Having completed three days of training, we made our way to the RDS, on June 2, with an air of hope and anticipation, to collect our Volunteer packs. There we met the hundreds of volunteers, who had given their time and in many cases had given up their holidays to help make the International Eucharistic Congress memorable for the thousands of pilgrims who would converge on the capital.
June 10 saw the majority of pilgrims, from the four corners of Ireland and from over 120 overseas countries, arrive to register. There was a wonderful sense of jubilation, as group after group arrived, many in national dress, all eager to be in communion with Christ and with each other. Over and over again, we heard many foreign pilgrims say they had come, to the Congress, to give thanks for the faith, brought to them by the many Irish missionaries and because of their love for the Eucharist. This was exemplified by the young Limerick mother who travelled up by train, at great inconvenience, to collect her ticket for the Statio Orbis mass in Croke Park as they could not be posted out to individuals. “I’m here because I love the Eucharist”, she said. We were really impressed by the sheer joy emanating from the pilgrims in the celebration of their faith. The theme for the Congress “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with each other” was clearly visible in how the pilgrims interacted and worshipped.
The mood during the week, even in times of inclement weather, was jubilant. Overall, the weather was kind to us. On one occasion, when the heavens opened with a downpour, we were told we had been “showered with graces.” This remark brought great applause and chuckles from the dripping congregation. Nowhere did we encounter discontent, even when people queued for long periods to gain access to the numerous energising talks and workshops. There was never any sense of triumphalism as cardinals, bishops and priest mingled with the crowds and quietly took their places in the arena for the various ceremonies, during which lay people were as much in evidence as clergy. All of us baptised make up the Body of Christ.
We got the sense that we were a repentant and humbled church.
Among the highlights of the week, were the Masses in the arena, the Service of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. Long queues gathered for the Sacrament of Penance. Hundreds of priests registered to accommodate the crowds. As we were first point of contact, how often were we asked to hear confessions!
At any given time upwards of 1,000 pilgrims were to be found in the Prayer Space, where day long Adoration of the Blessed Eucharist was taking place. In prayerful silence, people poured out their hearts in love, petition and thanksgiving. In this Sacred space was the Wall of Prayer Intentions. It was laden with handwritten, heartfelt prayers. In preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress, many parishes undertook to have Adoration in their churches. If we are to learn one thing from the Congress it is that people want the opportunity to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament.
Each day, the choirs and soloists were uplifting, with the congregational singing greatly adding to the occasion. Some of the music was especially commissioned for Congress. Fr. Liam Lawton’s inspiring music in his Glendalough Mass will forever be on our lips and in our ears as will the Congress hymn ‘Though we are many we are one Body’.
There was a dedicated Youth and Children’s Space... This was an innovation for the Irish hosting the Congress. As the young people emerged they were very positive about their experiences. We have to find ways of reaching out to the young people in our parish communities. They are our future and we must engage with them.
The opening Ceremony, presided over by the Papal Legate, His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet, in the sundrenched RDS, was a fitting start to congress. The enthusiastic nature of the pilgrims was contagious and hope filled the air. As the ceremony was being beamed around the world it surely portrayed Ireland in a very positive light.
As pilgrims arrived in the Davin Stand, it was easy to identify those who were used to being in attendance on the first Sunday in September. Nevertheless, the banter was light-hearted and there was a definite sense of community. Before the Mass, the pilgrims were treated to the most wonderful music. There was a heightened sense of anticipation of what was to come. We were not disappointed. The cheers of the crowd on All Ireland Day were replaced by dignified prayer and uplifting music. Once again the Papal Legate celebrated the Mass.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his message to all pilgrims, prayed that the congress would be “ a spiritually fruitful experience of communion with Christ and his Church”
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in his closing remarks, prayed that we would go away from Congress “committed to build a church of communion and service after the model of Jesus Christ.”
The message “Become What You Receive” above the altar at the closing Ceremony in Croke Park summed up our belief in the Eucharist. It was profound and thought provoking.
Of course the Congress wasn’t confined to the R.D.S. and Crooke Park. There were numerous events organised throughout the city during the week all bringing Christ to and seeing Christ in the ‘Market Place’
During the week there was plenty of opportunity to get memorabilia from the various stalls in the Exhibition Hall. Pilgrims to Crooke Park were disappointed that none were available on the day. We have been advised by head office that there may be items available to parishes after mid July. Will keep you posted.
On June 10th, we set out on a journey, not knowing what to expect. As the week progressed, we were enriched and nourished in so many ways both by the richness of the ceremonies and the people we met. We saw Christ in the faces and in the actions of so many pilgrims. The words of St. Teresa of Avila rang true for us, “Christ has no body but yours.” Like so many others, we felt fortunate to be in a position to attend Congress, which wasn’t merely an event but an opportunity for renewal and hope in our Church. While we worked hard throughout the week, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Here’s to the Philippines in 2016!
For more information on the week’s events, visit www.iec2012.ie