In the year 1300, a priest was celebrating Mass in the convent of O Cebreiro, Spain. Lacking faith in the true presence of Jesus in the sacrament, the priest nevertheless recited the consecration prayers.
Suddenly, the host he held in his hand turned into human flesh. Turning to the cup, the priest, incredulous, noticed not wine, but actual human blood. He fell in adoration.
The incident, recognized by Pope Innocent VIII as the "Miracle of O Cebreiro," is one of hundreds of eucharistic miracles in the Catholic Church's history -- incidents in which the supernatural reality of Jesus' body and blood in the Eucharist became powerfully and physically apparent.
Church teaching holds that the Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Catholic faith. However, a 2019 Pew Research Center study found that only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is launching a three-year National Eucharistic Revival in June in order to see "a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist -- and sent out in mission 'for the life of the world.'"
Meanwhile, a small apostolate in Michigan has been educating Catholics on the Real Presence since 2007 by offering a traveling exhibit about eucharistic miracles -- instances in which the literal presence of Jesus' body and blood in the Eucharist have become physically manifest.
Several parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit have hosted the exhibit in recent weeks. It was next headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, April 22-29.
The collection of 170 panels features historical documents and photos of 140 eucharistic miracles from around the world.
For Margy Nagel, who co-founded the Real Presence Apostolate of Michigan, promoting the Real Presence is crucial to bolstering faith in the saving power of Jesus.
Each year, the apostolate hosts a conference at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan, during the feast of Corpus Christi, Nagel told Detroit Catholic, the online news outlet of the Detroit Archdiocese. This year's conference will take place June 18, with Bryan Thatcher, founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy, as keynote speaker.
"We read so many surveys where Catholics don't believe in the Real Presence, and so we feel that by promoting not only the Real Presence exhibit, but adoration and (our annual) Corpus Christi conference, we can draw Catholics into a firmer belief, in fact, a belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist," Nagel said.
Nagel, a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc Church in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, said the idea for the apostolate came about in 2007 after she learned of the Chicago-based Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, which was founded by Father John Hardon, a sainthood candidate who has the title "Servant of God."
Soon after Nagel inquired about how to bring the exhibit to Michigan, another couple, Sarah and Mark Zydeck, Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioners, along with a friend, Emmanuel Ssemakula, also had reached out to the association, expressing interest in bringing the exhibit to their parish. The association connected them with Nagel, and the Real Presence Apostolate of Michigan was born.
Nagel said the exhibit itself was created by Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who documented eucharistic miracles on his website before dying of leukemia in 2006 at age 15.
An anonymous donor gave the Michigan group the ability to print the 170 panels, which have since been on display in all seven Catholic cathedrals in Michigan and more than 400 parishes. Because there are so many panels, parishes can choose whether to display all of them or just some.
"Every parish uses their own creativity," Nagel said. "One parish created life-size Swiss guards for the entrance of the exhibit. Some parishes bring in speakers. Some have 40 hours' devotions. Some parishes organize and give tours. Every parish does its own planning, and we are always thrilled and delighted to hear what each parish has done."
At St. Roch Parish in Flat Rock, all 170 panels were on display in the vestibule at the start of Holy Week.
Father Ray Lewandowski, St. Roch Pastor, said the parish offered a Lenten program focused on the spirituality of the Eucharist in addition to the exhibit.
Father Lewandowski hopes the exhibit and teaching materials will help Catholics make a connection to the church's teaching, and to better understand and appreciate the gift of the Eucharist in Catholic life.
"Hopefully, (non-Catholics) may recognize that we are unique or different and say, 'There is something different about you,' and then you can say, 'I'm a Catholic Christian,'" Father Lewandowski said. "And then you can talk about what (you) receive, what (you) celebrate, and how the Communion (you) celebrate has an influence upon (you), an effect, and that is demonstrated by everyday living."
More about the Real Presence Apostolate of Michigan can be found online at https://rpamichigan.org. More about the U.S. Catholic Church's National Eucharistic Revival and National Eucharistic Congress can be found at https://eucharisticrevival.org.