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Reconciliation was a major theme at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, held in Ireland, a country where reconciliation is more meaningful than in most.
BY James Kelly
DUBLIN — The 50th International Eucharistic Congress ended in Dublin with Pope Benedict XVI addressing the need for renewal in the Eucharist.
The Pope had delegated Cardinal Marc Ouellet to be his representative at the international gathering, but addressed a crowd of 75,000 pilgrims at the conclusion of the Congress June 17 with a pre-recorded video.
While Ireland has long been nourished by the Mass and the Eucharist, the Pope said, the country’s recent troubles with an abuse scandal, made worse by a cover-up by some Church leaders, may have been due to a neglect of the Eucharist.
He urged a better understanding of the Second Vatican Council Fathers’ desires regarding liturgical renewal, saying it is clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities since the Church began implementing the Novus Ordo Missae.
“Not infrequently,” the Pope told pilgrims who had spent a week listening to talks about the Eucharist, “the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and ‘active participation’ has been confused with external activity. Hence, much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal.”
In his eight-and-a-half-minute address, the Pope explained that the Council Fathers had wanted to renew the external forms of the Mass so as to “make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery” and therefore “lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist.”
Touching on a recurring theme throughout the Congress, namely the abuse scandal in the Irish Church, Pope Benedict said that those guilty of the “appalling” crimes had understandably damaged the Church’s credibility in Ireland.
He told the Irish people that they are “the heirs to a Church that has been a mighty force for good in the world.” He said, “Your forebears in the Church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives … 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.”
Nevertheless, the Pope maintained, “Thankfulness and joy at such a great history of faith and love have recently been shaken in an appalling way by the revelation of sins committed by priests and consecrated persons against people entrusted to their care. ... How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of penance have offended in this way? It remains a mystery. Yet, evidently, their Christianity was no longer nourished by a joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: It had become merely a matter of habit.”
The Pope’s words were met with a standing ovation.
Healing for Abuse
The main celebrant at the concluding Mass was Cardinal Ouellet, who is prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Four years ago, he was archbishop of Quebec and hosted the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in that Canadian city.
Concelebrating were Cardinal Sean Brady, primate of All Ireland, and Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, as well as more than 1,000 priests.
Pope Benedict, during his address to the Dublin gathering, announced that the next Eucharistic Congress will be held in the Philippines.
In his homily, Cardinal Ouellet urged those present to bear witness to Christ and call others to faith in the Eucharist. “The Irish bell, which resounds from Lough Derg, from Knock and Dublin, must resound in the whole world,” he said. “Let’s ring the bell further through our personal testimony of renewed faith in the holy Eucharist.”
Earlier in the week, Cardinal Ouellet made a pilgrimage to Lough Derg on behalf of the Pope, where he spent the night fasting and undertaking various other forms of penitential exercise. During his time on the penitential island, 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.
In a homily at St. Patrick’s Basilica there, the cardinal said, “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.”
The cardinal said that he would report on his meeting with abuse survivors directly to the Pope.
Major themes of the Congress throughout the week included “communion in suffering and in healing,” “priesthood and ministry in the service of communion,” “reconciliation in our communion,” “communion in one baptism,” and the “central role of communion in marriage and the family.”
The theme of reconciliation was not lost on those sensitive to Ireland’s past history of sectarian strife between those fighting for a unified Ireland free of British control and those loyal to the U.K. One day featured an interdenominational “liturgy of word and water” ceremony led by the Anglican archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, the president of the Methodist Church, and Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
Richard Moore, founder of Children in Crossfire, based in Northern Ireland, spoke of how, when he was 10 years old in 1972, a British soldier shot him in the face with a rubber bullet, blinding him. 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.”
Speakers from other areas in the world where conflict has defined people’s lives included Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, who said in a Mass homily, “As a reminder of our communion with one another in suffering, I come to you as the shepherd of Christ’s little flock, who suffer in the land of the promise, the land of the new and modern promises and international resolutions that were never fulfilled.”
“Considering the political situation in the Middle East, it is human to be afraid, because we suffer and feel threatened in our existence,” he said. “But fear is not an acceptable response for a follower of Christ. Whether this threat comes from living in the conflict between Jews and Arabs or bearing some personal, physical or emotional suffering, it is clear that Our Lord wishes for us who bear his name to continue to witness to faith in suffering.”
But the Congress was also marked by hope and a forward-looking view. Delivering the opening greeting to 12,500 pilgrims, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin 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,” he said.
“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 insisted that the Church in Ireland is on the path to renewal. “It will be a lengthy journey,” he said. “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.”
At the end of the week, at the closing Mass, Archbishop Martin noted, “In these days, we have kept in our prayers and in our hearts all those who suffered criminal abuse within the community of Christ’s Church and all those who feel in any way alienated from the Church and who have not experienced in our Church the love of Jesus Christ. We go away from here committed to build a Church of communion and service after the model of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus present in the Eucharist who will be food for the journey of purification and renewal to which we commit ourselves.”
James Kelly is a columnist
for The Universe.