Eucharistic Revival on the Mississippi: Several-hundred youths get to know God better at Burlington retreat

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Luke Spannagel prepares for eucharistic adoration while musician Steve Angrisano performs praise music during the Eucharistic Revival on the Mississippi in Burlington Memorial Auditorium April 18. The event drew nearly 400 youths and adults to enkindle a living relationship with Christ.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

BURLINGTON — Inside the darkened auditorium, a spotlight tracked Father Luke Spannagel and the gleaming monstrance he carried as he led a eucharistic procession of youths carrying lighted candles past their kneeling peers.

Father Spannagel, a member of the National Eucharistic Preachers team, shared his passion for the Eucharist with the gathering of nearly 400 students and adults April 18 at the first Eucharistic Revival on the Mississippi in Burlington Memorial Auditorium. The team is part of the National Eucharistic Revival, whose mission is “To renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eu­charist.”


Divine Mer­cy Parish-Burl­ing­ton/West Burlington sponsored the local Eucharistic revival. Burl­ington Notre Dame School religion teachers Jenn­ifer Baxter and Maria Roth drew inspiration for the event after attending  an event last year for students in the Peoria, Illinois Diocese. Father Spannagel, a priest of the Peoria Diocese, brought Baxter into the Cath­olic Church, she said.


Father Spannagel and the other presenters conveyed their message of Jesus’ love and desire for a deeper relationship with each student through word, song, movement, prayer, eucharistic adoration and liturgy. The other presenters were Graeson Dall of Prairie Fire Ministries in Des Moines and Catholic composer and music missionary Steve Angrisano.

Angrisano energized the youths in grades 6-12 with a rollicking game of “Simon Says,” and engaged them in songs that spoke of their connection with Christ as he played his guitar and sang along with them. “Do you know me? That’s the question God has for you,” he told the youths. “God is not hiding from you. He will let you find him, if you seek him.”

Draw closer to Jesus

Father Spannagel began his presentation with an explanation of the stage, set up as “our church for the day.” He asked the students to kneel, acknowledging the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. “Say ‘Good morning’ to Jesus from your heart. Thank him for his love for you and ask for his help if you need it for something. Just remember he is here,” the priest said. Ask Jesus “to help us to continue to grow in our faith this day.”

Blessed Carlos Acutis, a youth who loved soccer, computers, video games — but most of all, the Eucharist — inspired Father Spannagel’s talk. Blessed Carlos placed the sacrament at the center of his life, the priest said, and called it “my highway to heaven.” That quote appeared on a banner just below the stage in the auditorium. Blessed Carlos died of leukemia at age 15 in 2006.

Father Spannagel explained the process of sainthood and encouraged the students to pray for one more miracle attributed to Blessed Carlos and to follow his example. Among other good deeds, he used his computer skills to build a website to document and share the Eucharistic miracles he had researched. He led his family in attending Mass and used his allowance to help people in need.

Blessed Carlos was close to Jesus and became closer to him through participation in the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation and through small sacrifices such as reducing video game time for prayer, Father Spannagel said. He encouraged the students to make sacrifices to draw closer to Jesus, humorously suggesting, “Instead of sending 100 text messages maybe send 95.”

The eucharistic procession and adoration followed Father Spannagel’s talk. After lunch, Dall, the second speaker, shared his backstory, explaining his restlessness as a teenager and young adult, striving to know God’s will for him. “I need you to speak to me,” he prayed to Jesus during a faith-based conference. Dall did experience God’s presence, which provided a sense of peace. Then Dall returned home and got distracted in his busy life.

He worried needlessly that doing God’s will would result in a boring life. He described how to listen to God’s voice and to discern it from Satan’s voice. The latter “will always tear you down and make you feel unloved and shameful,” Dall said. He talked about miracles that happen in today’s world, “that’s the power of God,” he assured the students. He cited passages from Scripture to underscore the importance of living their lives in a way that prepares them for eternity with God.

Just before Mass, Angrisano told the youths, “We’re ending with Mass because that is the source and summit of our lives.” “The Mass is our most powerful prayer,” said Father Spannagel, who presided. Priests from the Diocese of Davenport who concelebrated were Fathers Jake Greiner, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington-West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville and Father Dan Dorau, pastor of the four parishes in Lee County. Deacon Mike Linnenbrink, who also serves the Lee County parishes, assisted. After the final blessing, Father Spannagel told the students, “When you go forth through those doors, you don’t go alone. Jesus is with you.”

Barb Arland-Fye
Teens Ian Lyons and Taylor Lundgren participate in a music activity, guided by musician Steve Angrisano (on stage) during the Eucharistic Revival on the Mississippi April 18 in the Burlington Memorial Auditorium.

Lasting impressions

Eighth-grader Ava Fruehling, 14, of Burlington Notre Dame School, described the conference as a great experience and said it would be good for everyone present to take home the message she was taking away: to grow in faith. “I’ve been trying to grow my faith more,” she said.

“It was fun to sit with your friends and learn about God,” said Bella Drew, 14, also a Notre Dame eight-grader. “It’s a good way to grow close to him.” Notre Dame eighth-grader Emma Elmore, 14, said she thinks more people should come to events like this one. “They’ll be a lot closer to God.”

Notre Dame eighth-grader Kyler Cameron, 13, appreciated each talk and especially Angrisano’s singing. Dall’s talk encouraged Kyler to ask God questions, he said. Notre Dame seventh-grader Miles O’Donnell, 13, was grateful for the experience to be together with students from other schools.

Six Catholic schools sent students — the Davenport Diocese’s Burlington Notre Dame, Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine and Holy Trinity Catholic Schools in Lee County and the Peoria Diocese’s Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg, Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth and St. Paul Catholic School in Macomb. “Everyone is here worshipping God,” Miles said.

Conner Gehling, 18, a Holy Trinity High senior, said he learned a lot about the Eucharist and took away this message: “We need to make God a daily part of our lives.” He plans to do so through “prayer and being grateful for everything I have.”

Baxter said planning for the revival began a year ago and she was grateful for all who helped make it happen, and especially for the support of Father Greiner. “It was a beautiful effort,” Roth said. “We couldn’t have done it without our helpers, the student ambassadors.” Baxter was struck by the silence that students demonstrated during eucharistic adoration and the speakers’ talks. “The kids were letting the words soak in through the silence.”

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