50th International Eucharistic Congress: a Wrap-up (Part 2)

“We need to go forward on the path to heaven”

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By William A. Thomas

DUBLIN, Ireland, JUNE 25, 2012 (Zenit.org).- This is Part 2 of a reflection on the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, held last week in Dublin. Part 1 was published Monday.

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While the Eucharistic Congress got under way it was beamed across the world by satellite to over 100 million viewers through Salt and Light Television Networks, EWTN, Eurovision, and other television and radio networks especially in Asia. While the images and reporting were positive, it was Ireland’s own secular media that tried to distort the great things that were happening during the week, focusing only on the negative and giving the people of Ireland a diet of bad news and always on the same hymn sheet of child abuse. Despite the many reports and apologies and the public penances done by the Papal Legate, the Apostolic Nuncio and others, the Irish media kept churning out the past, however the Congress sought to emphasise the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives and the life of the Church. Cardinal Rodriguez gave a homily on the feast of Saint Anthony that was interrupted by applause from delighted pilgrims who attended the 4pm Mass, and which was concelebrated by up to 1,200 clergy. The Cardinal spoke on the Eucharist in the life of the Church and in the life of Saint Anthony of Padua saying that “Christ, ‘the living bread that has come down from Heaven’, is the only one who can alleviate the hunger of the human person at all times and in all places of the earth. He cannot do it alone, however, and for that reason, as in the multiplication of the bread, He involves the disciples: “He then took the five loaves and two fish and, raising His eyes to heaven, pronounced a blessing over them; He broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.” (Lk.9:16). This powerful sign is an image of that wonderful mystery of love which is renewed every day in the Holy Mass: through the ministry of the priest. Christ gives His body and His blood for the life of humanity. And those who are worthily participate at the table become living instruments of His loving, merciful, and peace-bringing presence.”  

One of the great highlights of the Congress was the Eucharistic procession through the streets of Dublin. What a wonderful spectacle to see the priests and religious in their habits again, and to see the Papal Knights, the Knights and Dames of Jerusalem, the Scouts, members of Saint John of God and the Order of Malta, all walking in procession marshalled by that loving army of volunteers. When one sees up to 15,000 people walking in front of, and behind the blessed Sacrament, it is impossible not to be moved, nor to have a glimpse of what the long awaited renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland might bring in terms of vocations and availability of the Sacraments.

Ireland’s Cardinal Sean Brady gave the most emotive homily at the Congress, his voice quivering with deep emotion as he expressed his profound love for the Church, for Christ and for the people of Ireland. Having reflected on the past he went on to indicate the way forward, the path toward renewal saying that “Every celebration of the Eucharist is indeed a ‘truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil’. Every Eucharist rolls away that heaviest of all stones, the stone in our heart that keeps us back from friendship with Christ and with one another. Every Eucharist proclaims ‘Christ is risen – Our God is alive!’ He lives in you and in me. Through His Holy Eucharist he continues to reconcile us to one another. In the memorial of his passion and death, made present in every Eucharist, he continues to reconcile the whole world to himself. Let us therefore be reconciled with God. Let us bring that reconciliation to others. For in this is our peace; in this lies the greatest hope for our world.”

The last day of the Congress saw the climax of the week’s events, which passed too quickly, with a special mass concelebrated in Croke Park, Ireland’s national stadium. Here the Catholic Church in Ireland was showcased live across the world, and here the liturgy was celebrated in all its splendour. Some 75,000 pilgrims poured in to this magnificent stadium, one pilgrim even walking from Tipperary — what a long way!

Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his homily during this closing Mass of the Congress called for a new beginning for the Church in Ireland saying that “We can rely on the Lord for a new beginning. St. Paul gives us the key for any personal or ecclesial renewal: “We are intent on pleasing Him” (2 Cor. 5:6). This key to renewal in our lives is a decision to recommit ourselves to love the Lord and to live and to die for Him, knowing that His grace will never fail. May the upcoming ‘Year of Faith’ strengthen in us this decision!

At the end of the Mass, having listened to all the choirs and singers, the baton was now ready to be handed over to another country for the International Eucharistic Congress 2016, but it was the prerogative of the Holy Father to tell us via a pre-recorded message that was played at the end of the celebrations who the fortunate hosts would be. The Pope appeared on the screens to thunderous applause and his message was powerful “The Eucharist,” he said, “is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others. Moreover, the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, his body and blood given in the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of the world. Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries, and by its power and grace generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness well beyond your shores. You are the heirs to a Church that has been a mighty force for good in the world, and which has given a profound and enduring love of Christ and his blessed Mother to many, many others. Your forebears in the Church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives, how to preach the joy that comes from the Gospel, how to promote the importance of belonging to the universal Church in communion with the See of Peter, and how to pass on a love of the faith and Christian virtue to other generations. Our Catholic faith, imbued with a radical sense of God’s presence, caught up in the beauty of his creation all around us, and purified through personal penance and awareness of God’s forgiveness, is a legacy that is surely perfected and nourished when regularly placed on the Lord’s altar at the sacrifice of the Mass.”

Ireland’s International Eucharistic Congress was a resounding success in every way, not only in the outpouring of faith, but the desire and hunger of the lay people who made up 90% of those who attended the Congress. The spiritual starvation and famine for catechesis should now be the urgent focus of the Catholic bishops of Ireland, all of whom attended the Congress and witnessed at first hand the enthusiasm of the pilgrims from every diocese in Ireland. The Congress has not ended, but has just begun, and the process of renewal, so much desired by the Holy Spirit and by the Holy Father must begin as an imperative. Sound orthodox catechesis is the way forward on a parish by parish basis, and the hunger which was exhibited at the Congress is only a microcosm of what i
s out there. Croke Park filled with Mass goers was impressive, but the reality is, that even if only half of the Catholic population in Ireland went to Mass on Sunday, they would fill Croke Park 24 times, while the daily Mass goer would fill it five times. So with great expectation the Catholic population of Ireland are now awaiting not only for the appointment of new and exciting bishops, but an urgent roll-out of a proper, orthodox catechesis, proper liturgical celebrations, and good homiletics. Anything less than that will deform the faith causing more to leave the Church, and the Eucharistic Congress must be seen as the catalyst for the way forward and the renewal of the Church in Ireland. Now is the time to move on — so together let us move forward and not allow ourselves to be stuck in the past, which is now gone. We need to go forward on the path to heaven.

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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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