission of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, founded by St. Peter Julian Eymard. The retreat was introduced within the Diocese of Buffalo even before Road to Renewal was launched in 2020. Sister Joanne Suranni, CSSF, learned of the retreat from peers at Immaculate Conception Church in Ransomville, then brought the program to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls in March 2020.
There was, however, an unexpected turn.
“We got into two weeks of the program and Covid shut us down,” Sister Joanne said.
“So many people in my parish say, ‘When is it going to come back? We never finished our retreat.’ I’ve said it’s coming. You have to give us a little time with Renewal, but it’s going to be coming.
Those who have since been able to host complete Life in the Eucharist retreats say it has highlighted one of the things missed most during the Covid shutdown, the worshiper’s ability to receive the Eucharist.
“People would often say to me that was the thing they missed the most. Being able to receive the Eucharist was what they missed the most,” Pikul said. “In the beginning when the pandemic allowed us to have 10 people come to Mass, that was tough because you could only come for Mass once a week in order to give 50 people a chance to come to Mass during the week. But people would come when the church was open and they could just sit in prayer.
“They needed to reconnect with their community and they needed to reconnect with guests. And that was the way that we did that. This program, as part of the Eucharistic revival, puts front and center for us the very importance of who we are as Catholics, being able to appreciate more the presence, being able to understand the body, blood, soul and divinity that we receive.”
More opportunities to host a Life in the Eucharist retreat are forthcoming. Two training sessions are scheduled to help coordinators from parish families learn and share the program with their respective peers. The first session is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29 at SS. Columba/Brigid Parish on Hickory Street in Buffalo, while the second is set for Saturday, Nov. 13 at SS. Peter and Paul Parish on East Main Street in Hamburg. Both sessions will be held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., with lunch served.
“It’s important that we gather together as community,” Msgr. Siepka said. “That communal aspect has been something that people have enjoyed renewing, coming together with people and feeling safe to do that as much as possible, that communal aspect. Each week of the program has re-emphasized a different aspect of what the Eucharist means and the real presence of Jesus obviously is first and foremost.”
For more information or to register for one of the training sessions, contact Sister Louise Alff, OSF, Road to Renewal, at Lalff2@buffalodiocese.org or by calling 716-847-5585.