2012-06-11 Vatican RadioMonday’s Liturgy of Word and Water in the RDS Arena, Dublin, marked a first for Ireland and few of those thousands present will ever forget the image of seeing gathered at the altar, the nation’s Christian churches united in prayer.
The word “historic” is simply an understatement on an island where down through the centuries religion was used to divide communities, where it was exploited to sow violence and even death. The fact that on this, the first full-working day of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, pilgrims were able to see and hear the testimonies from leaders in the field of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is thanks to years of ground breaking and often silent work on the part of the men and women from Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant Churches.
Led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and his Anglican counterpart, Archbishop Michael Jackson, the faithful from across Ireland’s Christian communities mingled happily on the vibrant green lawn of this Victorian exhibition space, in between talks on the theme “Exploring and celebrating our communion in Baptism”.
In an address on the Church in the Modern World, Archbishop Martin spoke of finding the points of contact between the Church and wider Irish society and he also underlined that in facing the challenge of secularism, cooperation between the main Christian churches is essential: “The Gospel must be preached courageously even if it does not seem to find roots in people’s lives”.
Archbishop Jackson, who was the chief concelebrant at the afternoon liturgy, said Christians need to learn and use the good news that has come out of the Peace Process in the North. He also spoke of how we need to be “mindful that God speaks to the world through the Church” and that through baptism Christian communities are conjoined in the missionary purpose of God”.
Despite forecasts for more Irish rain, it was an unusually hot summer evening as Br. Alois Loser Prior of the Taize Community, Dr Maria Voce, Leader of the Foccolare Movement and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who heads the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church in turn spoke of living communion in their Christian traditions.
Br. Alois speaking on “Passion for the Unity of Christ's Body” said it is up to all of us to see the gifts that God has placed in others, that our baptism unites us, while Metropolitan Hillarion invoked “spiritual power and determination” to oppose the degradation of “a morally neutral” European culture.
Many observing the Congress, however, question whether this “spiritual courage” will make its way beyond the confines of the RDS, to wider Irish society, whether there are any of those “contact points” of which Archbishop Martin speaks.
Last night as the Republic of Ireland’s football team played their opening match in the European Championships Dublin’s legendary pubs were packed. There among the football fans, were Congress pilgrims from all across the world, laughing and chatting together, and as Ireland went under to Croatia some, even praying together. The Congress, as one pilgrim put it, is only a start.
Listen to Emer McCarthy's report: