Shrine hosts Worldwide Eucharistic Holy Hour

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WASHINGTON - Nearly 1,500 students filled the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Oct. 2 to pray to Our Lady of Fatima for peace in families and in the world and for priests and missionaries.

The children - from Catholic schools and home-schooled families in the Arlington diocese and the Archdiocese of Washington - were taking part in the seventh annual Worldwide Children's Eucharistic Holy Hour to pray the rosary, sing and join in eucharistic adoration.

The main altar was adorned with flags from countries around the world and children who participated in the opening procession were dressed in native outfits to represent the global reach of this day of prayer. As a statue of Mary was carried to the altar, the children in the congregation waved white handkerchiefs as a gesture of devotion.

This was the fourth time the event took place at the shrine. Irish singer Dana hosted the event, which was broadcast live via the Eternal Word Television Network.

The World Apostolate of Fatima was joined by the Holy Childhood Association in organizing the Holy Hour and encouraging young people around the world to gather for prayers and eucharistic adoration each year on the first Friday of October.

One group of eighth-grade students from St. John the Evangelist School in Warrenton has attended the Holy Hour at the shrine each year. They said the experience makes them realize they are not alone in their faith.

"It's important that we're all praying for the same thing," said Helena Wojcik, who said the event gave her a "strong sense of togetherness."

Her classmate, Kathryn Mullin, agreed, saying the experience of "being united with others praying" made her realize she was part of "something bigger."

During the service, a student crowned the statue of Mary, and three students asked New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, who presided at the service, specific questions about living out their faith.

When asked to explain eucharistic adoration, the archbishop said it was "a chance for Christ to be in our midst" and "a time for us to be in conversation with Jesus, to tell him what we want for our families."

The archbishop told the students they can approach Mary as their mother because she would bring them closer to Jesus. He also reminded them that they are all called to be missionaries and to "make sure everyone knows Jesus."

Connie Schneider, founder of the Worldwide Children's Eucharistic Holy Hour and local president of the World Apostolate of Fatima in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, sat in the back of the shrine during the Holy Hour, watching the event that was her idea several years ago. She craned her neck to get a better view of the children as they processed down the main aisle, read something from the altar or stretched to place the crown on the statue of Mary.

After the service she described the effort to have children around the world praying as "a movement of the Holy Spirit."

"He's doing the work, we're just kind of like secretaries," she said, of the many people working behind the scenes to bring about such a gathering, not only at the shrine in Washington but at churches around the world.

Schneider told Catholic News Service that she is moved every year by seeing these young people praying. She is also confident their faith grows from the experience. As she put it: "Who can fan that flame in the heart of children other than Jesus?"

Archbishop Aymond told CNS that the event gives young people an opportunity to be united in prayer before the Eucharist. It also gives him "great hope" that these youths, firmly rooted in their faith, will be able to lead the church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009