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Eucharistic Congress: Here's why people are attending

The arrival of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress comes at a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland is in turmoil. TheJournal.ie spoke to some of the pilgrims on why they are attending.

Pilgrims from Ireland and abroad take part in the opening ceremony on the opening day of the International Eucharistic Congress at the RDS.
Pilgrims from Ireland and abroad take part in the opening ceremony on the opening day of the International Eucharistic Congress at the RDS.
Image: (Laura Hutton/Photocall)

THE INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC Congress, a week-long event organised by the Vatican every four years, opened in Dublin last Sunday.

About 12,000 Catholics, many from overseas, gathered for the opening Mass at the RDS, where discussions, debates and prayers will be held all week. The 50th annual event arrives in Ireland at a time when the Catholic Church here is facing huge challenges, including the fallout from extensive clerical child abuse scandals and declining numbers participating in religious ceremonies.

Michael Freeman and Christina Finn from TheJournal.ie went along yesterday to find out from pilgrims themselves why they are attending and what they hope to get out of the Congress.

What are you most looking forward to?

American attendees, Sally Penafiel, 58, from Texas and Sr Mary Emily, 42; Sr Michaela, 27 and Sr Claire, 37, from Nashville in the USA, said they were all looking forward to the Morning Prayer. Brian O’Toole, 58, from Rathmines, Dublin, is interested in the event on passing on the faith to the next generation, while Marie, aged 24, from Dublin wants to attend the talks on family life and marriage.

Mary, aged 60, who travelled up from Kerry, said she very much enjoyed the Liturgy of Word and Water by Archbishop Michael Jackson yesterday. “It was very good. I know it is funny – his name. It wasn’t ‘the’ Michael Jackson. But he was very good, I really enjoyed that,” she said.

Why does the Eucharistic Congress matter to you?

Helen, 30, from Sri Lanka said that the Congress brings unity to the church. “It is a part of our Church – coming together. This is a pressing time for Ireland and the Church what with all the child abuse revelations surfacing. I would hope that the Congress might be able to bring healing to people in Ireland,” she said.

Mary said that coming together is what the church is all about. She said:

It is good to hear different points of view from different organisations and religions, and you can see then that we are all equal. It is good to hear that we are not alone in our faith.

“I’ve come here to the Congress to try and get a deeper understanding of my faith and to meet new and interesting people with the same faith as me,” said Marie.

Gearóid, 29, from Dublin, said the Congress matters because it is an important event – especially for young people, he said. “For people like myself and younger, it gives them a chance to renew their spirituality – not even their faith but their spirituality, more importantly,” he said.

Brian said that the Congress is a celebration of the Church. He said “you need these peak experiences to strengthen your faith, because then you go back into run-of-the-mill life and the fervour diminishes. Until you need another event like this”.

Oliver, 39, from London said:

For me as a Catholic, the Eucharist is the summit of all our belief. It’s a way to support not only myself, but my family and friends and those in my parish.

Amy Johnson, 19, from Warrenpoint, Co Down said the Congress is about “bringing community together” adding “to make people realise everyone’s involved – that it’s not just the elderly, it’s important to the youth too”.

What do you hope to take away from the Congress?

Benedicte, 24, from the Netherlands, said she is hoping to take away new ideas about her faith while Mary said she hopes that she comes away with a renewed sense of her faith. She added: “I hope to meet new and interesting people from all over the world. It is interesting to hear all of their points of view on things.”

Claire McAdam, 21, from Ballybay, Co Monaghan, said she had come to make new friends and “strengthen” her faith.

Gearóid said:

I think that above all, I want to take away positivity from this event. Positivity that I should carry on in my work (as a youth organiser). I hope this week gives me and others the strength to know that I am making a difference through my work, even if it is just in a small way.

Are you bothered by the protests outside the gates and are you concerned about the negative reaction?

Many people in attendance said they were not bothered about protesters and actually welcomed them.

“The protesters, the people that suffered from terrible child abuse – they have a right to be heard. They are protesting against something that is personal and important to them. It would bother me more if they weren’t being heard and if their concerns were not being dealt with,” said Mary.

Brian held a similar point of view stating, “No, we welcome protests. I’m a protester myself and I work a lot in advocacy. In a way I’d be asking questions if there weren’t any protests.”

Jerry, 40, from London said “They have the right to protest, and we have the right to our faith.”

Speaking about the protests, younger voices like Marie said:

No institution is perfect. There is always going to be opposition to something no matter what so it is not something that would bother me. People have a right to their opinion.

Gearóid said:

The protests don’t bother me at all. They have a right to protest, they have a right to an opinion, just like we do – they might even have a point. The Catholic Church really has to move into the 21st century and stop living in the past.

Sr Mary Emily said “we’ve seen nothing but happy, smiling, joyful people, and the Church really alive. It’s so important that this event is reported positively”.

(Question for younger attendees) Is the decline in youth participation in the Catholic Church a concern for you? Have you experienced any strange/negative reaction from people your own age when you said you were attending the Congress?

Gearóid said that the decline in the participation of young people in the Church worries him adding “the problem can be addressed through the work that I do, which is organising retreats for young people. Through meditation and relaxation we encourage young people to get involved, it takes away the rules and regulations associated with religion and the Church”.

Benedicte said:

Young people are very present in the church; it is just that they are not so visible in the media. There are a lot of young people here that are just interested in learning and thinking about what their faith means to them.

“The youth in the Catholic Church is alive and well – you just don’t hear about it, that’s all. You only hear the bad news about the Church. There are so many youth organisations involved in the Church, many are here today. There are so many youth volunteers here this week, so I think that in itself says a lot,” said Marie.

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