by Michael Kelly
DUBLIN (CNS) – The week long 50th International Eucharistic Congress, which gets under way in Dublin June 10, will be Ireland’s largest religious event since Pope John Paul II visited in 1979.
The celebration of faith offers a lively mixture of prayer, reflection and liturgy with participation from some of the leading voices in the Catholic world.
Organizers promise an estimated 12,000 overseas visitors the traditional Irish “cead mile failte” – “a hundred thousand welcomes.” Many Dubliners have opened their homes to pilgrims.
Events begin June 10 with an open-air Mass celebrated by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
The Royal Dublin Society – normally a venue for equestrian events, rugby matches and election counts – will be transformed into a “Eucharistic Village” where, according to organizers, “the Eucharist will be celebrated in the liturgy, adored in the prayer space and lived in the experience of each pilgrim.”
Each day, there are talks, reflections and guided prayer hosted by leading lay voices such as Brother Alois Leser, German prior of the Taize community; Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement; and Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.
Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop Frank Caggiano will speak to and lead a dialogue with young people as part of the special youth program.
Before converging on the main congress arena, pilgrims will gather daily for Mass in their respective language groups at churches across the city. There also is a program dedicated for younger pilgrims running side-by-side with the main schedule of events.
Father Kevin Doran, secretary general of the congress, said the event is a celebration of culture as much as it is of faith.
“This festival consists not only of testimonies, catechesis, celebrations and workshops but also a wide range of activities throughout the week: movies, choirs, cultural exhibitions, plays, gospel music, traditional Irish music, liturgical dance, Christian rock bands, orchestras, workshops on song and other artistic expressions,” he said.
The theme, chosen by Pope Benedict XVI, is “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another.” That theme will be examined by an international cadre of church leaders from around the world including Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
While the week is celebratory in nature, there also will be poignant reminders of the recent history of the church in Ireland. A special healing stone dedicated to those who have suffered abuse by priests and religious will be unveiled at the opening ceremony, while a day will be dedicated to reconciliation with a special liturgy.
Complex issues such as Christian hope in the context of suffering will be addressed by Christian leaders from troubled parts of the world. Among the speakers:
• Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, will discuss the suffering of Christians in his battle-scarred country.
• Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem will describe conditions for religious minorities in the Holy Land.
• Rose Busingye, executive director of Meeting Point International, will speak of her experiences in Uganda in treating and advocating for people with AIDS.
Pilgrims also will be able to view an exhibition that recreates Capernaum in the time of Jesus. The three-dimensional exhibit will give visitors the opportunity to transport themselves to the village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus spent much time during his public ministry.
The sensory-rich reconstructed surroundings will include the smell of the trees and the sound of the lapping of waters. It will allow the visitor to walk in the apostles’ footsteps and experience what it must have been like to live in the Holy Land in the first-century.
The closing Mass will take pilgrims across the Liffey River to Croke Park on the north side of Dublin. More than 80,000 pilgrims are expected to attend the liturgy, which will include a live video-link with Pope Benedict from the Vatican.
Thousands of volunteers are currently involved with final preparations for the congress and will be on hand at various locations throughout the city to help pilgrims find their way. People arriving from overseas will be greeted at the airport and given a briefing on Dublin and how to get around the city as well as experience some of the legendary Irish craic – which variously translates as fun, entertainment and enjoyable conversation.