Monday 25 September 2017

Ronan Abayawickrema charts the progress of the Congress Bell on its pilgrimage throughout Ireland and beyond, as it calls worshippers to IEC 2012

Ringing in the changes

Ronan Abayawickrema charts the progress of the Congress Bell on its pilgrimage throughout Ireland and beyond, as it calls worshippers to IEC 2012

The bell has visited the Aran Islands, been carried up to the top of Croagh Patrick and has sailed around Skellig Michael It has travelled around Ireland, and journeyed to Italy, France and to the top of Ireland's most sacred mountain. Visiting everywhere from remote islands to large towns and cities, it is a symbol of a widely anticipated international gathering to be held this summer.

Yet this object is not the Olympic Torch, the visit of which to Ireland in the run-up to the London Olympics is limited to a tour of Dublin in early June. Instead, it is Congress Bell, the symbol of what has been described as 'the spiritual Olympics', the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Dublin from June 10-17.

The brass bell, which is on loan from the Dominican Convent in Portstewart, Co Derry, and was previously used to ring in the Jubilee Year in 2000 at Glendalough, Co Wicklow, began its pilgrimage on St Patrick's Day, 2011, and since then has visited all 26 dioceses of Ireland, in addition to journeys to Lourdes, Rome and the north of England.

In addition to visiting parish churches, it has been welcomed at over 100 schools and a dozen hospitals and nursing homes, and rung by everyone from parishioners, shoppers, school children and hospital patients to Pope Benedict XVI.

"In many cultures, the bell represents the invitation to Mass. It is about gathering the community," says Fr Kevin Doran, Secretary General of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress.

"Tradition has it that St Patrick gave a bell for that purpose to each community that he established... For the congress, the pilgrimage of the bell is about inviting people to join in the journey of preparation, to come to the congress and to be part of the renewal of the Church in Ireland."

The Congress Bell has been carried on foot from parish to parish by volunteers, but the pilgrimage organisers had to employ other means of transport for its journey to more remote parts of the country.

"The bell has visited the Aran Islands (by boat), has been carried up to the top of the pilgrimage mountain of Croagh Patrick and has sailed around Skellig Michael, one of Ireland's monastic sites off the coast of Kerry," says Fr Kevin Doran.

Accompanying the bell on its journey were the four Eucharistic Congress Icons, representing the four parts of the Mass, created by artists Philip Brennan, Richard Sinclair and Colette Clarke.

Organising the pilgrimage, which seen the symbol of the congress visit more than 1,000 parishes in Ireland, has been a huge undertaking, involving a host of volunteers. "The Bell Pilgrimage was facilitated by two co-ordinators, working week-on, week-off, and covering the length and breadth of Ireland," adds Fr Doran.

"It was in itself a real sign of our communion, or solidarity, in Christ, because people in small, remote communities and large towns all played their part in welcoming the bell and in passing it on to the next community as it continued on its way."

And in March this year, a delegation led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, President of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress, brought the bell over to Rome. "We began to realise after Christmas that it was unlikely that the Pope could come to the congress, so we brought the congress to him in the form of the bell, just before St.Patrick's Day," explains Fr Doran.

"Pope Benedict XVI blessed the bell, rang it vigorously, and paused to admire the icons as Archbishop Martin explained their significance," he adds.

And the bell's journey to Rome means "all of those who have welcomed the bell as part of the preparation for the congress were joined in communion with Pope Benedict, and through him with the universal Church," says Fr Doran.

Irish Independent Supplement

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