Thursday 21 September 2017

Q

HE's responsible for organising the biggest Catholic religious event in the world, which will be attended by some 200,000 people from across the globe. But secretary general of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), Fr Kevin Doran (58), is remarkably relaxed about the forthcoming celebrations in Dublin next month.

Senior clerics, including 180 cardinals and bishops, more than 800 priests and a countless number of nuns will descend upon the capital for a week-long celebration which has been four years in the planning.

The biggest single group is coming from Canada, almost 1,200, and there's about 700 from the US and Britain, and smaller groups of up to 80 from Korea, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Taiwan.

First appointed to the role in 2008, he says the IEC will be about a process of renewal in the church, based around the theme of 'The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another'.

Talks, workshops and other events over the week will debate how being part of the faithful can play a role in every aspect of life, while not shying away from confronting the abuse scandals which have rocked the church to its core.

What's the point of the IEC, and what will be discussed?

"It's an opportunity to gather people together to celebrate what we have -- our faith in Jesus Christ -- and is particularly focused around the Eucharist and reflecting on what that means.

"The Eucharist gathers us into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, but it also challenges us. It's like being asked to a friend's house for dinner, thinking you're going to have a nice, quiet night, only to find there's 12 people there. It can be a challenge, but it's an opportunity for new relationships to develop.

"One of the most important things about the congress is the social dimension. We'll look at celebrating priesthood and religious life, and at how to renew it by challenging us to be better.

"We will also focus on reconciliation. If we are one in Christ, our sin divides us. Some of our sin is individual, and some has social consequences. Obviously the abuse of children strikes people, and the abuse of profit and power.

"The workshops will challenge us to deepen our connection with going to Mass on Sunday and our actions during the rest of the week, like helping the homeless, our attitude to the travelling community and the developing world.

"There are people living in our parish who don't feel they belong, including Travellers, people of other nationalities and people culturally Catholic but who don't feel part of the church any more. Some will feel the church have left them, or they have left the church, but they're still part of who we are. It's important people know they're missed."

Who organises it?

"There's an organisation called the Pontifical Committee for the Eucharistic Congress based in Rome which supports and facilitates congresses, both national and international. It recommends to the Pope where the next congress should be.

"What's been fascinating has been the generosity and support we've received in terms of advice on procedures, help in terms of pointing us in the right direction, and responding to questions.

"There's no sense of the heavy hand in that we couldn't do this or that. There is the possibility that if a proposal wasn't helpful they would make suggestions."

How much will it cost, and who's paying?

"We're working on a budget of €11.8m. The generosity of the Irish church-going public helps. In the last three years, the public contributed €3m. Some of it comes through a national and international fundraising committee -- there are people with a few bob willing to give to what they see as a worthy cause.

"There are some international trusts which are specifically for funding Catholic events or charities and we also have received money from bishops' conferences in countries including Germany, Spain, Portugal, Canada and Australia, and the US.

"Normally there would be a fairly significant input of funds from the State for events like this because of the substantial contribution made (to the economy) by pilgrims.

"We took a decision not to ask, because the state has a primary responsible to care for the sick, children in schools and the elderly."

Given the extent of the abuse scandals and people seeking compensation and help, could money not be better spent there?

"The church has responded reasonably well to the child abuse issue, and has raised significant financial resources for compensation and support services including counselling for people all over the world who have suffered abuse from priests and in institutions.

"That's why it's difficult for the church to afford the congress because so much of the resource has gone into the area of abuse."

What role will Cardinal Sean Brady play? Should he have resigned in the wake of the Fr Brendan Smyth scandal?

"I'm not sure he should or shouldn't have (resigned). I can see the benefits for the church and himself in both courses of action. It's not as if somebody has suddenly been caught out in some nefarious kind of dealings which he was trying to cover up.

"Two things that we lost sight of was the assumption that someone hasn't moved or grown in his understanding over 30 years. If the situation would arise today, would he do the same thing again?

"You could clear out the people across the board who were there, but you've cleared out the people who have learned from the past and you've created a worse situation.

"If you read between the lines, he has more or less implied that he's basically ready to go but ultimately the Vatican must decide.

"He has a role in the opening ceremony, and will be the principal celebrant on Thursday at the Mass of Reconciliation."

Why isn't the Pope coming? Was there a concern there would be protests?

"We don't have a specific explanation, but the tradition of the Pope coming to congress really only happened during Pope John Paul's time.

"I'd imagine the concern would be there -- we'd be conscious that inevitably there will be some protest in the context of the congress. Insofar as the Pope coming, that may well have been an element.

"The archbishop (of Dublin) said if the church was in the process of renewal, the pope coming would be a sense of 'keep up the good work'. The time possibly wasn't right now.

"A Papal Legate has been appointed, Cardinal Marc Ouellett from Canada who is now based in Rome."

Will there be an ecumenical dimension?

"Other churches are involved. Church of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson will celebrate the main liturgy on the first day, and Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev from the Russian Orthodox Church is the preacher.

"There's about 7,000 people registered for the entire week. Like opera and football fans, there's aficionados who will come for it all."

How are ticket sales going?

"We're close to being full in terms of (the mass at) Croke Park. We do have some tickets available online which should be taken up fairly quickly. We're noticing that as we move into the six-week window, the numbers booking are increasing. 7,000 registered up to Christmas, we now have 17,000. Registration is open until June 4.

"Part of the thing we found difficult was telling people they had to register. We have to have some bar code process to establish the number of people coming into the RDS. The good news for people who can't come is congress is being televised by Salt and Light and EWTN from Monday to Saturday."

What happens after congress?

"We set out to create a congress that was a journey, not just an event. People have carried a programme to help people deepen their understanding of the Eucharist. The big challenge will be to take the congress and run with it, that congress will challenge new ways for people to engage in a richer celebration of Mass and the Sunday celebration."

Irish Independent Supplement

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