Eucharistic Congress: Just half of expected 20,000 pilgrims attend opening mass
JUST more than half of an expected 20,000 pilgrims descended on Dublin's RDS yesterday for the opening event of the International Eucharistic Congress.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and the Papal Legate Cardinal Marc Ouellet addressed an audience made up largely of overseas pilgrims from 123 countries, in a ceremony where numbers were noticeably less than anticipated.
The attendance is a far cry from 1932 when more than a quarter of the population,or one million, attended the international event.
A ceremony celebrating Irish Catholic cultural and spiritual heritage, which organisers had expected to attract 20,000, opened the congress in Dublin.
The event is expected to attract between 10,000-12,000 each day over its eight-day run.
More than 236 cardinals and bishops and 1,200 priests and deacons are in Dublin for the €11.8m festival. Dr Martin, president of the congress, admitted that numbers were far below that seen in 1932.
"The numbers are certainly nowhere near the 1932 numbers but the turnout is considerably higher than you had in Quebec for the 49th Congress four years ago," he said.
"We expect the numbers will increase as the week goes on."
Among the congregation was a group of pilgrims who had attended the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin as children.
Mary McConville (91) was 11 years old and living in Mayo at the time.
"I remember the excitement of it when I was 11 years old as if it was yesterday.
"It was all anyone was talking about.
"It is absolutely amazing to be here today. I have as much faith in the church now as I ever had. This is a marvellous occasion," she said.
Mary Donovan from Galway said: "I remember the sun shining just like it is today. I am so happy and proud to be able to attend this event 80 years on. It is nothing short of a miracle."
Musical performances included the Three Tenors and the Palestrina Choir.
Earlier, it emerged Pope Benedict XVI would not be making a live broadcast to the congress, as had been expected.
Instead, a pre-recorded message from him will be shown at the closing Mass in Croke Park next Sunday.