Friday at Dublin's Eucharistic Congress brought with it rain and overcast skies but in many ways, it was a baptismal experience. Overall theme for the day was Communion in Suffering & Healing.
Organizers have scheduled most of the main plenary sessions this week in the afternoon to avoid the Dublin rush hour traffic as anyone who's been to Dublin can attest to the congested roadways in the city.
Friday afternoon pilgrims heard from the Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, Bashar Warda, one of the youngest bishops in the world, born in 1969. The Archbishop, leader of 200,000 Chaldean Christians, spoke of the suffering of his flock, victims of violence and persecution in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
It's a complex situation, as many Catholics in the Archdiocese of Toronto will be familiar with the sponsorship of refugees from that region making their way to Canada. Yet if the Christian population flees the area, it's mere survival is threatened. To stay or to go? One of the many challenges facing the Christians of the Middle East.
Full text of the Archbishop's homily can be found here.
Following the Archbishop's catechesis, we had the chance to pray the rosary as part of the Annual Global Rosary Relay for Priests.
The afternoon witness talk was given by Ms. Rose Busingye, founder of Meeting Point International, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Uganda, reaching out to those living with HIV/AIDS and their families. You can find her witness talk here in which she speaks of treating every person with dignity and respect, especially those who have been suffering, in many cases alone.
The crowds at the IEC continue to increase each day with close to 8,000 in the arena for today's catechesis and Mass. The Eucharist was celebrated Friday afternoon by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal who gave a rousing homily, interrupted numerous times with applause. He spoke of traveling to Golgotha ad praying at the place of Christ's death for the persecuted Christians, remembering, "While we may feel alone, Christ is our hope, joy and freedom." It's worth reading his full homily which can be found here.
Friday's Mass also included the anointing of the sick for many gathered at the IEC. Often a misunderstood sacrament with many Catholics under the impression it's reserved only for those on their death-bed, the sacrament can be administered to anyone who is undergoing serious surgery, facing significant health challenges or for the elderly who are vulnerable to any number of health ailments. It was a powerful experience witnessing hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals making their way throughout the arena to administer the sacrament to thousands of pilgrims who stood to indicate their desire to receive the sacrament. Personally, it was one of those "moments" at the IEC, recognizing the unity within our community and desire to pray for one another and God's love shared through our clergy for those suffering.
This evening, we had the chance to enjoy a great talk from Canadian CEO of Salt + Light Television, Fr. Tom Rosica, speaking on "Is there a Catholic media?" Providing some great reflections and food for thought for those working in the media, communications and Catholics in general, Fr. Tom also spoke of the papacy of Blessed John Paul II and his ability to cross the great divide that often exists between the church and media. His talk can be read here. Special thanks also to the crew traveling with Fr. Tom from Salt + Light Catholic Television Network this week. They're working long hours to provide coverage not only to Canada but coordinating the world feed to more than 100 countries, blogging and streaming video through their website.
The sick surround us in our world, the vulnerable, the marginalized and those who have no voice. Today was an opportunity to pray for them and to reflect on the power of prayer. Whether it's persecution in the Middle East, a child fighting cancer or a 90 year old faced with the reality of their final days, suffering is a reality. That said, with God's love and our own ability to care for those both near and far away, we walk with them on the journey, comfort them and anoint them in our own way.
During the anointing, the words of a south african hymn rang through the arena, resonating with all of us as the sacrament of the sick was shared with those suffering.
"Come, bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no."
We probably already know that but a reminder never hurts...