“Come and See.”

This article was posted on: April 18, 2024

An interview with Bishop Andrew Cozzens, leader of the National Eucharistic Revival.

An interview with Bishop Andrew Cozzens

(Chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, leader of the National Eucharistic Revival and chairman of the board of the National Eucharistic Congress)

Bishop Andrew Cozzens graciously agreed to an interview with Catholic Life and in the talk below, shares his perspective on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage from his lens at the national level, as well as from the perspective of a diocesan bishop and parish priest.

Speaking to our diocese, Bishop Cozzens shares how meeting Jesus in the Eucharist is a life-changing experience, how we can bring others to that encounter and the thought, “ We experience the great gift of our Catholic Faith when we gather, and frankly, who else can do something like this National Eucharistic Pilgrimage except the Catholic Church?”

The complete interview can be accessed through the QR code at the end of this article.

Catholic Life: Thank you for setting aside time to talk with the people of our diocese. If we start at the beginning, why is the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage significant at this moment?

Bishop Andrew Cozzens: Well, we’ve never tried something like the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in this country. So, it’s an excellent opportunity for a national witness to pilgrimage with the Blessed Sacrament across the country, stopping at hundreds of churches and allowing thousands, and I think probably millions, of people over this period of two months to encounter our Lord. We will provide opportunities for prayer, intercession, witness or testimony, and especially opportunities for people to encounter Christ and be inspired to go on a mission for Him, which is the goal of the whole Eucharistic revival. So, the pilgrimage is a particular act. I would call it a prophetic act of witness, invitation and intercession.

Catholic Life: There are so many uncertainties in our time. You mentioned mission and invitation, so why must we come together? Not as individuals, not on my own, not within the confines of one’s own personal faith life, but through the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage?

Bishop Cozzens: I would say that the uncertainties of our time need a spiritual answer and not just a human answer. Of course, we need good human answers, too, and we’re always working for the common good. But what we really need is an invitation for people to encounter the Truth of who Jesus is and, therefore, understand the truth of who they are. We need God to walk among us again and we need to encounter God in a real and living way. The Nationalistic Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s goal is to provide opportunities for that and ask God, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to do that in our country.

In that sense, it’s an act of intercession, of spiritual intercession, believing that the answers to the uncertainties of our time are found in the love of Jesus Christ. We want to ask the Lord to move powerfully in the people of our time and in our cities and in our towns and in our parishes and in our country. And so, we’re doing this as an act of intercession as much as it’s an act of witnessing and facilitating the love of Christ. People paying attention know that politics isn’t going to be the answer to the problems of our day, as important as good politics is. Psychology is not the answer to the problems of our day, as important as good psychology is. It is not simply a matter of even intellectual formation. What’s needed today is what has always been needed but is seen even more profoundly today – that people would discover that Jesus Christ is the answer to the deep longings of their hearts and they would experience his call to conversion, repentance and new life. Through this pilgrimage, we want to help facilitate that in creative and beautiful ways.

Walk With One

Catholic Life: What would you say to someone who feels the same urgent need to walk with Christ and bring someone else with them but may be unsure how best to approach a friend or acquaintance?

Bishop Cozzens: There are both simple ways to reach out and share one’s faith, which we all need to learn, and then there are more profound and complex ways to reach out and share one’s faith. We need both.

Events like the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage are a wonderful opportunity to share what we do as Catholics and say, “Hey, come to this event. It’s going to be something that will blow your mind. We’re going to have a beautiful procession, and then we’re going to have a dinner with testimonies.” 

These approaches are powerful, especially for those who are Catholic but may have fallen away or aren’t yet true disciples in the sense that they haven’t come alive in their faith through an encounter. Inviting those people to these events can be really helpful, and it is much easier than people make it out to be. It’s as simple as saying, “Hey. I’m going to this thing. Do you want to come with me? We’ll catch dinner beforehand.” Friendship goes far.

The other type of evangelization we all need to learn is how to walk with people far away from God. That takes more time. Walking with someone begins with friendship and then finding ways to share time. Ultimately, it might mean inviting them to an event or even to church. But it takes time to discern when the person is ready and then how best to invite them.

The National Eucharistic Revival is developing a campaign called “Walk with One,” which we will share at the National Eucharistic Congress and emphasize throughout the mission year. This is where we will help teach the skills necessary for more complex evangelization.

One of the complexities of evangelization as Catholics is that we can’t just invite people to Mass all the time because not everybody’s ready to come. Others attend Mass, but only sometimes, so we need other places to invite them to, and the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage can be one of those places. We can invite anyone to adoration; in so doing, we invite the person to experience an encounter with the Lord. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the many events throughout provide a great ground-level entry for someone to experience the beauty of the Catholic Church.

Catholic Life: The pilgrimage is coming through your diocese and our Diocese of La Crosse. How do you hope the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will change people at the diocesan level?

Bishop Cozzens: I hope people experience the joy of our Faith in these uplifting and joyful events like these. We experience the great gift of our Catholic Faith when we gather, and frankly, who else can do something like this National Eucharistic Pilgrimage except the Catholic Church? The Lord invented the pilgrimage on his way to Jerusalem and we received the gift of the encounter with the Lord of the Eucharist.

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s beauty brings back to life parts of our Catholic tradition. These things have a profound element, so I expect it will transform people in a few ways.

First, there will be people who’ve never really had an encounter with the Lord who will have an encounter through these events that changes them, just as we see what happens at our youth camps when we have adoration or at retreats and conferences. The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will have that kind of power.

Second, I expect some people who make this pilgrimage will experience the fruits of a pilgrimage—that this is about changing “me.” This is one of the great insights about the world we have in the Catholic Faith about the world. We discussed uncertain times, and when asked what is wrong with the world, the Catholic answers, “I am what’s wrong with the world. I need to be converted and changed and become more like Jesus.”

And that’s the purpose of a pilgrimage- I come to deeper conversion by walking with the Lord, praying and meditating on my need for conversion. So, I hope that the people who make this pilgrimage, even just for a day or at a single stop, will be transformed by that encounter into desiring deeper discipleship.

My final hope is that people will see the power of witness—whether they experience it just from the processions themselves or through testimony. Jesus sent us out to witness! He said, “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” All of us are called to be witnesses, and it’s the witness that allows other people to encounter Jesus, so I hope that the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage will inspire people to become witnesses themselves.

The Exact Moment His Whole Life Changed

Catholic Life: Power, joy, transformation, encounter, and witness. Is it challenging to balance these aspects of the pilgrimage while protecting the stillness of mind to meet the Lord in the quiet moments?

Bishop Cozzens: It’s pretty easy because the pilgrimage and the surrounding eucharistic events will provide opportunities for both. That’s where I see the beauty of the pilgrimage, which will have opportunities for singing, hymns, joy and witnessing to our faith. But it will also have places and opportunities for silence, and as Catholics, we do both.

God can speak to us deeply in quiet moments, but the fact is that encounter is what changes people. We see this in Scripture. The woman at the well is changed by encountering Jesus. She’s a different person after meeting Jesus, and then she goes back to tell people to “come meet the man who told me everything I ever did.” That change will happen for different people in different ways, but if they have that encounter, it changes them, which sets them on fire for mission. So, that’ll happen for some people in the silence and that happens for other people when just seeing the Lord walk by.

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seaton, our first American saint, was not Catholic. She was an Episcopalian living in Italy. Her husband had died and she was staying with an Italian Catholic family. On the feast of Corpus Christ, a Eucharistic procession passed by her home and as the Lord walked by in the processions, she sensed a deep movement in her heart. An Episcopalian priest standing behind her said mockingly, “Those Catholics believe that piece of bread is God.” And she said in her own heart to herself, “I do, too.” Her conversion happened right on that spot on that day. She became a Catholic about a year later and she became our first American saint. Just the passing of the Eucharist itself caused that profound change in her.

Another example is the specific accounting of 4 pm in John 1:39. John and Andrew are with Saint John the Baptist, and Saint John the Baptist sees Jesus going by and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” They don’t completely understand the meaning, but they’re intrigued.

Isn’t this how it happens? Someone hears a witness or sees a procession, is intrigued, and then is drawn in. So, John and Andrew begin to follow Jesus, and Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?” Of course, the real question is, what is the human heart looking for? And they asked that question at that moment. They then asked, “Master, where are you staying?” Jesus replied, “Come and see.”

The Scripture then says that Andrew and John went and spent the day with Jesus, and Saint John writes that it was about 4 pm in the afternoon. Why does Saint John include that little fact there? The answer seems clear – he will always remember the exact moment he met the Lord, because that was the moment his whole life changed.

The Scripture says they spent the day with the Lord and that Andrew went and found his brother Peter the next morning and said, “Come, we have met the Messiah.” We don’t actually know what happened during that day.

But we do know. We know that as Andrew and John were talking with Jesus, they realized, “this man has the answer to every question I ever had, even the ones I didn’t know I had. This man reveals to me who I am and what’s the meaning of my life, and I can’t live without this man.”

That transformation happened as they were spending time with Him, but I’ve seen the same thing happen to college students in adoration. We give them a talk about the power of Jesus and His love. They go to confession, and then we put them in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Right there, in that moment, they start to discover that there’s someone present who knows them, loves them, and is the answer to their heart’s longing. That experience changes them.

We believe Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament. So, the pilgrimage is the Lord coming. It’s us gathering in faith to encounter Him, and He wants to invite us to discover who we are through coming to be with Him and spending time with Him. That’s what Andrew and John discover. “Where are you staying?” really refers to “Where is your home?” and “Where do you live?”

 And Jesus said, “Come and see,” which means, “Come and be with me, and you will discover your own home, who you are and where you are called to live.” That is what can happen through the encounter with the Eucharist. We discover that our home is with Him in the Mass, in the Eucharist. We are drawn there by the witness of the pilgrimage.

Zacchaeus is Welcome

Catholic Life: One may set many obstacles in front of themselves that prevent them from this encounter: I’m either physically limited or unsure if I can make it. I’m just one person. I don’t have somebody to go with. I have fallen away and am uncertain if I will feel welcomed or wanted. I don’t know how I feel about my relationship with God…. etc. What would you share with people who may have these thoughts? How can I make this pilgrimage?

Bishop Cozzens: Well, first off, it’s good to remember that there isn’t any requirement to show up. You don’t need to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or even a regular churchgoer to join the gathering. There is no bar to entry.

Truly, everyone is invited. Think of Zacchaeus, who just wanted to see Jesus passing by. He wanted to see Him, so he went up the tree and met the Lord. Jesus transformed his entire life.

Zacchaeus is welcome. Zacchaeus is not a church-going guy, and not everyone is. But everyone is invited to come, even doubters and scoffers. We welcome them to come and experience the pilgrimage.

People who can’t make the pilgrimage for some reason can follow some of the events online and can certainly join prayerfully and spiritually. Media outlets, including diocesan media outlets, will cover these events as we go, and it will be possible to follow them on social media.

It is beautiful that someone who is homebound and cannot participate with a physical presence can offer a rosary every day during those two months for everyone who will encounter the Lord along the way.

Part of the beauty of the pilgrimage is that this is the first time we’ve done it. We don’t have any idea what the impact will be. Will there be healings and conversions? Will people be drawn back to God? I believe there will be, but while we don’t know yet, we do know that the Lord won’t disappoint us if we hold Him up and witness to His goodness as we walk across the country.

Catholic Life: Our diocese is a large rural diocese – 156 parishes span 19 counties. If the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage isn’t processing near me and I cannot travel to encounter Jesus at a stop, is there another way to encounter Christ in this pilgrimage?

Bishop Cozzens: Absolutely. People can do their own little pilgrimage and join the national pilgrimage in that way. The national website also allows people to log their own personal pilgrimages so they can participate spiritually. There’ll be a blog and regular ways to follow the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage every day virtually.

The Beginning of the Beyond

Catholic Life: The four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes converge in Indianapolis for the first National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years. These two events, national and global in scope, don’t mark the culmination of the National Eucharistic Revival, but rather the beginning of the year of going out on mission. How can we intentionally link these generational encounters to the next steps at the local level?

Bishop Cozzens: From the very beginning, we have used two words when discussing the Eucharistic revival and its purpose – encounter an mission. Anybody who’s watching knows that we need to make a missionary conversion in the United States so that our parishes become mission centers. The average Catholic understands that they have a responsibility to help share the saving love of Jesus with those around us who haven’t experienced that love yet. And so, everything we do in the revival, including the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, will have that emphasis.

For example, we will show a video every night at the National Eucharistic Congress that shares the message of “walking with one.” Our goal is for everyone to depart, thinking, “Okay, who’s the one person the Lord’s asking me to walk with this year? Who is the Lord asking me to invite back to the Faith or invite them to the Faith for the first time?”

If 50 or 100,000 people do that, multiplying over time, the impact is incredible. It’s the same with the Eucharistic pilgrimage – we will discuss the power of the encounter, but also the power of the mission.

We will ensure we’re spreading the word and helping people understand their role in the mission. But the beauty is that the two are so connected that it isn’t hard work. If someone really has an encounter with Jesus, they talk about it because they’re excited about it. After all, it changed their life. You know, it’s what Andrew does after he meets Jesus; he goes and finds his brother and says, Come and meet the Messiah. The woman at the well leaves says, come with the man who told me everything I’ve ever done.

As soon as someone really encounters Jesus, they want to share that with others.

Going Forth and Changing the World

Catholic Life: You’re currently both a diocesan bishop and the chair of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. Suppose you were a parish priest again, and you and your parishioners just returned home on a bus after attending the National Eucharistic Congress. What would be your message to your parish family to ensure they take the inspiration and encountered there forward and into mission?

Bishop Cozzens: I want my people to become Eucharistic missionaries, another level we’ll discuss at the Congress. And this is essentially a missionary disciple. I want my people first to continue to deepen their own life with God in the Eucharist, which means to deepen their prayer life. Then, I want them to form small groups and support each other in becoming missionaries. Small groups are essential because it’s hard work to become a missionary; you need that support. So, I’d love it if we started with just a few people – the people went to the Congress – and started two or three small groups. Let’s have those small groups work on supporting each other as they’re trying to walk with people and then gradually, we grow those the next year. That’s the way the Church grows. A few people are set on fire and share it with others, and then it grows that way. The mission year is the beginning of the beyond.

Catholic Life: Our diocese is hosting a National Eucharistic Rally called “the ANSWER.” Why is it essential to attend an event like this besides a traditional pilgrimage stop?

Bishop Cozzens: Well, it’s always great to gather with a large group of Catholics in celebration of our faith because those events become profound opportunities to experience the Holy Spirit and the fact that the Church is alive. The Holy Spirit works profoundly in those events.

It’s interesting. When we were planning the National Eucharistic Congress, we received some criticism like, well, you know, an event isn’t going to really change the world, and I used to reply, Well, Pentecost was an event, and it changed the world. Events allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to be enkindled in people. Those kinds of rallies are great because we need to come together to have the fire of the Holy Spirit enkindled in me so that I can bring that fire back to my parish.

Many people are indeed converted by a “walk with one” situation. That’s the usual path – one person sharing their personal faith with another. As Pope Paul the Sixth said, in the long run, is there any other way to hand on the Gospel, except for one person sharing their personal faith with another?

That’s true, but events are excellent because they allow us to become open to the Holy Spirit, strengthening, equipping, and inspiring us to go forth and share the Faith.

Catholic Life: How has leading this revival enriched your own faith life?

When I began to think about the importance of a Eucharistic revival, it really hit me that when someone comes to understand the gift of the Eucharist and they encounter Jesus living in the Eucharist, they’ll never leave the Church because there’s no place else they can go.

It’s just as in John 6 when Peter says, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” So when I realize the Eucharist is Jesus, and Jesus is sharing his life with me here, this becomes the only place I can go. And so, it’s really the heart of evangelization. And really the heart of many of our problems with disaffiliation -people haven’t encountered Jesus living in Eucharist.

So, I’ve learned more about how the Eucharist is the heart of evangelization. But the other thing I’ve come to appreciate, and I think this is the real heart of a Eucharistic missionary, is that the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist is just as important, if not more important, than the Real Presence aspect of the Eucharist, by the fact that the Eucharist wants to teach me to make a gift of myself. It wants to transform my life into a gift, and in that way, it teaches me the value of my sufferings and my difficulties.

I learn this by learning the truth of the Mass and how to make my life an offering on the altar with Jesus in the Eucharist. And that’s the real heart of Eucharistic missionary because it’s that desire to make a gift of myself that gives me the perseverance needed to be a missionary and the fruitfulness of the mission, which always comes the way it came for Jesus – through the Paschal mystery.

Fruitfulness and the mission come through the gift of myself. As St. Paul says, always carrying about in my body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in my body. He says, death is at work in me, life in you.

In other words, it’s by my embracing a Eucharistic life, and making my life an offering, that the world and others will receive the grace to come to know Him. So, the true heart of a Eucharistic missionary wants to live the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist as the heart of the witness that the person is called to.

Catholic Life: You spoke earlier about the relationship between intellect and encounter when meeting Jesus in the Eucharist. Practically speaking, how are both essential?

Bishop Cozzens:  All the powers of the soul have to be converted – my intellect, my mind, my heart, my will and my passions. And all that has to be ordered towards God. And so, if I don’t understand properly, I won’t be able to love properly. But understanding is not enough. I need to love. So, it’s more than just a matter of explaining the teaching on the Eucharist. It’s a matter of people encountering Jesus as alive, but then they have to come to a deepening understanding of what that means.

So, for example, understanding the different aspects of the Eucharist—the sacrifice, the presence, the communion—and what all that means is going to be an intellectual exercise. Once my heart has been awakened to the love of Jesus, all those things are going to be important to learn to live a full Eucharistic life.

“From Christendom to Apostolic Mission”

Catholic Life: The book “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission” is important to you. How has that specifically shaped your episcopacy?

Bishop Cozzens: The book put words to something I knew when I read it, which was that we’re living in a post-Christian world. And in that post-Christian world, we need to have different means and ways of bringing the Gospel to the world.

We need to be much more intentional about bringing the Gospel to the world and how we live it because the world itself is working against us in ways that weren’t even 50 or 75 years ago. So, the book named what I think many of us already knew: that we were living in a post-Christian culture and that we really needed to engage in a much more missionary mindset in the Church in the United States.

Catholic Life: Do you think the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the National Eucharistic Congress are acts of faith marked by a cultural Christendom, or acts of faith inspiring a new apostolic era? Why do you think that?

Bishop Cozzens: I think that the pilgrimage and Congress have elements that come from the era of Christendom. But they’re actually firmly apostolic endeavors, especially in the way that we’re doing them. Eucharistic processions—we did those in Christendom, right? And they were beautiful things. And we did eucharistic congresses in Christendom.

But now we know we’re doing it in a new age and new way. That’s why a National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is where we’re witnessing prophetically to our culture and world. But we’re witnessing in profoundly cultural ways. One of the analogies for the pilgrimage is the pilgrimage that Karol Wojtyła, Pope Saint John Paul II, and Cardinal Wyszyński did in Poland under Communist rule. When they wanted to remind the Polish people of who they were as Catholics, they conducted a national pilgrimage with the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and wanted her to visit every town in Poland in a procession.

 And they started to do it. It was hugely successful, with thousands of people turning out, but the Communists got so upset that they forbade them to do it. Instead, they just took the frame of the image and processed it through the streets. People still showed up by thousands and threw flowers in front of a frame with no picture. Still, the point was to remind people who they were and to show the beauty and witness of the culture of the Catholic Faith. So, indeed, certain aspects of the Congress and the pilgrimage will, I think, invite people to encounter the beauty of our Catholic Faith in how it expresses itself culturally.

Catholic Life: What challenges do you see at the parish and diocesan levels in transitioning from Christendom to the apostolic age?

Bishop Cozzens: Oh, the challenges are multifold. The challenge is the, “but this is the way we’ve always done it, father!” mindset. One of my priests said, “Jeez. We’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years, and it hasn’t worked. Why would we change?” This is the reality. We need to realize that all of us will have to feel the crunch of change if we change how the Church operates.

Pope Francis has been quite strong in some of his writings, especially Evangelli Gaudium. He writes that we must look at everything in light of a missionary mandate instead of simply keeping the status quo. In one of his early homilies, he told the Church in Rome that the problem is, right now, we have the one sheep in the Church, and everybody in the Church is trying to care for that one sheep when 99 are out there. So, we need to go and find them rather than ensure the one sheep has clean wool.

We need to have a growth mindset, a missionary mindset. Our people must understand that part of their job is to invite others to encounter Christ. We just have to help our people make that transition. It’s not what they’re used to, and it’s going to take a lot of work to help them make that transition.

Catholic Life: Is the missionary mindset universally applied, or do we need distinct strategies for different age groups and demographics?

Bishop Cozzens: All that’s required is that I understand that the Lord wants me to use my circle of influence for him – whatever that circle of influence is. So, if I’m a 20-something, that’s probably a lot of other 20-somethings.

My mom will turn 80 this year and she brought two people back to the church last year. She lives in a senior citizen community, and she just finds Catholics who have fallen away. She learns who they are, and then she starts to befriend them and then she starts to say things like, “You know, you’re only one confession away from being a good Catholic.”

One friend received a cancer diagnosis, and the first person she called was my mom, and she said, “Okay, I’m ready for that confession.”

So, if you’re a senior citizen, it will probably be other senior citizens. If you’re a 20-something, it will probably be another 20-somethings. But in your circle of influence, there are people whom the Lord wants you to invite to an encounter with Him.

We need to prepare the individual catholic to give a reason for their hope.

If I invite someone to an event at the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, I need to know “why?” I should think about that before I invite someone, and it can be as simple as, “I’d love you to come to this thing. I find that adoration is a place where I experience deep peace and joy and I’d love to invite you to come and experience that.”

 It could be, “You know, in my Faith, we do this really cool thing that I find energizing. We have these Eucharistic processions where we walk through the streets and we sing hymns of praise to Jesus, you should come, check it out. It’s going to be cool.”

But what’s my “why?” It’s important for me to think about it so I’ll be prepared to share it with a person whom I want to invite.

Catholic Life: It is perhaps fitting that we close with the deep peace and joy found in adoration and singing hymns of praise in the streets. Knowing our “why” helps us be the missionary disciples you mentioned, and your thoughts here help make that possible. Thank you for sharing your time.

Bishop Cozzens: Thank you. I look forward to reading the article. Let’s close in prayer. Jesus, we pray that you would use this National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, the rally and the cross for your great glory and that many people might come to encounter you through these events. As we pray, glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

By Erik Archer, Director, Communications & Public Relations
Published in the May/June 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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