'These are simple signs the Church is on the move and it wishes to reach out. . .'
I am asked almost daily: "Why a Eucharistic Congress?" People ask: "Why a Eucharistic Congress today, with all the problems that the Church is facing?" Others ask: "Is a Eucharistic Congress not a flight back from the present into the illusion of the comfort of a past that is long gone?"
The Church in Ireland in 1932, when the last Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin, was very different to the Church in Ireland today. It would be foolish not to recognise that many of the images of church and state in Ireland reflected in the 1932 Congress belong to a different world and to a different church than the one we know today.
The manner in which the celebration of the 2012 Congress will take place must inevitably be different. The Eucharistic Congress must address those who participate at it -- or those who simply observe it from a distance -- within the real culture in which we live. The Congress will be smaller and more modest in its celebration and expectations than in 1932. It must reflect and showcase the Church in Ireland as it is, a church which has faced and still faces enormous challenges, but a church which is alive and vital and anxious to set out on a path of renewal. There are divisions and wounds within the Irish Church.
At times these divisions are unhealthy divisions and the wounds are still open and painful. I find it helpful to look back to 1932 and Irish society then, which had been horribly wounded by a bitter two-year civil war less than 10 years earlier. It is to the great credit of my predecessor Archbishop Edward Byrne that he celebrated the Congress as an event of reconciliation and rebuilding of unity.
For the first time in the newly independent Ireland men and women from both sides of a bitter civil-war divide came together and worked together on a common project. The Eucharist has the power to reconcile. Communion with Christ fosters communion and reconciliation with one another.
My hope is that, marked with Gospel simplicity, the 50th International Congress in Dublin can be a moment once again of renewal and reconciliation. It will be an event which recalls all Catholics to the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, truly as the summit towards which all the activity of the Church is directed and the font from which all her life flows.
The Dublin Congress occurs as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a council of renewal. The Vatican Council brought enormous gifts of the spirit into the life of the Church and its fruits are still being explored.
There is at times in Ireland, however, a sort of reductionism of the teaching of the council, concentrating on certain aspects, very often, those aspects touching on reforms of external structures. While not putting aside the need for change in the Church, the Eucharistic Congress will recall the Church in Ireland to the centrality of spiritual renewal and to a sense of the Church as the body of Christ. The crisis of the Church in Ireland is not a crisis of structures, but a real crisis of faith.
The Congress will point to ways in which the faith can be deepened. The high point each day will be the celebration of the Eucharist, but each morning and evening Congress events will reflect on the bonds between the Eucharist and other dimensions of the Christian life.
There will be a strong stress on formation in the faith and a sharing of experiences in this area. There will be noticeable ecumenical participation of the other Christian churches in Ireland in Congress events.
The Congress will conclude with the Mass of the Statio Orbis celebrated by the Papal Legate to the Congress Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Pope Benedict will deliver a televised 'Message to the Closing Mass'.
Altogether there will be over 100 exhibition stands showcasing different aspects of the life of the Church in Ireland, with 150 workshops and discussion groups. Over 100 choirs from all over Ireland will provide the music for the liturgies. Parish churches in Dublin will host groups from a wide number of countries who will be represented at the Congress.
Some days before the official opening, a pilgrim walk through the city of Dublin will be launched by the Church of Ireland Archbishop, Michael Jackson, and myself. These are simple signs that the Church is on the move and wishes to reach out.
The credibility of our efforts will depend on the witness of the Church to the message of Jesus, a message of love which finds its high point in the celebration of the mystery of the self-giving love of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Church in Ireland, by returning to what is central to its mission, can renew its face, which must be a face of reconciliation and compassion rather than any sense of triumphalism.
I ask all those who wish to journey on this same path to join with us in the RDS and at Croke Park, but above all in their own hearts and prayers.
Irish Independent Supplement