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The bell rallies the Church in Ireland

· A conversation on the International Eucharistic Conference with the Archbishop of Dublin ·

Not as an isolated event but as a moment of grace, especially for a Catholicism seeking to renew itself after a difficult and, in many ways, dramatic time; this is how the Church in Ireland intends to live the celebration of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, convoked in Dublin from 10 to 17 June. Its theme will be: “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another”. “Our Community”, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said in an interview to L’Osservatore Romano Italian daily edition “is injured, in pain because of the suffering still felt by the minors who are victims of abuse, and by their families. Yet it is also a Church which has set out with determination on the path of the most profound renewal, on the tracks traced by Benedict XVI in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. And the Eucharistic Congress we are preparing is a fundamental element of our journey. We are therefore experiencing it as an event destined for us to extend in time, precisely because gathering round the Eucharist all together to rediscover the meaning of our communion with Jesus and with each other is the central core of the renewal of the Church in Ireland”.

After 80 years Ireland is once again hosting the International Eucharistic Congress. The 1932 Congress took place in a period of profound divisions, largely due to a war which had split the country in two. Although 10 years had passed, these divisions still endured. Do you find any similarities between the two events?

The International Eucharistic Congress celebrated in 1932 was an important event for the Ireland of the time. It took place in the traditional forms proper to that time, with great processions through the streets of the city and vast crowds. What we will be celebrating this time will not be like that, in the sense that the focus will be on substance far more than on form.

However, there are interesting similarities. That first congress took place in a period that was indeed very difficult for the country. The then Archbishop of Dublin had done his utmost to ward off the civil war that shook the country in 1922 and 1923. He was aware of the disasters it would bring, and not only at the physical level. He failed in his efforts. Concerned about the lasting divisions 10 years after the end of the war, he thought that the organization of an event such as the Eucharistic Congress and participation in it would be an opportunity to reunite the two souls of Ireland in conflict and bring them to reconciliation. Well, I think that the upcoming Congress will have the same effects. It will see Irish Catholics set aside the clashes and divisions created by a period which I consider is among the most painful in the history of our Church, to collaborate together in the realization of an event I deem fundamental, precisely in order to rediscover the need to be together on the journey of reconstruction. The Eucharist fosters reconciliation and unity.

What has been the reaction to news of the Congress in Dublin so soon after such a difficult period?

Initially it met with widespread scepticism. Many believed that we wanted to set the Church back into the past to avoid looking at the present. However, as the days have passed, especially thanks to the teaching of bishops and priests on the true meaning of this new convocation around the Eucharist, interest is growing and the national media are beginning to pay attention to what they describe now as a “great event”. I would say that the cynicism which had greeted the announcement is little by little giving way to the perception of the importance of the event, and not only for the Church but also for the entire country.

You mentioned the process of renewal which the Church in Ireland has embarked on. Would you explain to us the path chosen and the way in which the Congress could contribute?

The path chosen naturally follows the inspired steps of Benedict XVI through the Letter he addressed to Irish Catholics on 19 March 2010. The idea that guides us is that of rallying all the living forces of the Church around the Eucharist to rediscover the meaning of our call to celebrate communion. For this reason, by way of example, we wanted a small bell to make a pilgrimage across the country and to symbolise the call to the Congress. This bell was blessed by the Pope at the General Audience on Wednesday, 14 March. It comes from a convent Church now closed. It was given to us so that it would not get lost. And we thought of having it go on pilgrimage throughout the country precisely in order to rally the faithful around an event that is fundamental to the new life of our community. And this is not all: we also had it travel among Anglicans and the other Christian communities. The bell is the symbol par excellence of the summons to prayer. So we want to rally the faithful to pray. Prayer is the necessary viaticum for pastoral and spiritual renewal, especially after the difficulties caused by the scandals that occurred.

For a society that is increasingly attracted to secularist trends, do you think that the invitation to prayer suffices to recover the image and credibility that has been so badly damaged?

Undoubtedly Ireland, like many other countries, is more and more marked by a growing secularisation. Irish culture is changing and the Church too is being swept up in these changes. Hence there is no doubt that we must aim for renewal, especially spiritual and therefore pastoral renewal. It is prayer that gives us the necessary strength to do so. It is nevertheless evident that we cannot limit ourselves to this; prayer and pastoral care must be expressed in concrete actions. As I said, we are moving as Church, in accordance with the indications that stemmed from the Apostolic Visitation and are contained in the final report, and with the suggestions that the Pope himself made in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland.

Such as, for example?

The first commitment concerns the formation of future priests, consequently seminaries. There are new and stricter norms for the admission of candidates, giving seminary rectors greater authority. These norms not only aim at a strict qualitative selection of aspirants to the priesthood, but also at the quality of the teaching imparted, hence for the quality of the teacher.

With regard to the individual dioceses, all bishops have been invited to review and reinforce regulations to protect children in all of the Church’s activities. A National Board has been set up to ensure that the regulations are respected at every level. It hopes to do so by means of regular reviews, planned and structured in every individual diocese. In addition, the obligation to check on the moral qualities of every person destined to pastoral work with children has been introduced. The verification also takes place through a special collaboration with the police. However what I am eager to emphasize is that these are not individual processes or individual measures: they are all part of a single project for pastoral renewal which concerns all the fields in which the Church operates and are not linked solely to contingent situations. We are also living the Eucharistic Congress as an integral part of this project. Focused on the Eucharist, it perfectly calls attention to the central point of the renewal that is under way: precisely, the Eucharist.

Throughout this process what is the place occupied by the children who have been victims of abuse and by their families?

They still bear within them the wounds inflicted on them in the heart of a Church. There is a great commitment within the Church community to help restore their serenity. The Church has to obtain the necessary forgiveness in order to rebuild a violated bond. On national level a counselling service Towards Healing has been set up by the religious congregations and the bishops. Those who turn to this service are guaranteed confidentiality and help of various kinds.

Can you give an example?

The most frequent request is for help to overcome the trauma suffered. In a period of approximately 14 days, a counsellor is made available free of charge. The state-run counselling services have delays of up to one year before a counsellor might be available. Our service provides counselling for as long as is necessary.

In this regard, how many people have so far turned to the Church for assistance?

It is hard to quote figures, especially since the preservation of anonymity is involved. However, I think, at least according to the information I have received, that it is a question of several hundred people.

And in all this how have relations with the authorities changed, if they have changed?

After a first period of tension, things are slowly but gradually improving. In practice it is as if a new relationship had begun which has yet to be realised. Of course, there is respect on the part of the authorities for the great commitment the Church has made in this area.

What does the Church in Ireland ultimately expect from the upcoming Eucharistic Congress?

She expects a strong appeal to the co-responsibility of all in order to move ahead towards a renewal centred on the Eucharist. The response that came first of all from the local Churches in other nations has shown that this is possible. The participation of pilgrimages from so many countries is extraordinary. The response of the Church in Ireland is becoming more focussed. Thanks, for example, to the pilgrimage of our bell, we can say that we are confident. The Congress will last for a week, centred on gatherings whose main focus will be daily Mass. It will end with the common celebration in Dublin’s largest sports Stadium, at which the Papal Legate will preside.

What is the programme?

The first day will be dedicated to Baptism, a sacrament that brings all Christians together. To highlight this aspect we have invited the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, a Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, one from the Greek Orthodox Church, the head of the Focolare Movement and the Prior of Taizé to be present. On the second day we shall address the theme of marriage and the family; on the third day, the priesthood and service in the ministry of communion; the fourth day will be dedicated to reconciliation, a very important topic for the Church in Ireland; and we shall devote the fifth day to suffering and healing; lastly, Saturday will be dedicated to Mary. The week will be a great celebration of the Christian faith, focussed especially on the Eucharist, a great fair of ideas for the renewal of the Church.

In the days preceding the Congress there will be a Theological Seminar, which will offer especially to priests an opportunity of renewal of their devotion to the Eucharist.

We must not forget that the great majority of Irish priests have worked with great dedication, have preached the word of God and have helped many young people find their place and their future.

Lastly, I would like to emphasize once again the fact that the Congress is not and will not be an isolated event. It is part of this broad project of renewal that has already begun. The international participation is remarkable, even at a very high level, and this is a factor that cannot be ignored. We hope and pray that we shall succeed. Despite the strong forces of secularisation there is great faith in our lay people, religious and clergy. I am convinced that the Eucharistic Congress will be a unique occasion to renew our faith and to show how that faith make an important contribution to the construction of the future of Irish society.

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Sept. 22, 2018

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