Monday, June 11, 2012

A desire to become a ‘different Church’

Eighty years and a world away from its last staging in Ireland, the International Eucharistic Congress has returned to Dublin to the delight of devout Catholics and a marked indifference by the wider public. 

The start of the 50th staging of the four-yearly gathering of Catholic clergy and laity took place at the main arena of the RDS in Ballsbridge yesterday before a crowd of up to 10,000 people, including many pilgrims from overseas.

Although on a vastly smaller scale than its 1932 predecessor and against a background of a turbulent period in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland, the official opening ceremony proved a joyous occasion for the faithful. 

However, the attendance fell far short of the 20,000-strong crowd anticipated by the organisers, despite the fact that over 11,000 people, including pilgrims from 120 countries, have registered to attend the week-long event.

The principal celebrant was Papal Legate Cardinal Marc Ouellet who was accompanied by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee and the Archbishop of Toulouse, Robert LeGall.

In opening remarks, Dr Martin said the past 50 years since the Vatican II had been marked by "the darker side of sinful and criminal abuse and neglect of the weakest in our society, children who should have been the object of the greatest care and greatest support".

In his homily, Cardinal Ouellet also referenced the suffering in the Irish Church and how it "faces many new and serious challenges to the faith".

However, the cardinal said his experience of the previous Congress in Quebec in 2008 was that such an event brings many blessings to the local church.

In recognition of the ongoing hurt suffered by victims of paedophile priests, the organisers incorporated the Healing Stone, a large piece of Wicklow granite which has been engraved with a prayer composed by an abuse survivor, into yesterday’s opening ceremony.

Speaking before the start of the opening ceremony, Dr Martin, who is president of the Congress, said the organisers had an awareness of the difficulties the Catholic Church has faced over recent years as a result of clerical sex abuse scandals. He emphasised the congress was being used to show the desire for the Church in Ireland to evolve to become "a different Church". Dr Martin said the Church’s renewal would derive from returning to the central message of the Gospel, in particular the Eucharist.

"The abuse that took place is very clearly a travesty of what the Gospel is about," he remarked.

Dr Martin said the issue of clerical sexual abuse would be addressed during the Congress, including a Liturgy of Reconciliation celebrated by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on Thursday and a talk entitled "The Abuse of Children: Accepting Responsibility, Bringing Healing" by the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonia Tagle, on Tuesday.

Dr Martin declined to comment on the attendance at the Congress of controversial figures including Cardinal Seán Brady of Armagh and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York who have both been criticised over the role in the handling of paedophile priests.

The archbishop said he had no issue with groups who protested outside yesterday’s opening ceremony and he would never challenge their right to protest.

A small group of members of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) organisation staged a demonstration outside the RDS to highlight their continuing anger with Cardinal Brady and the Vatican. 

SOCA spokesperson John Kelly said the protest was held to mark their disgust at Cardinal Brady’s refusal to resign following recent revelations by the BBC’s Spotlight programme over his role in the handling of the paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.

"It is not a time for celebration or renewal when they have not acknowledged the harm of the past."

Outside another part of the RDS, civil marriage equality campaign group, LGBT Noise protested against the Hierarchy’s continuing opposition to full equality for same-sex couples. "There are still many incidents in the recent past where they have interfered in secular matters," said the group’s spokesperson, Max Krzyzanowski.

Before yesterday’s Mass, the day began with a "Gathering" ceremony to mark Ireland’s cultural and spiritual heritage with a procession of 500 participants representing all the dioceses of Ireland. Musical accompaniment was provided by the Three Tenors, the Palestrina Choir, Our Lady of Victories Gospel Choir, the Maynooth Gospel Choir, the Congress Choir and the Dublin Deaf Choir.

The theme of the congress is taken from documents of the Second Vatican Council — "The Eucharist: "Communion with Christ and with One Another".

The eight-day event, which will feature a range of talks, seminars, workshops and Masses is costing an estimated €11.8m to stage, of which €9m is being provided by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference.

The itinerary for most days will include talks on Church teachings by a bishop as well as personal testimonies by lay people about the importance of their faith and celebrations of the Eucharist.

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