True Presence, False Alarm

Bishop Richard Stika’s episcopal motto is “Jesus, I Trust in You.” That thought certainly crossed my mind at the Diocese of Knoxville’s Eucharistic Congress when the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was interrupted by an unexpected noise.

The fire alarm sounded inside the Sevierville Convention Center, right after the censing of the monstrance by Cardinal Justin Rigali. As emcee, I knew I had to do something. I actually thought the incense had triggered a smoke detector. I approached the podium and said so to the crowd. Everyone remained in place, in silent reverence to the Eucharist.

I kept an eye on one of the cameramen, who I knew has a day job as a captain with the fire department. If he wasn’t moving, I wasn’t worried. From the podium, I could also see Cardinal Timothy Dolan in the front row. He wasn’t moving either.

In the very brief time that we waited, organizers of the Eucharistic Congress determined that someone had pulled the switch on a wall plate elsewhere in the building and that there was no fire. I continued making announcements, thanking the assembly for their patience, until the alarm sound was turned off.

When the ceremony resumed, my wife used the same podium to sing the Gospel Acclamation. She didn’t stop singing when the voice of a member of the Convention Center staff came over the building-wide P.A. to confirm what I had already told the group in Hall B. I was amazed at how she kept her composure and so were many of our friends who commented about it later.

Cardinal Dolan’s keynote address immediately followed the exposition of the Eucharist. In his remarks, he said, “Do you know what it meant to me to be walking out of that hall and seeing hundreds of people lined up for the sacrament of penance? There were so many sins being confessed that the fire alarm went off!”

Diocese of Knoxville Eucharistic Congress - Frank during false fire alarm - Photo by Scott Maentz

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