Legates from Ireland and abroad will participate in the June 10-17 IEC in Dublin . . .
The last International Eucharistic Congress held in Ireland was in 1932, shortly after the founding of the Irish Free State. Massively attended and with an air of patriotic zeal and religious fervor, the Congress also marked the 1,500th anniversary of St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.
Mass is held on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge during the Eucharistic Congress in June 1932
Eighty years later, the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) is once again convening in Dublin — from June 10-17 — but under subdued circumstances. The people’s faith — already weakened by secularism, poor catechesis in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and a belated reaction to over-clericalism — has been further damaged by priestly sex-abuse scandals. As Pope Benedict XVI noted in his March 2010 letter to Ireland’s Catholics, those scandals “have obscured the light of the Gospels to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”
Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, said this IEC will have two positive aspects: “The lack of triumphalism” and “the focus on the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that communion is the center of the Eucharist.”
The theme of the 2012 Congress, which is expected to bring together more than 80,000 Catholics from around the world, is: “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another.” Members of Legatus’ Dublin Chapter will be joined by their brethren from abroad and, as June draws near, excitement is building.
“The Congress will be a great opportunity for the Church in Ireland,” said John Reid, president of Legatus’ Dublin Chapter. “At the end of the day, the Blessed Sacrament is the source and summit of our faith, what being Catholic is all about. And though the momentum and excitement in anticipation of the Congress have increased, we have to be careful about comparisons with the last Eucharistic Congress here in 1932. Times are completely different.
“The media may draw unfair comparisons, citing the astronomical number of people attending in 1932: over a million people in the streets of Dublin kneeling for benediction. We don’t anticipate that this year. We are focusing more on renewal in the Church, a sense of community, and a sense of the Church not merely as an institution, but as a family.”
While the faith in Ireland today does not enjoy the popular triumphalism of yore, Reid noted that the situation in his country is similar to that of Western Europe in general: a smaller percentage of the population professing the faith, but the faithful who do so being “much more fervent, orthodox and determined.”
As a cause for hope, Reid cited the plethora of little Catholic groups around the country promoting the faith from the ground up — from family rosary circles and youth groups to movements like Opus Dei and the Legion of Mary. Orders such as the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, to which Reid, his wife Maureen, and other Irish Legates belong, are another sign of the Church’s improving health.
Dublin’s chapter coordinator Marion Mulhall, whose main vocation is CEO of the pro-priest apostolate Worldpriest.com, expressed similarly sober enthusiasm.
“I think the green shoots are already appearing all over Ireland and will come into greater blossom with the Eucharistic Congress,” she said, noting “an awful lot of prayer groups” in Ireland, many of them focused on Divine Mercy.
And though things are tough for the faithful in Ireland, Mulhall, who will address the IEC, is hopeful about the Church in Ireland.
“I honestly and truly believe that the faith is in the hearts of the Irish people, despite many good people being deeply hurt in different ways,” said Mulhall, a lay Carmelite. “Though the Church has gone through turmoil, the Irish people believe that the Church and her sacraments are an integral part of how we are prepared for eternal bliss. No matter what people might say, the faith hasn’t left the Irish people.”
If past performance can predict future results, Ireland can look forward to receiving graces from hosting the Congress. The last one was held in Quebec City in 2008, underwritten in part by Legatus. According to Sr. Doris Lamontagne, spokesperson for the Quebec archdiocese, the “enthusiasm for the faith stemming from the 2008 Congress remains very strong. Something changed after the Congress, something hard to put a finger on or to measure: a new spirit of confidence among priests and laity, including several young men whose experience at the Congress inspired them to enter the seminary.”
Sister Lamontagne, the national delegate for French-speaking Canadians to the upcoming Congress, is in charge of preparing the Quebec archdiocese’s delegation. “In 2004, only 200 French-Canadians attended the Congress held in Guadalajara, Mexico. This year, over 800 people have already signed up to travel to Ireland. I think hosting the Congress ourselves has a great deal to do with this upswing in numbers.”
Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College and a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, said he is honored to have been invited to give two presentations at the IEC.
“I enjoyed reading G.K. Chesterton’s Christendom in Dublin about his experience at the World Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and how strongly Ireland manifested her Catholic identity,” he said. “Now that identity is under attack and the faith has been shaken. If we can get people focused back on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and that we receive it through a priest, I hope that will go a long way to revitalizing and strengthening what had been a deeply Catholic culture.”
O’Donnell, who teaches a course at Christendom’s study abroad program in Ireland, has “a deep love for Irish history and culture” — a love similar to that of the Holy Father.
“Back in 2000, the Pope wrote that beautiful letter to the people of Ireland, emphasizing the need for them to get back to their roots — especially to their understanding that the Church is not just an institution, but the mystical Body of Christ. They need to understand what made Ireland great in order to go forward well, and I can’t think of a better way to do so than through this Congress.”
O’Donnell hopes the Holy Father will be able to attend the Congress. “The Church in Ireland would be energized all the more after taking it on the chin for so long,” he said. His hope is shared by Irish Catholics. “We’d be absolutely thrilled if he came, if only for a day,” said John Reid. “Some of our members have offered to pay the cost of him coming over.”
Whether or not the Holy Father attends, Reid wants all Legates attending the IEC to let the Dublin Chapter know so that they can convene a special Legatus event. Please email Marion Mulhall at email@example.com
Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.