The 50th International Eucharistic Congress

Opening Mass (6-10-12) 50th International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin

The 50th International Eucharist Congress was held in Dublin between the 10th to the 17th of 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 say 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 at 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 euro cost of staging the Congress but to put in place the various structures, places, and personnel to ensure that the Congress but 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 choose 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, café’s restaurants and exhibition halls where scenes such as the “house of Saint Peter” was 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 10th of June, the transferred solemnity of Corpus Christi and which was celebrate by the Papal Legate, his Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, currently the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican. 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 to 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 but 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 of the RDS the Papal Legate spoke on the theme of the Holy Eucharist in the light of the solemnity of Corpus 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 which 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 quite 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 Clare’s 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 signed 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 8 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.

Yes, some 120 countries were represented at the Congress by their respective delegations with Canada and the Philippines being the largest groups with almost 1000 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 was 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.

While the Eucharistic Congress got underway 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, who 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 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 which was interrupted by applause from delighted pilgrims who attended the 4pm mass celebrated daily, 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 at the RDS 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, the Saint John of God and 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 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 in 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. 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 represented 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. While many initiatives in the past have gone by default due to a fossilized apathy in thinking by the few, this type of thinking is no longer acceptable. 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 is 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 5 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-the rot must stop and the 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 now allow ourselves to be stuck in the past, which is now gone, apologies are made, penance is done and we need to go forward on the path to heaven.

William A. Thomas is a theologian living in Ireland.  He worked in the Vatican (1984-1990) under the Vicar General of Vatican City, Bishop Van Lierde, as English Secretary.  He studied at the Pontifical Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome where he received his Licentiate (STL) and Doctorate (STD) in sacred Theology.

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