Armed with art supplies, Sister Alicia Torres recently invited young adults attending a Catholic conference near Milwaukee to create a self-portrait on paper, drawn inside a circle. The circle, she explained, represented the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, each person better understands himself or herself as made in the image and likeness of God, she told them.
About 50 young adults worked for almost an hour, and when they finished, they silently walked around the room to see what others had created. To Sister Alicia's surprise and delight, the 20- and 30-year-olds naturally formed a circle around the edge of the room as the session came to an end.
"This is an image of the Body of Christ," she remembers thinking. "Here we are, united in our faith of the holy Eucharist, and all these young adults -- who have so many struggles in the culture, in their personal lives -- had this experience of connecting with Jesus through this art project."
The art session was part of a Nov. 11 workshop Sister Alicia led on the Eucharist and creativity for Inheritance 2023, a young adult conference organized by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It is one of the highlights from her work in the past year with the National Eucharistic Revival.
"There has been, in my awareness of what's going on nationwide, an attentiveness to not forget our young people," said Sister Alicia, a member of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago as well as the National Eucharistic Revival executive team. "That's very important because the data indicates that by their early 20s, we (the Catholic Church) lose 80% of the young people that have been confirmed. … And so to be able to bring the message of Jesus' presence in the Eucharist -- his love, his mercy and his power -- to the young people, I think is critical. And I see that happening, which brings me a lot of hope."
A three-year initiative of the U.S. bishops, the revival is nearing its midpoint. It began in June 2022 with the feast of Corpus Christi. The first year focused on diocesan revival, inviting bishops, priests and diocesan leaders to deepen their relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Year of Parish Revival began in June 2023, with emphasis on reaching Catholics in the pews.
The coming calendar year will include the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage that begins mid-May and the National Eucharistic Congress in July, two large-scale efforts that lead into the revival's final year, the Year of Going Out on Mission, which ends on Pentecost 2025.
A parish year playbook for local leaders identified four areas of focus: reinvigorate worship, personal encounter, robust faith formation and missionary sending. Each "invitation" contained ideas and examples of how parishes might respond.
In the fall, revival leaders launched "Jesus and the Eucharist," a seven-session, video-based study designed for the Year of Parish Revival and intended for use in a small group setting.
The series is "a chance to invite people to explore basic mysteries of the faith -- that God loves us enough to send his son to lay down his life for us, and who then offers himself to us here and now and walks with us," said David Spesia, executive director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "That invitation to a renewed encounter to Jesus Christ each day, that is really what's going to set the stage for the revival, through the pilgrimage and the congress."
Revival leaders hoped that dioceses, parishes and other local Catholic entities would make the revival their own. The result is new or expanded adoration hours, Eucharist-focused homily series, and large Eucharistic processions. Processions this year in Manhattan, New York, for example, drew thousands of participants.
Meanwhile, some dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Atlanta, have tied longstanding Eucharistic congresses to the revival, and others, such as the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, have held new local congresses.
Other dioceses have gone outside of the box: the Dioceses of Lincoln, Nebraska; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and the Archdiocese of Denver created "passports" to encourage Catholics to visit adoration chapels, attend speakers or adopt spiritual practices related to the Eucharist. The Archdiocese of San Francisco offered an online course on Eucharistic miracles. The Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, has organized a student art contest with the theme "Eucharist: Bread of Life."
The Archdiocese of Detroit continues to add stories to its I AM HERE campaign, launched in partnership with the prayer app Hallow, to collect and share people's healing and transformative encounters with the Eucharist. When it was launched in June 2022, an archdiocesan leader said the campaign was a response to the revival in a "uniquely Detroit way."
"This last year, for me, is about all the little things that are happening in local parishes," said Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress. "It's the pastor I heard about who is doing a preaching series on how the Eucharist is a 'who' and not just a 'what,' and how to have a relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist."
Sister Alicia oversees the "Heart of the Revival" newsletter and its weekly news reel "The Pulse" that launched in September, and is a familiar face on the revival's YouTube channel. She said she's been impressed by the creativity parishes and dioceses have shown in localizing the revival.
"The question is, what does it mean to live a Eucharistic life?" she said. "Part of our crisis right now in our church is that, because of the movement of the culture, we have lost to a large degree that sacramental worldview, meaning that signs don't carry the value that they might have carried for people 100 years ago.
"And that is one of the reasons why it's hard for people to engage in Mass -- because they can't necessarily read the signs," she continued. "They don't understand the movement, the ritual, why do we do these things. … At the heart of this charism of the Eucharistic revival is a renewal of Catholic imagination rooted in the Eucharist."
Revival leaders hope the 10th National Eucharistic Congress -- the first national congress in 83 years -- can help cultivate that sacramental imagination among the tens of thousands of Catholics expected to attend.
In November, revival leaders announced plans to make single-day passes available for the July 17-21 congress. Meanwhile, full five-day passes are offered at a 10% discount through Christmas Day at the congress' website, www.eucharisticcongress.org. The website also includes the congress' general daily schedule and speaker lineup.
"God has really spoken into what he wants this event to be," Glemkowski said of the congress. "It's truly going to be a moment of spiritual revival for the church, not just a conference. I don't think people are going to walk away being like, 'I heard a cool talk that was kind of meaningful to me.' I think people are going to walk away and be like, 'My life has changed.'"