50th International Eucharistic Congress: a Wrap-up (Part 1)

«What was manifested … was the absolute hunger for knowledge of God and of the Church»

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By William A. Thomas

DUBLIN, Ireland, JUNE 25, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The 50th International Eucharist Congress was held in Dublin between the 10thto the 17thof June 2012. The Congress was not confined exclusively to Dublin however but was in part celebrated at Ireland’s national Marian Shrine in Knock and at Saint Patrick’s Purgatory in Donegal. The overall theme of the Congress was “Communion with Christ and with One Another” however there were sub themes to this on a daily basis, for example on Monday the theme was “Communion in One Baptism.” Tuesday and the subsequent days saw the themes change to “Communion in Marriage and Family,” “Priesthood and Ministry in the Service of Communion,” “Reconciliation in our Communion,” “Communion in Suffering and in Healing” and finally on Saturday “Communion in the Word through Mary.”

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI announced to the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in Canada in 2008 that the 2012 Congress would take place in Dublin in Ireland. Since that time Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic Archbishop and Primate of Ireland’s 26 counties, busied himself in the enormous task of organising a Catholic “Olympics” in his Archdiocese that would see some 223 keynote speakers, which included personal testimonies, homilies given by a variety of cardinals, archbishops and bishops, and workshops that gave the attending participants, which numbered up to 25,000 daily, an overview of catechesis, teachings and life of the Church. A total of 160 workshops were concluded, some of which were repeated by popular demand, and many of which were given to the young people.

The archbishop appointed the very capable Father Kevin Doran as the General Secretary of the Congress. His job was not only to oversee the €12 million cost of staging the Congress but to put in place the various structures, places, and personnel to ensure that the Congress not only be a safe venue, but a place which could be transformed into a Eucharistic Village for the duration of the Congress. Father Doran was even able to recruit a small army of 1,700 uniformed volunteers to help guide and protect the pilgrims. These volunteers acted so professionally and with the utmost courtesy to one and all, that it would be such a sorry state to see them disbanded. There is still room in Catholic Ireland for such an organisation if they would come together again and elect for themselves a President and various office holders who would see this army of true lovers of the Church preserved for other duties not only in Ireland, but perhaps in other parts of the world and in particular in many of the world’s Marian shrines, which attract millions of pilgrims every year. Father Doran chose the central location of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) and transformed it into the Eucharistic Village made up of chapels for Eucharistic adoration, conference halls, cafés, restaurants and exhibition halls where scenes such as the “house of Saint Peter” were recreated in order to show the attending participants something of what Our Blessed Lord would have seen as he journeyed through the Holy Land by the Sea of Galilee. One therefore has to take one’s hat off to Father Doran and say publicly; “Congratulations Father Kevin on  a job well done” and a heartfelt thanks to the army of volunteers who gave of their time, energy and resources, and who became for this writer at least, an army of friends.

The opening Mass of the Congress fell on Sunday the 10thof June, the transferred solemnity of Corpus Christi, and was celebrate by the Papal Legate, his Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, currently the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Ouellet was the Archbishop of Quebec during the Congress there in 2008 and had already the experience of previous Eucharistic Congresses. During the opening Mass, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin blessed a specially carved granite Stone as a permanent reminder of the victims of child sexual abuse not only here in Ireland, but throughout the world, that they will never be forgotten, and this unspeakable crime against innocence will never again be tolerated or accepted or ignored as in the past but will be dealt with by both Church and civil authorities. In blessing the Stone, the Archbishop stood aside and a young woman who represented the victims of abuse read aloud its inscription in a voice filled with emotion, saying, “Lord we are so sorry, for what some of us did to your children, treated them so cruelly, especially in their hour of need. We have left them with a life-long suffering; this was not Your plan for them or us. Please help us to help them, guide us, oh Lord. Amen.

The Papal Legate was joined in celebrating the opening Mass by Archbishop Martin of Dublin; the president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Conferences, Archbishop Piero Marini; Archbishop Robert LeGall of Toulouse; Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins; Archbishop Charles Brown, papal nuncio to Ireland; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. In his homily Cardinal Ouellet said “We come here as God’s family, called by Him to listen to His holy Word, to remember who we are in light of salvation history and to respond to God through the greatest and most sublime prayer ever known to the world: the Holy Eucharist. How fitting it is that, in God’s providence, this gathering takes place here in Ireland. This is a country known for its natural beauty, its hospitality, and its rich culture, but most especially for its long tradition of fidelity to the Catholic faith. Ireland’s strong history of faithfulness has enriched not only these shores, but has, through her missionary sons and daughters, helped to bring the Gospel too many others, on far-distant shores.”

Reminding the some 15,000 participants in the arena area, the Papal Legate spoke on the theme of the Holy Eucharist in the light of the solemnity of Corpus Christi, saying that “our gathering is an act of faith in the Holy Eucharist, the treasure of the Church, which is essential to her life and to our communion as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Church draws her life from the Eucharist; she receives her own identity from the gift of Christ’s own Body. In communion with His Body, the Church becomes what she receives: she becomes one body with Him in the Spirit of the new and eternal covenant. What a great and marvellous mystery! A mystery of love! May our own testimony, the Cardinal concluded, of mutual love and service to our brothers and sisters be a humble proclamation of the good news of the Holy Eucharist.”

On Monday the 11th, the crowds poured into the RDS to attend the conferences that commenced in the morning and concluded at 9pm. What was manifested silently on this day was to be repeated throughout the entire Congress, and that was the absolute hunger for knowledge of God and of the Church. The other noticeable event was the number of people who sought quiet time for prayerful adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament exposed to a full hall capable of accommodating some 300 people. In one of the 34 churches set aside as host churches for the Congress, the most impressive “host church” was undoubtedly the Poor Clare Monastery in Simmonscourt Road just across the road from the RDS. Here at Saint Damien’s Monastery, the Poor Clares opened their doors to thousands of pilgrims who streamed into their chapel for Eucharistic Adoration, many lined up outside the Chapel waiting patiently and in silence for a chance to go and worship Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. The entrance to the monastery was adorned with a variety of flowers, shrubs, and plants placed there in the form of the rosary by those with disabilities who also fully participated in the Congress. Another moving feature was the number of deaf people who attended, especially the Dublin deaf choir who sign
ed the words of hymns with their hands in total silence; one could only be moved with emotive tears at the sight and marvel at the glory of God and of His loved ones. Many of those who used sign language were able to see up to eight people on the altar using sign language to convey the homilies, however they were not always synchronised and when asked why not, they responded that some of the sign language was in Irish, while others were in German, French, English from Australia, England, the United States and Ireland.

Some 120 countries were represented at the Congress by their respective delegations with Canada and the Philippines being the largest groups with almost 1,000 pilgrims each and led by their archbishops. Liturgies were made more solemn by the various and beautiful choirs who were present and who sang such beautiful hymns, especially the Anima Christi, sung by the Congress Choir in a most devotional and holy way. Likewise too the Congress hymn “Though we are many we are one body — we come to share this living bread,” written by Bernard Sexton, was a delight.

Throughout the course of the Congress an underlining genre began to emerge as one listened attentively to some of the 120 Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops who gave many of the daily homilies and talks; that was that the Church is suffering but in so doing conforming itself to the suffering Servant, Christ the Lord. This suffering is in God plan, however the individual acts of evil perpetrated by the few, less than 1% of the clergy is not part of God’s plan and therefore causes the Church and in particular the Holy Father to suffer more and to feel ashamed. The Papal Legate, Cardinal Ouellet stated right at the beginning that “Now the Church in Ireland is suffering and faces many new and serious challenges to the faith. Well aware of these challenges, we turn together to Our Lord, who renews, heals, and strengthens the faith of His people. I know from my own experience of the last International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City that an event such as this brings many blessings to the local Church and to all the participants, including those who sustain it through prayer, volunteer work, and solidarity. And so we pray with confidence in the Eucharistic Lord that this, the fiftieth occurrence of this great universal Church event, may bring a very special blessing to Ireland at this turbulent time and to all of you.

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[Part 2 of this reflection will be published Tuesday.]

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William A. Thomas is a Catholic journalist based in Craughwell, Galway. He can be reached at newcity@eircom.net

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