2012-06-17 Vatican RadioThere is nothing as impressive as a crowd of more than 75,000 people reduced to absolute silence, or that lull of quiet that falls on a stadium as people wait in anticipation for something incredible to happen.
As the giant screens on each side of the altar raised on Croke Parks iconic Hill 16 flickered to life, the only sound to be heard was the wind rustling pilgrims plastic ponchos as they drew breath and waited to hear, to see their Pope.
The Statio Orbis – the mass which concludes the International Eucharistic Congress - was coming to a close, a liturgy as beautiful as it was simple. Ahead of this week of rain and prayers, queues, tears, smiles and reflection, the Archbishop of Dublin had expressed one wish: congregational singing at the final mass. Too-long Irish Churches had been silent. On Sunday his wish was granted. As the Papal Legate, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prayed over the gifts, seventy-five thousand voices lifted in song, God’s holy name for God’s holy people, and rang out across the Dublin skyline.
The legate has had a close encounter with Irish Catholicism this week. From his pilgrimage of penance to Lough Derg, where he met with abuse survivors, to Mass with pilgrims at the National Marian shrine of Knock on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He was also warmly received by Irish authorities, meeting with both the Irish President, Michael D. Higgens, and the Prime Minister, Enda Kenny - both of whom were present Sunday.
The Irish Ambassador to the Holy See, David Cooney, described the Congress as an opportunity for the Irish Church to convey “the enduring presence and relevance of Catholicism in today’s Ireland”.
In his homily Sunday, Cardinal Ouellet said the week of Eucharistic reflection, celebration and adoration has made people more aware of God’s call to communion with Him and with one another. Now it was time to rejoice, be glad and bear witness to Him.
“The Irish bell, which resounds from Lough Derg, from Knock and Dublin, must resound in the whole world. Let’s ring the bell further through our personal testimony of renewed faith in the Holy Eucharist”.
“Even if we are sometimes tested in our faith, do not be afraid, and remember who we are: the body of Christ intent on loving God over and above all things”.
The Cardinal, who is also Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops when he is not on a mission for the Pope, was interrupted several times by applause as he spoke. However the largest outburst was provoked when he invited pilgrims to listen to Pope Benedict’s message. “He is our spiritual father, a father who is holy and worthy of our trust and sincere obedience”.
And then the silence was broken, cheers and cries rising as Pope Benedict appeared on screen. From the Apostolic Palace in Rome into the very heartland of the Irish psyche, the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
In the eight minute video he spoke of how Ireland has been “shaped by the Mass at the deepest level” for centuries. He spoke of how Ireland had been “shaken by” the “appalling sins” committed by some Church members against those in their care. “Instead of showing them the path towards Christ, towards God, instead of bearing witness to his goodness, they abused people and undermined the credibility of the Church’s message.”
Pope Benedict said it was clear “their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit.” The aim of Vatican II and the Eucharistic Congress he added was “to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ.”
Then, to the joy especially of the thousands of Filipinos present at Mass, he announced the 51st International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Cebu, in the Philippines in 2016.
Speaking to the Archbishop of Cebu Jose Palma, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wished him well. He said that the Congress had gone beyond the plans and expectations of the Irish hierarchy.
Let us hope they now realise the great thirst of Irish people for a faith renewed in the Eucharist, a Church united by Christ, a Church of communion and of service.