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Families encounter Eucharist in powerful way through Family Prayer Project

The Melka family receives a eucharistic blessing Aug. 28 at St. Louis in Clarksville. (Priscila González de Doran/CR Staff)

CLARKSVILLE – As Deacon Steve Sarnecki lifted a gleaming gold monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament at St. Louis in Clarksville Aug. 28, Michelle Melka knelt in silence on a sanctuary step right in front of him. With her husband, David, and their eight children beside her and 400 other people in the pews behind them, the parishioner of Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore bowed her head in prayer as she received a eucharistic blessing with her family. 

One by one, other families approached the altar to receive their blessings. During the powerful encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, some cried while others joined the congregation in singing loud and joyful songs of praise and worship. Many smiled or stared intently at the consecrated host. 

“I encountered God alive,” said Jonah Hallisey, a young parishioner of St. Louis who attended the prayer service with his family. “I felt a warmth, as if he was really close to me.”

The Family Prayer Project is an initiative of Ablaze Family Ministries designed to encourage families to embrace their faith more deeply through eucharistic adoration.

“To be able to worship as a family is the most sacred thing you can do,” said Sidney McGee, a junior of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville and a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City who attended the prayer service with her mother. McGee said she was surprised that her father, who isn’t Catholic, was inspired to join them.

“I don’t know what happened to him tonight, but the Lord is working on him in a new way,” McGee said. 

Archbishop William E. Lori’s institution of the Year of the Eucharist is meant for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to dive deeper into their faith but also for nonbelievers to experience God’s love and real presence in the Eucharist. During this special year, Deacon Sarnecki urges parishes to make eucharistic adoration available. 

“Oftentimes in a parish, each family member goes to their own specific ministry, but they do not pray together,” said Deacon Sarnecki, who is assigned to St. Lawrence Martyr in Hanover and serves as director of operations for Ablaze Family Ministries. “We need to encounter the Eucharist as a family.” 

The purpose of Family Prayer Ministry is to create disciples by inviting individuals to encounter Jesus personally, for the first time or recurrently, and support them in their “yes” to God’s call to follow him.

The Aug. 28 event featured a live band and was geared toward pre-teen and teen attendees returning from Damascus Summer Youth Camp, a faith-awakening summer camp in Ohio for grades six to twelve, as a way for them to kindle their faith and evangelize to and with their own families during eucharistic adoration.

Attendees were parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, St. Louis in Clarksville, St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park and even out-of-state families from Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Arlington, Va.

During praise and worship at St. Louis, Clarksville, children pray Aug. 28 as part of the Family Prayer Project. (Priscila González de Doran/CR Staff)

The prayer night began with John Paul Fisher, a sophomore at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore, sharing his testimony. He told the congregation he always had a prayer life and knowledge of the Catholic faith, but did not understand eucharistic adoration until his conversation with the Lord during adoration in Damascus Camp. 

He recalled God telling him in prayer, “Think about when I was walking the Earth 2,000 years ago. I called the apostles, I was physically present to them and I set them free. Once they were free, they could have left and gone back to sin.” 

As Fisher prayed and meditated, he realized, just like the apostles, he did not want to leave Jesus. 

“Once I tasted the real true love and the free will of God,” Fisher said, “All I wanted to do was to give my life to God.” 

Some of the pioneers of the Family Prayer Project and Ablaze Family Ministries include Michael Pfau, founder and president of the board; Kristen Fisher, executive director of content; and Father Erik Arnold, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park. Father Michael DeAscanis, pastor of St. Louis in Clarksville and St. Francis of Assisi in Fulton, was also deeply involved with the Family Prayer Ministry at St. Louis. 

“I hope my kids come to know Jesus deeply, be surrounded by a big cloud of witnesses and recognize there is something bigger than themselves, which is the Holy Spirit working in them, and is called the Catholic Church,” said Fisher, a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City. 

Social interaction is an important aspect of evangelization, Fisher added, because “disciples were not meant to go alone.” After prayer, attendees gathered outside the church for fellowship and a meal from Chick-fil-a. 

Pfau hopes to see a vibrant Catholic Church full of families guiding their children to encounter the Lord, who might later become seminarians and faithful lay Catholics on fire with the Holy Spirit. 

Twelve years ago, long before he started Ablaze Family Ministries, Pfau asked in prayer during an ACTS retreat, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The answer Pfau said he heard from the Lord was to “evangelize the youth.” 

For information about Ablaze Family Ministries or to host a FPP event at your parish go to https://ablazefamily.org/

Email Priscila González de Doran at pdoran@CatholicReview.org

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. on Sept. 8 to correct Sidney McGee’s first name.

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