DUBLIN, Ireland — The 50th International Eucharistic Congress opened in Ireland on June 10 with a parade made up of pilgrims from more than 120 countries.
As part of the opening ceremony, Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who is representing Pope Benedict XVI at the Congress. Concelebrants included Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for Eucharistic Congresses, Archbishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse, France, and Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, Ontario.
Delivering the opening greeting to 12,500 pilgrims, Archbishop Martin said, “The Church is not ours to redesign; it is a gift that we receive from the Lord, with the guidance throughout history of the Holy Spirit and following the example of Mary and the saints.”
“We look forward in hope. We do not rely on our own talents. We are sure that in our efforts of renewal we are never alone. The Eucharist is food for our journey, inviting us to emulate the self-giving love of Jesus, who gave himself for us,” he said.
He continued, “The Church in Ireland is on the path to renewal. It will be a lengthy journey. It requires renewed and vigorous New Evangelization, a renewal in faith and in coherent and authentic witness to that faith in the world and in the culture in which we live.”
Despite reports before the event that there would be large-scale demonstrations against the Congress, there were only around 50 protesters outside the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) sports stadium.
Commenting on Ireland’s well-documented sex-abuse abuse crisis and subsequent cover-up by the bishops, Archbishop Martin said that the last 50 years have been “marked with a darker side, of sinful and criminal abuse and neglect of those weakest in our society: children, who should have been the object of the greatest care and support and Christlike love. We recall all those who suffered abuse and who still today bear the mark of that abuse and may well carry it with them for the rest of their lives. In a spirit of repentance, let us remember each of them in the silence of our hearts.”
The papal legate, Cardinal Ouellet, also touched on the subject during the Mass, saying that “the Church in Ireland is suffering and faces many new and serious challenges to the faith.”
The cardinal subsequently spent the night of June 12 making a pilgrimage of public repentance for the universal Church scandal at the penitential island of Lough Derg in County Donegal at the request of Pope Benedict XVI. He also met privately with some abuse victims.
During the opening ceremony, a “healing stone” was unveiled: Made out of Wicklow granite, it is engraved with a prayer composed by a survivor of clerical abuse. Father Kevin Doran, secretary general of the congress, said: “Stone speaks of permanence. To say something is ‘carved in stone’ is to say that it is here to stay, rather than just a passing thought. The stone represents the firm determination to work for healing and renewal.”
The Congress’ first full day, June 11, took as its theme “Communion in one baptism.” In the morning, pilgrims attended Mass in their native languages at 34 host churches located throughout Dublin, with hundreds of Canadian pilgrims attending a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Ouellet, who was archbishop of Quebec when the 49th International Eucharistic Congress was held there four years ago.
At the RDS conference hall, Archbishop Martin delivered a speech on the Church in the modern world.
He said that the Church in Ireland needs to embrace “the concept of New Evangelization understood as a profound renewal in faith.”
The archbishop of Dublin said that involved preparing “new generations of Christians who can, with competence and idealism, be truly at the heart of political culture, alongside persons of different viewpoints, but fully inspired by their Christian vision.”
Acknowledging the situation in the West, he said that for the first time there is a “need for a radically renewed proclamation of the Gospel for those already baptized but who have long since not experienced a real relationship with Jesus Christ. The particular challenge in Ireland is to know who Jesus is. Many nominal Catholics, including some who, notwithstanding regular attendance in church, have never reflected personally on the faith they have assimilated through societal and familial influence.”
He continued, “The Gospel must be preached courageously, even if it does not seem to find roots in people’s lives. Resignation and keeping things ticking over will never renew the Church. A divided, squabbling Church will not attract young people, but only alienate them. On the other hand, no one should fear the message of the Gospel. It would be falsehood to deny the contribution that the Gospel has brought to the evolution of Ireland and the contribution it can bring to create a future Ireland at the service of hope for all.”
Archbishop Martin concluded, “The Church must rediscover its own sense of communion and sense of common purpose, overcoming its internal divisions in a spirit of love of the Church and in a dialogue of charity.”
In the arena, the day was dedicated to ecumenism. Brother Alois Löser, prior of the Christian Taizé community in France, spoke on “Communion and Baptism: A Passion for the Unity of Christ’s Body,” saying, “Christ makes all the baptized ambassadors of reconciliation in the world. We are the body of Christ, not in order to feel good together and to withdraw into ourselves, but to reach out to others.
“We cannot receive unity with God without receiving unity among all human beings. The purpose of the Church is to be the visible sign, the sacrament of this.”
Maria Voce, president of the Focolare movement, told the pilgrims that Jesus “urges us to look together at the world as he did: to love it, to save it, to help people experience the peace and light that he brings. In this way, the Church goes beyond the confines of our buildings of worship. In full communion and fellowship among all, it draws closer to today’s humanity in order to respond to all its needs and questions with the answers that only the Gospel can offer.”
Her talk was followed by a interdenominational “liturgy of word and water” ceremony led by the Anglican archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, Michael Jackson, Rev. Kenneth Lindsay, president of the Methodist Church and Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
Archbishop Jackson commented, “Baptism enables distinct Christian communities to have not simply parallel lives, but a shared life conjoined in the missionary purpose of God.”
On the morning of June 12, Cardinal Ouellet, along with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, met with Irish President Michael Higgins before the cardinal traveled to Lough Derg for his pilgrimage.
The day’s theme was the central role of communion in marriage and the family and started with Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh and St. Andrew’s praying with hundreds of pilgrims in the Congress’ designated prayer space.
In one of the day’s workshops on “Clerical Child Abuse,” a packed audience heard from Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines.
He said, “The so-called crisis of the clergy unfolding these past years is immense in scope. It includes allegations of sexual misconduct, suspicions about the clergy’s handling of money, accusations of misuse of authority, inappropriate lifestyle and a host of other things. The faithful are appalled at the rudeness of their pastors.”
“At first glance, this crisis seems to be about explicitly sexual behavior only. But a closer look at the actual cases reveals that deep theological, spiritual, anthropological and pastoral issues are involved. That is why the impressionist way by which some people tackle the problem is quite inadequate and even unfair,” he noted.
In the RDS arena, pilgrims heard from Archbishop of Perth Barry Hickey and teacher and columnist Breda O’Brien, who commented, “If we want to relearn the value of the Eucharist, perhaps we also need to relearn the value of the kitchen table and the family meal.”
Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, said that “too often the cultural commentary about marriage, especially found in defense of divorce, suggests marriage and family is risky because one’s commitment and contribution may not ‘pay off’; that there may not be an adequate return on one’s investment in the marriage.”
Anderson continued “And yet, our sacrifices are put in perspective at every Mass when we say: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.’ What a dramatic expression of Christ’s love for us.”
Mass was celebrated by, amongst others, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, who said in his homily that Christian families should live by the values of “reconciliation, mutual acceptance and joy in giving one’s life for one’s loved ones.”
Register correspondent James Kelly is a columnist for The Universe.