Stallholders congregating in Main Hall get down to business of religion


IF YOU want to buy a Eucharistic Congress commemorative chocolate lollipop, a digital church organ, or custom-made vestments, the Main Hall of Dublin’s RDS is where commerce and the Catholic faith are both represented this week.

There are some 257 stands in the hall, offering everything from the traditional, such as Rosary beads and information on vocations, to the more esoteric and entrepreneurial.

“Do Your Housework in Half the Time” promises a product called Magic Mary.

This stand belongs to Mary Madigan, who had travelled from Abbeyleix, Co Laois. “I’m selling multipurpose cloths and mops,” Madigan explained, doing a brisk demonstration with a mop as she spoke. “Loads of priests and nuns use them for cleaning floors and those long wooden church benches. And the cloths will do stained glass windows without leaving any stains.”

Was she doing good business? “There was a priest from Canada this morning who bought eight of them to bring home for his housekeeper as a present.”

At Stand No 33, Limerick-based Aidan Gallagher was promoting EWTN, a “free Catholic television station that you can get on cable. But most Irish people don’t know about it, so that’s why we’re here; we want to tell everyone about it. It’s American, but designed for the world.”

Gallagher was handing out flyers that invited pilgrims to submit contact details in exchange for information on the EWTN channel. It offers, among other coverage, a thrice-daily Mass, the Rosary, Angelus, and Chaplet of Mercy.

The Dead Theologians Society has 10,000 members in 450 parishes, mostly in the US. Founder Eddie Cotter watched Dead Poets Society when it came out, and was inspired to form his own religious society. “Instead of dead poets, we thought we’d make a society of dead saints,” he said.

They are based in Wisconsin, and “look to the saints of yesterday to inspire the youth of tomorrow”.

The society works with teenagers to engage them in Catholicism. Their one Irish chapter so far is in Moyross in Limerick, where a group of seven young people have become involved. “There is no magic bullet in youth ministry, but we’re trying to spread the word,” Cotter said cheerfully.

As part of the official merchandise, 1,000 commemorative medals were struck with the words, “The Eucharistic Congress With Christ and With Each Other” in both Irish and English. Less than two days into the congress, there were only 52 of these left, selling for €29.95. “They’re collectors’ items,” explained Emma Fenton.

“People know we’re not going to have anything like this again here in Ireland for a long time.”

Dana Rosemary Scallon had a stand in the balcony with her husband Damien, where pilgrims were queuing up to get their photographs taken with her. On sale were CDs from her back catalogue, including Totus Tuus, which came out to commemorate the visit of pope John Paul II to Ireland in 1979; Good Morning Jesus, Prayers and Songs for Children; and Merry Christmas.

Wordplay was in evidence in many stalls. US company Globus was offering religious-themed holidays with the promise, “journeys you can believe in”; there were albs and chasubles from Belfast company Elevation Vestments; and Florida-based Angelluz had an extensive display of crucifix-themed jewellery.

“Gospel Non-Violence” was the name of the stand Fintan Mullally was manning. “We’re not an organisation. We’re a loose assembly of people who support the concept of non-violence,” he said. “We wouldn’t promote chaplins in armies, for instance.”

As it happens, there are two Irish Army chaplaincy tents pitched in the Simmonscourt complex, opposite the entrance where pilgrims go to register.

“We’re not talking about those chaplins,” Mullally qualified.

“They’re not encouraging fellas to go out and kill. Those fellas go out on peace missions. We’re talking about the American military.”

Fr Thaddeus Doyle was at stand No 263, the God’s Cottage Prayer Centre stand, where most of what was on sale had been written or recorded by him. They included a €5 Miracle Rosary CD, described as “brilliant for praying when driving”. As Fr Doyle explained: “There’s a different response to each decade of the Rosary instead of the usual one, so it stops you getting distracted, and helps keep you mind on what you’re praying.”

Among the many pamphlets on offer was one titled, Dear Lord, I’m Desperate. The back cover blurb begins: “Did you know that the Higher Power which enables even chronic alcoholics to break their addiction to drink is the same Higher Power by which Jesus was raised from the dead?”

“That one is to reach people at the early stages of their spiritual life,” Fr Power said, adding that it was one of his best-sellers.

Belgian-born Pascale Van Riet’s stand was noticeable for offering only home-made fruit jellies and Belgian chocolate. How did these strictly secular items tie in with other religious-themed offerings on sale at the Eucharistic Congress? “Well, the pilgrims are here to replenish their souls, and I’m here to replenish their bodies,” she said.