Over 12,000 attend first day of Eucharistic Congress


The papal legate to the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin has prayed that the event will "bring a special blessing to Ireland at this turbulent time".

In a homily at the opening Mass at the RDS this evening, attended by about 12,500 people, Cardinal Mark Ouellett acknowledged that the Church in Ireland is “suffering” and “faces many new and serious challenges” of the faith.

“Well aware of these challenges, we turn together to Our Lord, who renews, heals and strengthens the faith of His people,” he said.

Ireland, he said was known for its long tradition of fidelity to the Catholic faith. “Her strong history of faithfulness has enriched not only these shores, but has, through her missionary sons and daughters, helped to bring the gospel to many, far-distant shores."

The cardinal said he knew from his own experience of the last International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, where he was then archbishop, that congress “brings many blessings" to the local Church and all the participants.

In his introductory remarks, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said today was a day on which the Church in Ireland rejoices.

“It rejoices not in triumphalism or external festivities. It rejoices in the gift of this Eucharistic Congress which has been attentively prepared throughout the length and breath of Ireland,” he said. “The Church rejoices today in the presence of pilgrims from many parts of the world who witness to the universality of our Catholic faith and who show their faith-filled fellowship and solidarity with the Church in Ireland."

Dr Martin said the Church Ireland was on a lengthy path to renewal. “The 50 years since the Second Vatican Council have brought many graces to the Church in Ireland,” he said. “Those 50 years have also been marked with a darker side, of sinful and criminal abuse and neglect of those weakest in our society: children, who should have been the object of the greatest care and support and Christ-like love.

“We recall all those who suffered abuse and who still today bear the mark of that abuse and may well carry it with them for the rest of their lives. In a spirit of repentance, let us remember each of them in the silence of our hearts."

A ceremony celebrating Irish Catholic cultural and spiritual heritage, which organisers had expected to attract 20,000 people, opened the congress in Dublin this afternoon. The congress is expected to attract up to 12,000 people each day over its eight days.

A welcome involving 500 participants with flags and banners representing every parish in Ireland formed part of the opening events today. Musical performers included the Three Tenors and the Palestrina Choir.

Earlier, it emerged Pope Benedict will not be making a live broadcast to the congress, as had been expected. A pre-recorded message from him will be shown at the closing Mass in Croke Park next Sunday, at which the celebrant will be the papal legate.

Congress general secretary Fr Kevin Doran said it had never been confirmed that the papal broadcast would be live and that weather factors influenced a decision to pre-record the message.

Tomorrow see the first catechesis, or daily teaching moment, of the eight-day congress. It will be given by prior of the Taizé monastic community in France, brother Alois Löser. Dr Martin will address the congress tomorrow about the church in the modern world.

The head of Catholic fraternity, the Knights of Columbanus, will give a personal testimony to the congress on Tuesday. Supreme knight Carl Anderson’s address will be on the day’s theme of communion in marriage and the family.

Wednesday’s programme includes sessions on caring for priests, poets of the Eucharist and the missions. The day will end with a procession.

Former taoiseach John Bruton will be among those to address Thursday’s congress. He will speak about the Christian tradition in European democracy. Speakers from organisations including Crosscare, Social Justice Ireland, Trócaire and Children in Crossfire will address pilgrims on Thursday’s justice and reconciliation theme.

United Nations special envoy on migration Peter Sutherland will speak on Friday. His address on attitude towards migration forms part of the theme on suffering and its potential to exclude and isolate people.

Professor of medical gerontology Desmond O’Neill will talk about the communion of the dying and the sick.

A member of the large Vatican delegation, Archbishop Piero Marini of the Vatican’s Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses, will lead prayers on the final day at the RDS.

The congress moves to Croke Park stadium next Sunday for the final Mass (Statio Orbis), which will be celebrated by Cardinal Ouellet.

Music for the closing ceremony will include The Priests, soprano Celine Byrne and composer Fr Liam Lawton.

An openair Mass took place this morning on the main street in Mullingar to mark the beginning of the congress. The Mass was celebrated by Fr Padraig McMahon, Cathedral Administrator, with Bishop Michael Smith presiding.

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