DUBLIN, Ireland — Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly, Ireland, told the crowd gathered for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress that the priesthood “is not to be undertaken purely as a personal honor.”

Instead, the purpose of the priesthood is “the service of the faithful, to enable them to exercise their own special priesthood.”

Archbishop Clifford noted, “It belongs to bishops and priests to preside at the altar and to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. But the Eucharist has to be at the center of the life of all members in the Church. There is a beautiful balance here. On one hand, it is through the grace of the Eucharist — Christ’s ultimate expression of love — that the Church is made present. And, on the other hand, it is through the priestly ministry of the Church that the Eucharist is made present. Each has been entrusted to the other, so to speak, by Christ.”

Speaking on the gathering’s theme of “Priesthood and Ministry in the Service of Communion,” the archbishop added, “It is no accident, of course, that the word ‘Communion’ is the same word we use for the sacrament of the Eucharist: Christianity is an invitation to share in the communion of the Holy Trinity and to live in communion with one another, nourished by the Bread of Life.”

That morning, at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI offered prayers for the congress, urging his audience in Rome “to remain spiritually united to Christians in Ireland and the world, praying for the work of the congress, that the Eucharist may always be the pulsating heart of all Church life.”

Meanwhile, the Pope’s representative at the gathering was finishing his pilgrimage to Lough Derg, where he had spent the night fasting and undertaking various other forms of penitential exercise.

Cardinal Marc Ouellett had arrived at the penitential island the evening before and had been greeted by Bishop of Clogher Liam MacDaid at St. Patrick’s Basilica. Bishop MacDaid told him, “We know, Cardinal Ouellet, that you have come in the name of the Shepherd showing his love for the wounded sheep. We share the shame of these wounds. We share the admiration and appreciation of all good people who acknowledge the courage of those victims who have come forward and spoken.”

During his time at Lough Derg, the cardinal met for about two hours with a representative group of survivors of child abuse in the Church, with each survivor speaking of his or her own experience and its impact on their lives.

He then celebrated Mass in St. Patrick’s Basilica with approximately 100 pilgrims, explaining in his homily that “Pope Benedict XVI asked me, as his legate to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, that I would come to Lough Derg and ask God’s forgiveness for the times clerics have sexually abused children, not only in Ireland, but anywhere in the Church.”

“I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness from God and from the victims for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics,” he continued. “We have learned over the last decades how much harm and despair such abuse has caused to thousands of victims. We learned too that the response of some Church authorities to these crimes was often inadequate and inefficient in stopping the crimes, in spite of clear indications in the Code of Canon Law.

“In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of whom I have met here in Lough Derg.”

He continued, “The tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by Christians, especially when done so by members of the clergy, is a source of great shame and enormous scandal. It is a sin against which Jesus himself lashed out. … As members of the Church, we must have the courage to ask humbly for God’s pardon, as well as for the forgiveness of those who have been wounded. We must remain close to them on their road of suffering, seeking in every possible way to heal and bind up the wounds, following the example of the Good Samaritan.”

The cardinal said that he would report on his meeting with abuse survivors directly to the Pope.

In Dublin, Canadian Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller spoke in the main arena about the purpose of the priesthood. He was followed by Noreen Carroll, a parishioner from Foxrock Parish in Dublin, who said, “The way in which each priest makes Christ present to all of us who seek God is the great mystery of priesthood.”

Sister Conchita McDonnell, president of the Conference of Religious Ireland, spoke about “Consecrated Life: A Life of Communion” and commented that, despite the situation in Ireland, the witness of religious orders is not ineffective but can have a lasting impact on people’s lives.

The day ended with Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez-Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, celebrating Mass. He stated: “The liturgy tells us that the saints fulfill a triple function in the Church: the example of their lives, the help of their intercession and the sharing of their destiny.”

After Mass, more than 12,500 pilgrims, clergy and parishioners took part in the 50th International Eucharistic Congress procession.

The theme for the following day, June 14, was “Reconciliation in our Communion.” In the main arena, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, presided over a liturgy of reconciliation, urging pilgrims to follow a course of “intense introspection and examination of conscience, so that we can put all our broken ways into the healing and repairing hands of God in the sacrament of penance, a penance that can reconcile us with each other and bring us back into the embrace of communion with each other.”

After the liturgy, pilgrims were encouraged to attend confession in the Congress’ prayer space.

Following this, Richard Moore, founder of Children in Crossfire, spoke of how, when he was 10 years old in 1972, he was blinded by a bullet on his way home from school. Speaking about forgiveness, Moore told pilgrims, “First and foremost, forgiveness is a gift to yourself,” and “Forgiveness won’t change the past, but it will change the future.”

Mass was then celebrated in the arena by Cardinal Sean Brady with, among others, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In his homily, Cardinal Brady, the primate of All Ireland, said that one of his hopes for the Congress “is that more and more enemies will begin to speak to one another, more and more adversaries may shake hands, and more and more opponents may try and meet and simply talk.”

Speaking of the need for reconciliation, he said, “Sin is not a very popular word in our culture. Evil is often thought of as something rare and extreme, if it is believed to exist at all. Yet history tells us, time and time again, that a loss of a sense of sin, or the belief that evil is just an extreme to which I have no connection, can have serious consequences.”

But, he maintained, it is Christ and confession that “mends the broken bonds between individuals and God and between individuals and the body of Christ, the Church. It also helps to restore the bonds of mutual affection, peace and accord within society.”

Referring to the healing stone placed before the altar, Cardinal Brady said it serves “as a reminder of those children and young people who were hurt by a Church that first betrayed their trust and then failed to respond adequately to their pain.”

He continued, “May God forgive us for the times when we as individuals and as a Church failed to seek out and care for those little ones who were frightened, alone and in pain because someone was abusing them. That we did not always respond to your cries with the concern of the Good Shepherd is a matter of deep shame. We lament the burdens of the painful memories you carry. We pray for healing and peace for those whose suffering continues.”

The cardinal offered an apology “for the times when some of us were blind to your fear, deaf to your cries and silent in response to your pain.”

“What this stone represents, what has happened in the Church in Ireland and in other places in the world, is a stark warning to all that there can be no passing by on the other side, no room for half-heartedness in our care for the vulnerable and the young,” he noted.

“Every moral choice we make, no matter how small, has consequences. The smallest act of kindness can bring good far beyond our expectations. The smallest act of selfishness can contribute to a wider culture of evil and death that has harmful consequences far beyond our intentions.”

Register correspondent James Kelly is a columnist for The Universe.