Four years after thousands made their way to Quebec City and the Plains of Abraham for the 49th International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), a country looking for healing and renewal kicked off the 50th edition of what some refer to as "World Youth Day" for adults on Sunday, June 10 in Dublin, Ireland.
As past hosts, the Canadian delegation is the largest outside of Irish pilgrims, with 900 Canucks in attendance. The Archdiocese of Toronto has 90 delegates attending this year's IEC. All arrived safely after night-time flights Friday and we are also blessed to have Cardinal Thomas Collins, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau and about a dozen priests attending this special gathering with us.
Most activities are taking place at the RDS (Royal Dublin Society) Congress Centre, a 15 minute train ride from the centre of the city. Cheerful volunteers are present throughout the city, at the airport and in full force at the RDS.
Today's opening ceremonies were the culmination of four years of efforts to prep for the IEC. Bear in mind, this has been a tough last number of years for Irish Catholics, dealing with the revelations of widespread clerical abuse, devastating the largely Catholic country and prompting an official Apostolic Visitation to begin the pastoral healing of a church looking for answers, renewal and the courage to carry on.
It was clear from the opening moments of the Congress that the abuse story would not be ignored. A prayer of healing (written by survivors of abuse) was read before the start of Mass and is marked on a large granite "Healing Stone", featured prominently just beside the main altar/stage that will be used throughout the week's events.
Father Kevin Doran, Secretary General of IEC2012, said: “Stone speaks of permanence. To say something is ‘carved in stone’ is to say that it is here to stay rather than just a passing thought. The stone represents the firm determination to work for healing and renewal".
The pilgrim symbol for this year's IEC is the Eucharistic bell, traveling throughout the country to more than 1,000 churches over the last year. Like the World Youth Day Cross, pilgrims have taken the bell to prisons, hospitals, churches and other celebrations where evangelization is needed. The bell is even set up throughout the Congress where pilgrims can have their photo taken with it, pray before it and ring the bell - you hear constant single bell rings throughout the day, a soothing reminder of each pilgrim's call to proclaim the Good News.
The Opening Ceremonies featured representatives from every diocese in the country, led by their local bishop, joining in a procession, populating the assembly with a crowd that was reported as 12,500 strong.
The traditional Irish rain held off Sunday with the opening taking place in an outdoor arena more accustomed to equestrian and rugby events, this week providing a centerpiece for Catholics from countries around the world to gather, pray, share and reflect.
The IEC is also competing for attention and space in the local media with the Euro 2012 Football (Soccer) Championships with Ireland losing their first match Sunday evening, dampening local spirits along with those congress "band-wagon" fans who can't seem to travel anywhere without being immersed in a sea of green and orange.
The week will unfold with literally hundreds of events, workshops and speakers. Each day will include a plenary talk, witness reflection and Eucharistic Celebration.
Today's Mass was celebrated by the Papal representative for the Congress, Canadian Cardinal Marc-Andre Ouellet, previous host of the 2008 IEC before his appointment to head the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican.
So all in all, a very busy day, pilgrims still acclimatizing themselves to European time and the launch of a special celebration that promises to bear much fruit for the people of Ireland and all those in attendance.
The last Eucharistic Congress to come to the country was held in 1932 so it's safe to say the Irish are due for this historic occasion once again. To all those involved in the planning, pilgrims participating and those engaged virtually throughout the world, we offer our prayers for a week of blessings and renewal for all.
On your mark, get set, let's go...this pilgrimage is underway and Ireland has opened its arms to the world!
Location:Little Strand St,Dublin,Ireland