QUEBEC CITY, Quebec — Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics to study the mystery of the Eucharist and celebrate it worthily.
The Pope made his appeal during a homily for the closing Mass of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, held in Quebec City June 22. He was unable to attend the week-long congress but sent Cardinal Jozef Tomko, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, as his representative.
Pope Benedict delivered his homily from the Vatican via sattelite, viewed on large screens by some 55,000 people in attendance. The Mass was held outdoors on the Plains of Abraham, a field where the British defeated the French in the 1759 Battle of Quebec during the Seven Years’ War. The 11,000 or so people who had been attending congress sessions all week were joined by many Catholics from the city and its environs.
In a homily given in French and English, Pope Benedict said the Eucharist is the Church’s “most beautiful treasure,” introducing Christians in advance to eternal life and containing in it “the whole mystery of our salvation.”
“I would like everyone to make a commitment to study this great mystery, especially by revisiting and exploring, individually and in groups, the [Second Vatican] Council’s text on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, so as to bear witness courageously to the mystery,” the Pope said.
The Pope also called on priests to “give due honor to the Eucharistic rite, and I ask all the faithful to respect the role of each individual, both priest and lay, in the Eucharistic action.
“The liturgy does not belong to us,” the Pope said. “It is the Church’s treasure.”
The Pope also acknowledged the 400th anniversary this year of the founding of Quebec and called to mind several of the province’s saints and martyrs, such as Sts. Jean de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues. “The Eucharist has a special place in the lives of the saints,” he said. He encouraged citizens of Quebec to “remember with pride your religious heritage.”
Pope Benedict announced that the next International Eucharistic Congress, in 2012, will be held in Dublin, Ireland.
Most of the congress was held at Quebec’s ExpoCité, a fair and exposition grounds that are often used for agricultural events. Organizers renamed it Eucharistic City for the week. The congress was a chance for Catholics from all over the world to spend seven days thinking, praying and learning more about the Eucharist.
Each morning, two presenters, usually a cardinal or a prominent Catholic speaker, gave catecheses in a 15,000-seat coliseum. This was followed by a midday Mass celebrated by Cardinal Tomko, Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet, primate of Canada, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and other cardinals.
Most pilgrims came from North America.
“I expect it will strengthen my faith,” said Sister Maria Ignacia Delgadillo Gonzalez, of Sinaloa State in Mexico, waiting outside the coliseum for the opening ceremony. “I’m looking forward to sharing my faith with the universal Church, with people from all over the world.”
“The congress has been a real affirmation and encouragement,” said Marcel Dion, who leads Magnificat Ministries, lay missionaries of the new evangelization, in New Brunswick, Canada, midway through the festival. He appreciated hearing catechesis “so firm, clear and unambiguous.”
“It’s powerful to hear testimonies of how people are living out the Catholic faith,” he said.
New Eucharistic Saint?
Each day the congress took on a different theme, including “The Eucharist, Memorial of the Paschal Mystery,” “The Eucharist Builds Up the Church” and “The Sacrament of Salvation.”
After lunch, pilgrims had a choice of a wide spectrum of smaller conferences and testimonies in one of the three official languages of the congress — French, English and Spanish.
One was “The Power of the Eucharist in the Life of Mother Julienne of the Rosary, O.P.” Cardinal Ouellet announced at one of the daily Masses that the Holy See had just approved the opening of the cause for beatification of Mother Julienne, a Canadian who died in 1995.
“She had a deep devotion to the Eucharist,” said Sister Cecile Fecteau in an interview. “Her message was to give the love Jesus had in his heart,” said Sister Cecile, a 55-year member of the Dominican Missionary Adorers, the community Mother Julienne founded. “She wanted everyone to love Jesus in the Eucharist.”
Pilgrims also had a chance to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in silence or in meditations led by various groups and new ecclesial movements. Perpetual adoration chapels were set up on the grounds of the Eucharistic City and various churches throughout Quebec.
Christ in the Streets
On Thursday, June 19, after a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, city streets were closed off as some 25,000 people took part in a three-hour-long Eucharistic procession to Quebec’s old port.
Under skies that threatened to dump even more rain than the area had been getting all week, pilgrims followed the monstrance, which Cardinals Tomko and Ouellet accompanied on a platform pulled by a truck. Participants carried candles and sang hymns in different languages as bystanders waved and smiled.
Quebec has not been the most Catholic area in the world in recent years. Mass attendance has been very low, and the region has one of the lowest birth rates in the West.
Cardinal Ouellet told the Register that he hoped the gathering of pilgrims from all over the world would “rekindle the flame of the faith in my country, where we struggle to affirm our faith in a way that is respectful of other people.”
“We need to retrieve the riches of our Christian tradition,” he said. “I hope this sharing between brothers and sisters in the faith will really help to bring more hope to our society.
“We need more hope because hope is the certainty of God’s love,” he said. “The Eucharist is the gift of the love of God and is bringing hope to all societies.”
John Burger filed this report
from Quebec City, Quebec.