Midweek here at at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin with Wednesday's theme focusing on "Priesthood & Ministry in the Service of Communion. As usual plenty of morning workshops, with topics like: "Priests in a Changing World", "An Amazing Grace: The Poets of the Eucharist" and "The Permanent Diaconate: A Partnership in Ministry".
The afternoon sessions included catechesis from Canada's own, Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver who gave an excellent talk on the priesthood, its role for both clergy and laity which should be required reading for every priest and not a bad reflection for lay folks either. For anyone wanting to read the talks from the IEC this week, you can download written versions of them 24 hours after they're delivered via the conference website. Archbishop Miller's talk can be found here.
Among numerous thoughtful remarks, Archbishop Miller suggested, "Priests are called to live in a profoundly intimate relationship with God, not to know about him but to live with him." He also recalled the famous words of Blessed Pope John Paul II speaking about the priesthood, "There is no Eucharist without the priesthood and no priesthood without the Eucharist."
Witness talks were offered by two Irish women, Noreen Carroll, longtime teacher and educator who also works in parish ministry. She shared insights about the influence and impact of clergy in her own life, through both joyful and sorrowful experiences, including entering the hospital after the death of her husband. Unable to enter the room with her daughter, it was the local parish priest who was able to offer them support and walk with them through some of the most difficult moments in their lives.
Sr. Conchita McDonnell, President of the Conference of Religious Ireland. Educated by the Dominican Sisters, she spent many years in Africa, working in Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya and Brazil in the field of Education, Counselling and Pastoral Ministry. She worked alongside clergy and spoke of the co-operation that was essential in carrying out her important work.
Wednesday evening was the traditional Eucharistic Procession, a highlight for many in the 2008 Quebec City IEC where the walk traveled throughout the city, a witness for the faithful gathered in the birthplace of the Catholic Church in Canada. The Dublin route was 2.5 km, although it seemed much further, essentially traveling around the outside of the RDS Congress Centre with a few more public jaunts close to numerous pubs and residential areas. Thousands lined the route and processed, led by bishops and hundreds of priests.
It's a powerful witness to have 5,000 plus join in a Eucharistic Procession and it's a reminder to all of us that sometimes walking with other Catholics in quiet prayer can be just what we need. For many pilgrims walking back from the procession, they described the event as a highlight to date for them.
It was also widely reported in the media today that Papal Legate (the Pope's representative at the IEC, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, made a pilgrimage to Lough Derg, Co Donegal on Tuesday and Wednesday, where he met with a number of victims of child abuse in the church. Meeting with victims for more than two hours, the cardinal heard the stories of pain and suffering before celebrating Mass in St. Patrick's Basilica on the island with about 100 Irish and international pilgrims.
In his homily Cardinal Ouellet said:
“Pope Benedict XVI asked me, as his Legate to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, that I would come to Lough Derg and ask God’s forgiveness for the times clerics have sexually abused children not only in Ireland but anywhere in the Church.
I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the Victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. We have learned over the last decades how much harm and despair such abuse caused to thousands of victims. We learned too that the response of some Church authorities to these crimes was often inadequate and inefficient in stopping the crimes, in spite of clear indications in the code of canon law…
In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of which I have met here in Lough Derg.
I repeat here what the Holy Father told to the victims in His Letter to the Catholics of Ireland: ‘It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or to be reconciled with the Church. In her name I openly express the shame and remorse that we feel. At the same time, I ask you not lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin.
The tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by Christians, especially when done so by members of the clergy, is a source of great shame and enormous scandal. It is a sin against which Jesus himself lashed out: ‘It would be better for him if a millstone was put around his neck and he is thrown in to the sea than for him to cause one of the little one’s to stumble’ (Lk. 17:2).
From the context of this International Eucharistic Congress, I reaffirm the commitment of the Catholic Church to create a safe environment for children and we pray that a new culture of respect, integrity and Christ like love would prevail in our midst and permeate the whole society.”
Cardinal Ouellet stayed overnight on the island with the Papal Nuncio (Archbishop Charles Brown) and others during which time they fasted and participated in other penitential exercises with pilgrims on the island.
Toronto pilgrims are eagerly sharing their reflections with each other over meals, walks and time spent on the bus and train. Wednesday night they had a chance to come together in a relaxed social atmosphere, about the mid-way point of the IEC, to enjoy fellowship and listen to some Irish music while recalling their experiences to date.
There's absolutely no shortage of activities, workshops, films, etc. to take in. The crowds seem to be growing each day with plenty of locals making their way, many of whom recall hearing about the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin from their parents, not wanting to miss the historical occasion
So as we reflect on those who serve the church through ordained ministry, we give thanks for all that they do. In eating breakfast this morning, it was something to share a lengthy dialogue with a parish priest, deacon, lay pastoral associate, all of whom bring tremendous gifts to the church, unique perspectives and the ability to have a huge impact on the body of Christ among us. Let's continue to work together, pray for each other and support one another on the journey.