Thursday, 14 June, at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin is devoted to the theme: “Reconciliation in our communion”. The pouring rain today suited the theme well, as pilgrims took refuge in the adoration hall, where there were confessions all day. There was a reported 14,000 people at the Congress today; and several hundred priests heard confessions late into the evening, where the congress continued at the Youth Centre.
Cardinal Peter Turkson celebrated the Liturgy of Reconciliation that morning. During his meditation, he invited the faithful to keep their hearts open as he told them remarkable stories of forgiveness and healing. One such story was of a woman who survived the genocide in Rwanda. Most of her family had been killed and her trauma seemed insurmountable. Through a Catholic group doing outreach in prisons, she met her father’s killer. In the grace of the moment she forgave him, they wept and he shouted out “Justice can do its work and condemn me to death, for now I am free!”. He asked the faithful to ask themselves: “could this story be my story too?”. Whoever, be they the perpetrators or the victims, is bound by sin or the inability to forgive is not free. Cardinal Turkson said to me: “I pray that we can all be like Peter and not like Judas”.
Later that day, Richard Moore gave his own witness of reconciliation, right at the heart of the Northern Irish Conflict. Back in 1972 in County Derry, when Moore was 10 years old, he was shot with a rubber bullet by an English soldier and permanently blinded. However, he forgave the soldier and asked to meet him in 2007; the two are still friends. He not feel the heaviness of his cross, he said: the experience was for him the font of so much goodness in his life. He was given the “gift of forgiveness”, he said.
Cardinal Sean Brady presided at the celebration of Mass that afternoon. In his homily, he said that it is through the power of Christ that the Sacrament of Penance mends the broken bonds between individuals and God and between individuals and the body of Christ, the Church. “It is the Lord,” he went on, “who changes our hearts to ‘prepare them for reconciliation’: it is the Holy Spirit who moves human hearts so that ‘enemies speak to each other again, adversaries join hands… hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect’”. The Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh declared, “I want to take this opportunity of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress to apologise for the times when some of us were blind to your fear, deaf to your cries and silent in response to your pain”. He turned to the Healing Stone, a large piece of Wicklow granite set near the altar on which is engraved a prayer composed by a survivor of clerical abuse. He continued, “My prayer is that this stone might become a symbol of conversion, healing and hope”.
In the process of healing, “the first person you have to reconcile with is yourself”, Richard Moore had said. A shining example of such healing and hope is a young lady from Armagh I met later that day in the Youth Centre. Meabh Carlin, 20 years old, once a ballet dancer, is now confined to a wheel chair. Having grown up strong in the faith and full of energy, she went to World Youth Day in Madrid like so many young people last year. However, a taxi hit her on the road shattering the lower part of her body. “I remember lying in the hospital and feeling so alone. I prayed to God: ‘Please don’t leave me alone, oh God, oh God. Then I felt peace come over me like a warm blanket”. The doctors said that she would never walk again; she would never have children or lead a normal life. “The pain that I experience reminds me to thank God for life. Some one said to me that when we are at our weakest God’s grace is just so powerful. I really experience that. When you start to see the cross that you have been given to carry as not a cross but a gift, then your eyes are opened to the real beauty of life…. I always think of St. Catherine’s words: Be who God wants you to be and you will set the world on fire.” She concluded: “I have so much hope, so much hope”.