International Eucharistic Congress Dublin 2012
Themes and Highlights
I participated in the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin from 10 -17 June 2012. It quickly became apparent that the Catholic Church in Ireland was taking this high profile opportunity to confront the scandal of abuse in the Irish Church in an honest, humble, and very public way, admitting responsibility and asking the Lord for healing for the victims and for the Church.
- In a penitential act of atonement, the Papal Legate to the Congress, the Canadian former Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Bishops, went to Lough Derg, that mystical place of pilgrimage, where he met some survivors of abuse.
- Then, with thoughtful words of contrition, the principal Penitential Liturgy of the Congress devoted an entire section of prayer to expressing sorrow for the sins and omissions of the abuse crisis.
- Again, Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, in a moving homily at one of the principal Masses of the Congress, apologised to Ireland and to the world for abuse perpetrated by clergy and other servants of the Church, and for the inadequate and self-serving response sometimes given to such abuse by those in positions of responsibility in the Church.
- Finally, in unequivocal words, Pope Benedict XVI called that abuse “appalling” in a video message to a packed Croke Park at the Closing Mass of the Congress.
- And in general, desperate to lift this dark shadow, the Congress was literally peppered by prayers and calls and exhortations for an authentic and lasting spiritual renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland, both personal and institutional, so that such abuse or its concealment can never happen again.
At the same time, the tens of thousands of people who attended the various events of the Congress also experienced the central purpose of the Congress. If I can borrow from the words of Archbishop Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Congress proclaimed and celebrated the on-going miracle of the presence of Jesus Christ who abides in his Church in the wonderful mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic Christ remains forever the source of our joy and of our hope and of our commitment to the authentic renewal of our lives and of the Church.
Nowhere was this more graphically illustrated than in the Eucharistic Procession which for ninety minutes wound its way from the Congress Campus through the streets of the local area to the south of Dublin’s busy city centre. This huge procession was an act of faith and joy in which thousands participated prayerfully, and it was a timely act of witness for the Irish people that Jesus Christ wishes to dwell in their midst now and always.
I thought that the whole Congress was an intense moment of communion with the Lord and with the Church universal. For although the vast majority of participants were Irish, there were pilgrims from all over the world including more than 200 Cardinals and Bishops from the five continents. The universal character of the Congress was not lost on the Catholics of Ireland. Many expressed their grateful appreciation that bishops, priests, religious and lay pilgrims had come to Ireland for the Congress from all over the world.
It was like the fond embrace of the universal Church for the Catholic Church in Ireland for everything the rest of the world had received from Ireland over the centuries and for this particular moment in the history of the Irish Catholic Church. It was the universal Church saying to the Church in Ireland: “Your shame is our shame; your pain is our pain; your sorrow is our sorrow. And at the same time, your hope is our hope; your commitment to renewal is our commitment; your determination to safeguard is our determination; your joy in Christ is our joy too. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, not in any sentimental or facile sense, but in a profound spirit of communion in Christ, in our mutual need for conversion and in the desire for true holiness.”
The principal liturgies and Masses were impressive, devout and well organised. To my eye, they seemed very well attended, even in some very persistent rain! In general, I enjoyed the liturgical music and I was pleased to note some good quality very sing-able settings of the new texts of the Mass which we could well adopt here.
And it was so uplifting to be among the nearly 80,000 participants who had gathered for the Congress Closing Mass at Croke Park, Dublin’s Gaelic Sports Stadium. In the pre-Mass programme, we were uplifted by songs and hymns from wonderful choirs, from the singing sensation from Northern Ireland ‘The Priests’, and from the operatic soprano Celine Byrne, whose rendition of “O Lord my God” was extraordinarily moving. The Principal Celebrant at the Mass was the Pope’s Special Legate to the Congress, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, while our own Cardinal O’Brien was one of the principal concelebrants. The whole Croke Park experience was a true festival of faith in Jesus Christ and an explosion of joy and thanksgiving which will surely gladden the hearts of Irish Catholics.
The Congress also included an impressive number of talks and workshops each day from morning until evening around the Congress Campus situated at the RDS Arena and in Simmonscourt. These workshops were nearly always oversubscribed. I know that from experience because I could not gain entry to any of the ones that I fancied. And no, there were no concessions for bishops. We were all cheerfully equal in the queues! It seemed to me that the numbers which frequented the Congress on each day amply justified the expense and effort to which the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Archdiocese of Dublin went to in order to host and stage the Congress. It was a hugely impressive undertaking, and there was throughout an enthusiastic and positive atmosphere among participants who showed a real thirst for prayer, for catechesis and for deeper communion with Jesus Christ.
During the Congress I never forgot that Ireland has been traditionally and until relatively recently arguably the most practising Catholic country in Europe. Throughout its history, Catholic Ireland has contributed massively to the evangelisation of Europe and of the world. Ireland has provided priests and religious in prodigious numbers for the whole English speaking world and for the mission lands. No other Catholic community of its size has contributed so generously and so valiantly in the name of Jesus Christ to the propagation of the faith, to the education of children and young people, to the care of the poor and needy, and to the welfare and healing of the sick than has the Catholic Church in Ireland. And, as we know well, Scotland has benefitted too from the spiritual treasury which is Catholic Church in Ireland. That was largely why I chose to attend the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
I left the Congress wishing that more priests and people from Scotland had been able to be present. They would have enjoyed it and the Irish would have been so pleased to see them. I hope too that the Congress will lift the hearts and the spirits of Ireland’s bishops, priests and people, and give the Catholic Church in Ireland a vantage point from which She can once again commend Herself to the Irish people in the unfolding and shaping of Ireland’s future, contributing faith, wisdom, and massive experience of what is required for human flourishing and for the common good.
+Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley
18th June 2012