A LOT has changed in the 80 years since the Eucharistic Congress was last held in Ireland. The country has undergone a transformation and is now a much more secular environment.
In the run up to the 1932 Eucharistic congress the Kilkenny People carried a number of articles relating to the city’s preparations for the event. Although the congress was taking place in Dublin, it was an event of huge national significance. The council ordered that the boards of directors of banks in the city be requested to close for business, along with the Post Office and all other Government offices in Kilkenny. The closure of all businesses in the city was to allow people to travel to the eucharistic congress by a special train organised by the Southern Railway company. Decorations and bunting were hung from the street posts and one report noted “poorer people put their heart and soul into the work: they gave their time, energy and expense, rose to the occasion and produced an effect that was really wonderful considering the slender resources at their disposal.”
The Eucharistic Congress is returning to the Archdiocese of Dublin this summer and in advance of its arrival the Eucharistic Bell has been visiting every diocese in Ireland. The Ossory diocese, in Kilkenny, is the second last to play host to the bell, with Ferns being its last stop. The Bishop of Ossory, Dr Seamus Freeman, said that the world has changed since 1932 but that the point of the Eucharistic Congress is to renew the church to take the changing world into account.
“Of course since 1932 the European countries and the world in general, I suppose, would have become much more secular. It is much more a competitive world and the secular world has much more confidence now than it would have had back in 1932. Then the faith world, you would have to say, would have been stronger. Not stronger in some ways because the strength would have been an uncritical strength. There were lots of followers but that would be it, they would have total confidence in priests and bishops to do the right thing always. That confidence would be different toady. Nowadays you have to gain that confidence,” he said.
Bishop Freeman accepted the Eucharistic Bell from Bishop Lee, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, on Sunday on the Rice bridge. The bell, according to Bishop Freeman, is significant across most cultures in calling people to attention. Bishop Freeman is hoping that the Eucharistic Bell will call people to renew their faith.
“The bell is a reminder, you hear the phrase ‘that’s a warning bell’. So the bell is a reminder - it is calling people to pray. It is to remind people that they need to answer the bell. They need to answer the call for renewal or else how they see themselves as Catholic will be eroded, or as Christian it will be eroded and it will fade away unless it is renewed,” he said.
The whole point of the Eucharistic Congress is to renew the church. Bishop Freeman acknowledged that due to globalisation the church is now operating in competition with other creeds and religions. He spoke of the global presence of Islam and Buddhism.
“There is so much emigration going on in the world – they talk of the global village. Islam would once have been in isolation, the Catholic church would have been worldwide, but Islam now is worldwide as well, Also Buddhism is now worldwide, you will get Buddhist schools in a small town like Callan,” he said.
“The same with all movements, the same with a hurling team if they don’t train they are not going to win an All-Ireland. The Catholic church is not going to keep the Eucharist renewed, they are not going to save catholicism or Christianity... Anything that has life has to be protected, has to be kept alive with renewal. This is one of the big ways, it is held every four years, and it is in a different country every four years and now it has come back to Ireland,” he added.
The Eucharistic Bell will be visiting all 42 parishes in the diocese of Ossory until January 19. Each parish is scheduling events around the bell’s visit including visits to nursing homes, schools and a procession from City Hall to St Mary’s Cathedral.