The first full day at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) brought pilgrims from around the world together for prayer and reflection. However, the day started with special country wide delegate gatherings based on language in churches throughout Ireland and designated prayer spaces at the RDS Congress Centre.
English speaking Canadians were assigned a large hall at the RDS, with 1,000 seats out to accommodate pilgrims in attendance. As the only early morning Mass at the Congress site, pilgrims from some other english speaking countries also descended on the location so to put it simply, the place was packed. As an aside, you can tell you've exceeded attendance expectations when priests are looking nervous as communion is distributed and hosts are broken in half, then thirds, then eighths...
It was great to see about 20 bishops concelebrating and at least 100 priests present as well. Canadians are well represented at the Congress, the largest delegation beyond the local Irish church.
National Delegate for the IEC, Archbishop Albert LeGatt of St. Boniface, Manitoba was the main celebrant for today's celebration on the feast of St. Barnabas. He spoke of the conflict between Barnabas and Paul in their day, how jealously at times can get in the way of our relationships and how, ultimately, even in those difficult moments, God is at work. His Grace also pointed out that finding God in one another, especially during a long and at times challenging pilgrimage is so important. As the Archbishop remarked, "You may like almost everyone on this pilgrimage, but there will be someone who gets under your skin, who annoys you. God is calling you to love that person even more intentionally during these special days in Ireland."
Kudos also to Marilyn Calderone, one of the Archdiocesan team members and resident cantor, who pulled together music ministry on about 36 hours notice for the celebration. A wonderful example of talents and gifts coming together to enhance our liturgical experience!
The overall theme for Monday is "Exploring & Celebrating Our Communion Through Baptism". Afternoon speakers included catechesis from Brother Alois Loser, current Prior (leader) of the Taize community in France. Brother Alois spoke frequently of the Taize founder, Brother Roger, who was murdered in 2005 during a prayer service by a mentally ill woman. He spoke of the Taize community itself being a "parable of community" that wishes to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and separated peoples. In his own gentle and comforting way, Brother Alois connected the dots and spoke of the communion shared in our common baptism.
The afternoon witness was provided in Italian by Dr. Maria Voce, present leader of the Worldwide Focolare Movement. Dr. Voce shared her own journey, leaving a career in canon law and civil law to devote her energies entirely to the Focolare movement since 1963. She also spoke of the many Ecumenical relationships developed along the way. Succeeding foundress Chiara Lubich in 2008, Dr. Voce is now based full time in Rome and also serves as a consulter at the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
In addition to the plenary sessions, the congress offers numerous workshops throughout the day on a variety of topics. Today's talks included discussions unpacking documents from Vatican II - The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II and Ecumenism Today and The Liturgical Reform of Vatican Council II to name just a few.
Some of the most memorable moments also come in between sessions, meeting with pilgrims from our own community and those we're connecting with for the first time. Highlights today included meeting a young Irish couple who met at World Youth Day in Toronto, now with six small children in tow, wanting to be part of the Canadian Mass at the ICE to recall those special days in Toronto ten years ago.
I also had the chance to take a bus ride back from the congress centre alongside a nun who was 98 years young. Joyful, hopeful and prayerful, we engaged in a 20 minute conversation about life, the world's challenges, the role of faith and how she was still as happy as she's ever been, thanks to her faith in God.
She also had the unique perspective of sharing some of her own personal reflections from the last time the International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin, back in 1932. Quite the experience. A special blessing to have shared time with Sr. Margaret today.
The pilgrimage has already showered us with many blessings (no actual rain yet) and today brought home a real sense of both the Canadian and global church in our encounters with friends from near and far.
Emanuel Pires from our office is also capturing the experience through photos (see above). You can catch more of his work by visiting the Archdiocese of Toronto Facebook page - he's got some great shots. Thanks also to Denise Torres back in Toronto who's working hard to archive the pics and keep readers and viewers involved in a "virtual pilgrimage" of sorts.
Today's theme spoke of baptism and communion. We often associate those sacraments with small children. Well today, we relived some of the joyful excitement that comes with new experiences. Whether it was 1,000 strong singing O Canada in Dublin, writing down that "wow" moment from a speaker or connecting with a complete stranger, you couldn't help but smile, give thanks and remember that with God's love, the possibilities are endless...