DUBLIN, Ireland (NCR) — The 50th International Eucharistic Congress came to an enthusiastic conclusion with a video message from Pope Benedict XVI being answered with a standing ovation from a packed Croke Park Stadium throng.
Touching on a recurring theme throughout the Congress, namely the sex-abuse scandal and subsequent cover up by the hierarchy in Ireland, the Holy Father said that those guilty of the “appalling” crimes had understandably damaged the Church’s credibility in Ireland.
He also went on to reveal that the next International Eucharistic Congress will be held in 2016 in Cebu City, the Philippines.
The sixth day of the Congress (June 15) was dedicated to considering the theme of “Communion in Suffering and in Healing.” Morning Prayer was delivered by Dublin-born Bishop Derek Byrne of Guiratinga, Brazil, who told those present, “We cannot accept God's love without at the same time accepting his invitation to share that love with others, especially with those who, because of suffering or other difficulties, need this love in a special way at this time.”
In the main arena, Rose Busingye of Meeting Point International in Uganda, spoke about her work with the country’s poor and suffering, saying: “The aim is not to leave them alone to confront sickness, suffering and death, but to discover together the meaning and the sense of their suffering, even death. It’s something that provokes and awakens us to discover the full meaning and the dignity of human life and love.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly spoke on the subject of “Eucharist as Viaticum” at a seminar that had to be repeated twice because so many people wanted to attend. He told participants that “the most important, most joyful, most complete receiving of Our Lord is not our first, but our last. Every other time we receive him is leading us to the last, to the journey home to heaven. And that Communion has a special name: viaticum. It means: with you on the way, with you for the final journey.”
Back in the main arena, Mass was celebrated by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, along with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, and Bishop Pierre Tran Dinh Tu of Vietnam. In his homily, Patriarch Twal said, “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.”
He told those at Mass, “Considering the political situation in the Middle East, it is human to be afraid, because we suffer and feel threatened in our existence. 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.
He finished by urging the congregation to “be proud of our Catholic Church, the pioneer in serving the poor, the needy and the sick, with institutions, hospitals, clinics and social services spread across continents throughout the world, even before the creation of states.”
The theme for the final day (June 16) of the Congress was “Communion in the Word Through Mary.”
In the Congress’ Chiara Luce Youth Space, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Brooklyn told young people, “Your generation is the first to live comfortably in the virtual, electronic world. I ask you to be present in this virtual world as witnesses of the Lord Jesus. For it seems, to me, that many people, especially young people, are searching in the electronic world for a word of hope in their troubles, a word of consolation in their fears, a word of welcome in their loneliness.”
He told them that they are “the new heralds of the word of God in the electronic world and missionaries of Christ.”
Bishop Caggiano also urged them to spend time in silent, contemplative prayer, even though “the hectic pace of our lives and our ability to communicate electronically every minute of every day” means “silence can even be frightening.”
Celebrating Mass in the arena, Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told those present, “What a precious lesson the Blessed Mother offers to us.”
“Our lives, too, are marked frequently by the obscurity of faith,” he said. “On a personal level, some of us are afflicted by bodily sufferings or difficult relationships; on a national and global level, we face unprecedented moral challenges, which threaten our Christian foundations and the very fabric of society; trying economic times place our livelihoods at risk, and we find it ever more difficult to make ends meet; even in the Church, sins and scandals mar the call to holiness.
“Only faith in a God who ultimately triumphs can give birth to a hope that sustains us through all darkness, allowing love of God and even whatever presents itself to us as an enemy to enter as light into the world.”
Meanwhile, between 5,000 and 6,000 people attended a special Mass led by the Pope’s representative, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, at Ireland’s Marian Shrine of Knock in County Mayo. The papal legate was greeted by Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, who in his words of welcome noted, “Today, there is a hunger, perhaps of a different kind, as people search for meaning and hope, for consolation and comfort. We pray that the International Eucharistic Congress will bring healing and hope to those who have been hurt, to the disillusioned and to all who are searching for God in our culture today.”
Concelebrating Mass with a number of Ireland’s bishops, as well as more than 70 diocesan clergy, Cardinal Ouellet said in his homily that the Pope had asked him “to extend his special apostolic blessing for Ireland.”
“He asked me to come here on his behalf to this National Shrine at Knock so that you may know of his special care for you and of his daily prayer that you and all the people of Ireland may know the Lord’s peace, consolation and comfort,” he continued.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Father knows that the Church here is suffering at this time and is in need of hope and renewal. He entrusts all your hurts, your sufferings and your struggles to Our Lady of Knock, the Queen of Ireland. Let us be confident that there is light beyond this present darkness and that our faith is stronger than the evil of this world and our own failures.”
The cardinal said that, like so many other things in the world, the Church needs renewal, but “whenever we attempt to renew ourselves on our own, without placing everything in God’s hands, we fall again into the same patterns of division and discouragement.”
The Congress concluded on June 17 with the Statio Orbis, the name given the final Mass (statio orbis loosely means to pause in reflection with the whole Church), celebrated in Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium. Around 80,000 pilgrims attended the final Mass, including 177 veterans of the Dublin-held 1932 International Eucharistic Congress, as well as Irish President Michael Higgins and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny.
Cardinal Ouellet presided at Mass, concelebrating with Cardinal Sean Brady, primate of All Ireland, and Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, as well as more than a thousand priests registered to attend the congress.
In his homily, Cardinal Ouellet said that the “International Eucharistic Congress bears witness to the Catholic Church as the universal communion of many particular Churches. The bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful here represent the Catholic Church, which is found throughout the world in thousands of communities but which is one in faith and love of Jesus Christ.”
As such, he urged all those present to “bear witness … by calling others to faith in this communion. The Irish bell, which resounds from Lough Derg, from Knock and Dublin, must resound in the whole world. Let’s ring the bell further through our personal testimony of renewed faith in the holy Eucharist.”
A special pre-recorded greeting from Pope Benedict XVI was shown to the capacity gathering. 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. Instead of showing them the path towards Christ, towards God, instead of bearing witness to his goodness, they abused people and undermined the credibility of the Church’s message. 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.
In his closing remarks, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin also 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.”
He ended by saying, “We must go away with a renewed love of the Church,” and he offered prayers for the next host city, which Pope Benedict had just announced to be Cebu City in the PhilipCardinal Marc Ouellet, Papal legate to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Mr Enda Kenny, An Taoiseach, and Mrs Kenny after Statio Orbis in Croke Park.