By Wendy Royston
Last month, while they were in a Minnesota parish, Earl Markley of Tea and Jim Koenig of Tyndall were struck by a man who came up to share his testimony with tears in his eyes after hearing their presentation on the Real Presence Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit.
The day before that exhibit was introduced in his home parish in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Jeff Lemna had left a three-day men’s retreat a day early after he was overcome with anxiety and questioned the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“I think the devil got me there for a little while,” Jeff, an otherwise devout Catholic, said. “I was doubting Christ’s presence, and it led me to get more anxiety about being around all these strangers until I got an uncontrollable urge to get out of there as quickly as possible. I was not in a good place.”
He fled the retreat, ran to his room, packed up and drove home, feeling shameful for having let the feeling of doubt consume him. The following day, Jeff attended Mass with his wife and daughter.
“I’d just gone to confession Saturday, but I really doubted whether I deserved Communion. I decided to receive, and when I got back [to the pew], I got completely emotional,” Jeff said, and immediately shared his experience with his wife.
Following Mass, Earl invited the congregation to visit the exhibit.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jeff recalled thinking before he was compelled to share his story publicly with fellow parishioners at the exhibit during Earl’s presentation. “Everything I went through [Saturday] night was the garbage and the doubt to get me to come home and experience the exhibit.”
Since that experience, Jeff said he has felt moved to share his experience more broadly, though he is unsure of where and how that might lead him.
Jeff said that weekend was “an amazing few hours of my life that were life-changing” and has led him to better focus during the Mass. “I’m a lot more attentive…on what’s actually occurring and on what we’re actually doing. I was there before, but I was not as connected.”
Perfectly timed miracles
Stories like Jeff’s and the miracles themselves are “proof to me that God’s plan is perfect,” according to Stacy Diaz, who brought the exhibit to Breckenridge after experiencing it twice in South Dakota.
Stacy had been working on the event prior to COVID, but it was put on hold. Then, due to unfortunate scheduling conflicts, the event was not well-publicized, and many parishioners, including Jeff, were unaware it would be happening until that weekend.
“I was really frustrated with how Satan had gotten in there and prevented us from getting some of our publicity out,” Stacy said, but turnout ended up being pretty strong, with many parishioners staying in the exhibit at least an hour and some returning with loved ones. And, for Jeff, Stacy said, “The timing was perfect. I don’t know if the timing affected anyone else there, but for this man, the timing was perfect. That was the weekend we needed to have that exhibit here.”
The experience was a reminder to Earl that the philosophy Jim preaches to him is accurate: “If one person changes their heart, it was worth whatever it took us to do it.”
The experience in Breckenridge was notable, according to Earl, but the 160 miracles he and Jim have shared in 11 years of visits to 93 parishes in seven states, spanning more than 40,000 miles, are what change hearts.
“I learned right away that there’s nothing I can say that can make people believe in the real presence of the Eucharist,” Earl said. “That’s got to be between them and the Holy Spirit. So I try to…help them get into the mood that they’re thinking that this could be possible” with a presentation before attendees enter into the exhibit. He also shows the crowd a video entitled which depicts what is happening spiritually during the eucharistic prayers of the Mass.
For Mark Hegge, a parishioner at St. Peter Parish in Platte, the experience solidified what he already believed and better equipped him to defend the faith he already trusted.
“It was kind of like a Thomas moment, where I had to see it to believe it,” Mark said. “I did believe it was the true presence, and I really [hadn’t given] it a lot of thought, as far as validating and proving it. It wasn’t anything that really changed my belief [but] it’s really great ammunition when others doubt the validity of the faith,” because he now has concrete evidence he can share with others who question the tenets of the Catholic Church.
Mark said it still all comes down to faith—choosing to believe—but knowing the stories of the eucharistic miracles is a way he can fuel a desire to learn more in those who don’t already have the faith to lean on.
“In John 6, [Jesus] meant what he said, linking [the miracles] to the Last Supper, there’s actually proof,” Mark said. “It’s been proven in many different ways that this is true. It’s not just a symbol. I believe it; I guess it’s up to the Lord to change your mind.
“At some point in time, you have to take things on faith,” but this is indisputable, Mark went on. “But…there’s a lot of scientific proof that’s [been found] by non-Christian people.”
He acknowledged that most who visit the exhibit likely already believe in the Real Presence, but it provides reinforcement.
“It’s a wonderful witness.”
Miracles beyond imagining
“I can’t even give you a handful of parishes where we haven’t seen people crying,” Earl said, adding that more than 40 people were in tears at the recent exhibit in Breckenridge. “The Holy Spirit touches them while they’re reading, and that’s what brings them to tears.”
Commonly, individuals leave the exhibit quickly to sit in prayer in the church. Once, a group of people returned to the display three times, and the men approached them to ensure nothing was awry.
“They said, ‘We’re not Catholic, and if this is what’s going on in the Catholic Church, then we’re going to become Catholic,’” Earl recalled.
The exhibit was created by Blessed Carlo Acutis, a teenager from Italy who was “enthralled with the Eucharist,” Earl said. A devout Catholic despite being raised by parents “lukewarm” for the faith, Acutis insisted they take him to the 160 sites where eucharistic miracles had been confirmed in southern Europe. He then compiled stories and photographs of the miracles into the posters that Earl received on disc in 2010.
He is known as “the millennial saint,” as he is the first millenial to have been beatified. He died of leukemia in 2006, and was beatified 14 years later, when the healing of a child’s lifelong pancreatic condition was cured after his mother prayed Acutis’s novena, asking for healing.
“When [Acutis] passed away, his parents donated the posters to the Vatican, and the pope wanted everyone in the world to see them, to help them with their unbelief in the Eucharist,” Earl explained.
The original collection belongs to the Vatican. Father John Hardon and The Real Presence Association brought the first exhibit to the United States in the early 2000s. At one time, 19 exhibits traversed the country, but Earl said he’s been told that several have fallen out of circulation in recent years.
The miracle depicted in the last poster Acutis compiled was confirmed in 2005, and it provides indisputable evidence that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, Earl said.
“The medical field wasn’t quite as [advanced] when the older miracles happened,” Earl said. “In the 2005 testing, they could actually tell you what part of the heart that the tissue came from—it came from the part of the heart that actually pumps blood, they could tell by the cell structure. We like to compare that miracle to the Lanciano miracle. They took samples from those two miracles, 750 years apart, and world-renowned scientists have all said both of these samples came from the same man. They know it is from a man from the Middle East, and they know he was severely traumatized because there are white corpuscles in the tissue.”
Earl said “it is pretty hard to argue” that the miracles are untrue with that kind of evidence. But one other bit of information drives home another major tenet of the faith.
“The DNA is incomplete,” Earl said. “They can find the chromosomes for the mother, but there are none for the father.”
Earl said three world-renowned scientists have confirmed that incomplete DNA has never before been found. He said he loves to visit the University of South Dakota Medical School to discuss these findings.
Although they haven’t added any official posters to Acutis’s display, Earl and Jim have incorporated a display about a 1995 occurrence when Pope John Paul II visited Baltimore. Security guards sent human-tracking dogs into a church when the pope said he wanted to pray before the Blessed Sacrament prior to speaking to seminarians, to be sure no one wishing to harm him was hiding inside. The dog barked, signaling that they’d found someone, and when the guards entered the church, they were shocked to find the dog seated, pointing to the tabernacle.
In Breckenridge, Stacy said a similar situation happened when a visiting missionary mistakenly let a former priest’s cat into the church, only to find it intently staring at the tabernacle.
Although neither of those instances are confirmed eucharistic miracles, Earl said he believes they happen—or at least are noticed—at a higher pace now than when Acutis was putting together his displays.
“When Jesus was on earth, [he performed] miracles to show them that he was really God,” Earl said. “He knew of their unbelief, so he knows of our unbelief. We need miracles to make us believe, too. It just makes sense to me.”
Stacy said visitors to the exhibit in Breckenridge questioned why the miracles happen only in Europe, but she pointed out Acutis covered only those that were proximate to him.
“We’re not being left out. It just wasn’t part of the exhibit,” she said. “This stuff happens in the United States, too—it happens all over the world. This is just as far as Blessed Carlo got. These [miracles] happen all the time, but this is as far as he got.”
Stacy said those questions give a glimpse into the brokenness and desire for a seemingly unattainable holiness. “Sometimes we’re afraid we might not be a part of the chosen people.”
How to see the exhibit
The Real Presence Eucharistic Miracle Exhibit schedule fills up fast, according to Earl, as he and Jim try to only take it out twice a month. There is no cost to host the exhibit, but the men do ask for the assistance of a few individuals to set up and take down the displays, as well as provisions for meals and shelter while they are in a community. The men have been amazed at the generosity of visitors’ free-will donations that have helped them to maintain their displays, trailer and vehicle.
Interested parishes can inquire as to its availability by calling (605) 214-1620. Currently, the exhibit is booked through mid-July.