Speakers at this year’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., highlighted the joy and sacrifice of the Christian life, with keynote speaker Bishop William Byrne calling the faithful to deeper participation in the sacraments and imitation of the Blessed Mother in living a life of “ecstatic praise.”
The breakfast, which took place on Feb. 8, has been held annually since 2004 and has been attended by such leaders as President George Bush and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
This year, the breakfast was attended by over 1,000 faithful. Among them were several bishops and Catholic leaders, such as Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, and Tim Glemkowski, Catholic author and executive director of National Eucharistic Congress. Also in attendance were several Catholic members of Congress including Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, as well as Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
The event was broadcast live by EWTN.
You will never get bored serving Christ
The morning began with a greeting from Pope Francis via a video message from Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., and the Divine Mercy Chaplet led by two members of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.
Helen Alvaré, a Catholic, pro-life scholar and speaker, was given this year’s Christifideles Laici Award in recognition of her “fidelity to the Church” and “exemplary selfless and steadfast service in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Alvaré gave an energetic and humorous acceptance speech that had many attendees doubling over in laughter despite the early hour. She listed many of her top bits of wisdom picked up during her service to the Church, saying: “You will never, ever … get bored in the service of Christ.”
“It does not matter how many fancy degrees you have, at some point you will be at Costco at the opening bell, picking up sandwiches for a church lunch,” she joked.
“No other path comes close to being this bottomless and fascinating,” she said.
“At some point, you will realize that God has taken every shred of talent you possess and put it to work,” she went on. “Do not ask God why you have such weird talent combos. Just go with it. God apparently has an amazingly more interesting future for you than you have for yourself.”
The Fauci problem
Byrne, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, spoke on the importance of the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress and the need for greater participation in the Christian life, most especially through the sacraments of Communion and penance.
Quoting former National Institutes of Health director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently said that the Catholic faith is “almost like a pro forma thing that I don’t really need to do,” Byrne said that this belief “succinctly articulates the voice of a majority of Americans who identify as Catholic but do not recognize the beauty and the power of their baptism.”
“From that gift of the incorporation into the body of Christ comes a duty to live in right relationship with our creator and redeemer,” he explained. “Living in right relationship with God, as we all know, is the only way to joy. ‘Be it done to me according to your word’ — these seven words began to untie and unravel the knot that was tied at Eden, the knot of self-sufficiency that imprisons us.”
Byrne said that the “ecstatic joy” with which the Blessed Virgin Mary accepted and received Christ at the Incarnation is a model for Christians to follow today.
“Our Lady’s response to the request of the angel Gabriel reversed the course of human history. Obedience, trust, docility — these became the force that foiled and foils the ancient foe.”
Faith and sacrifice
Bishop Wilfred Anagbe, whose Nigerian Makurdi Diocese has been the target of almost daily attacks, shared with the crowd a testimony of the faith and sacrifice of the persecuted Church in his country, where 4,998 Christians were killed for their faith in 2023 alone.
“Nigeria has become a killing field, a field that is sadly fettered with the blood of the martyrs,” Anagbe said.
“I share this with you so that the world may know that in spite of all of this, Nigerian seminaries and churches are full,” Anagbe went on.
“Christian faith is growing in spite of the terrorists, or maybe because of them,” he said.
Bishop Wilfred Anagbe says that in spite of the terrorist attacks in Nigeria or perhaps “because of” them, the churches and seminaries are full. He urges the faithful to pray for Nigeria. pic.twitter.com/kYfoBLv2AC
— Lauretta Brown (@LaurettaBrown6) February 8, 2024
Anagbe asked the U.S. faithful to “never forget your brothers and sisters in Nigeria” and to “pray for us as we pray for you.” Moved by his testimony, the crowd gave the Nigerian bishop a standing ovation for his courageous witness to the faith.
Joy and wonder of the faith
Several Catholic groups also had booths open at the breakfast to share their missions and apostolates with those gathered. Groups present included The Pontifical Missions Society, the Faithful Citizenship Institute, and The Heritage Foundation as well as a few Catholic schools, including Belmont Abbey College and Benedictine College.
Also present were several members of the National Shroud of Turin Exhibit, who held a press conference after the breakfast in which they announced plans to open a new permanent exhibit soon in Washington, D.C.
Nora Creech, an expert on the Shroud of Turin, explained that their efforts to bring renewed attention to the Shroud of Turin are based on a desire to debunk a controversial radiocarbon study by the British Museum that alleged the relic was a medieval fraud. Creech said that by educating others on the authenticity of the shroud they hope to help people encounter Christ and the joy and wonder of the faith.
“We have two generations that haven’t heard about the shroud because of this radiocarbon dating,” she said. “When I go in parishes and give talks, young people come up to me and they have tears in their eyes, and they say: ‘Why has nobody ever told me this before? Why is it that the Gospel is revealed here in this linen cloth, and this is the first time I’m hearing about it?’”
“So,” she went on, “we are all just passionate about sharing with this generation that they can come to know Jesus, they can know that the Gospels are true by studying his holy shroud.”