IEC 2012 Wrap up Show

Join us as we look back at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland. And we take you behind the scenes of an amazing week. Special features on the Irish High Crosses, Jerpoint Abbey, “Through the Eyes of the Apostles” exhibit, Liturgies, Catechists, Speakers and all the major events of the congress.

IEC 2012: Reflecting on the Pope’s video message

Following the Closing Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, S+L’s Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB spoke with Fr. Patrick Jones, the director of the National Centre for Liturgy in Ireland. Fr. Jones shared his thoughts on the Pope’s video message, which reflected upon active participation in the liturgy.

Closing greeting at the 50th International Eucharistic Congress

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin

One week ago we set out on a journey of prayer and reflection, of song and silence, of renewal of our hearts and renewal of our Church.   In these eight days the Eucharist has awakened in our hearts something which went way beyond our plans and expectations.

The Eucharist has been the nourishment of the extraordinary sense of our communion with one another which those of us who have been in the RDS and are here today have experienced.  We have experienced the communion of the Church.  We have been enriched by our sharing with those who have joined us from over 120 countries.  We have been joined by individuals, parish groups, and diocesan pilgrimages from all over Ireland.  We have come as bishops and priests, deacons, religious men and women, families, lay people who animate much of our parish life, young people and children.  Catholic communities right across Ireland, and with them many communities of other Christian denominations, have been praying with and for this event.

We are grateful for his presence here today of the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, along with public figures from North and South.

We thank God for the experience of these days.  We experienced the presence of Jesus with us in the Eucharist and the power of the Eucharist spread through every aspect of our assembly.  We thank all those who contributed to this great event.  We thank Father Kevin Doran, the General Secretary and his team for the extraordinary organization; we thank Father Damian McNiece who prepared all the liturgies and his team who coordinated them.  We thank the various choirs from all over Ireland.  We thank the volunteers who made us welcome and assisted us and kept us in good cheer.  We thank those who spoke at the various events.  We thank those who celebrated our liturgies and those who ensured vital moments of silent prayer and adoration.

We thank Cardinal Marc Ouellet most sincerely for his tireless work during these days in Dublin, at Lough Derg and in Knock.  We express through you our affection and loyalty and gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI and you can assure him of the prayers of all of us.

Our prayers and support go to the city and the diocese which will host the 51st International Eucharist Congress: Cebu City in the Philippines.  We pray that the Congress will bring the same special blessing to that city and diocese and nation as this Congress has brought to Dublin and Ireland.     I am told that in the monsoon season you can produce rain storms which equal or even surpass the ones we experienced in these last days.

The 50th International Eucharistic Congress was not just a seven-day event.  Over the past year a great deal of catechesis has been carried out across Ireland in preparation for this week.  Tomorrow we must start our catechesis anew to prolong the fruits of this Eucharistic Congress through a dynamic of New Evangelization.  The extraordinary interest that was shown in these days for the workshops and catecheses of the Congress tells us just how much thirst there is in our Catholic community to deepen the understanding of our faith.

In my service at the Holy See I was privileged to work alongside two extraordinary superiors.  One was a Polish Bishop, who in the early days of the Second World War, then a young Deacon, was arrested and interned for the entire period of the War in Dachau where he was the object of horrendous medical experiments.  The other was a Vietnamese cardinal who was held in prison camps, often in total isolation, or under house arrest for over eleven years.  Both had remarkable stories to tell of their ordeal, but the most striking thing that both spoke about was the Eucharist.  Both told of the extraordinary lengths they went to in order to be able to celebrate or participate in the Eucharist in secret and how it was the Eucharist which gave them gave them courage and hope in the darkest of days.   They spoke of the sadness they experienced on the days and months when it was not possible to experience the nourishment of the Eucharist.

We must go away from here with a renewed passion for the Eucharist.  We must go away with a renewed love the Church.  We must go away from here wanting to tell others not just about the Congress, but about Jesus Christ himself who in giving himself in sacrifice revealed to us that God is love.   In the Eucharist we are captured into that self-giving love and are empowered to be loving people.

We go away deepened in our faith.  In October next, Pope Benedict will inaugurate the Year of Faith.  His words about that year can be a programme for us as we move forward from this Eucharistic Congress:  “We want the Year of Faith to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope…; to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist…; to ensure that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility; to rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed.

In our prayers in these days we have kept in our prayers and in our hearts all those who suffered criminal abuse within the community of Christ’s Church and all those who feel in any way alienated from the Church and who have not experienced in our Church the love of Jesus Christ.  We go away from here committed to build a Church of communion and service after the model of Jesus Christ.  It is Jesus himself who will renew his Church.  It is Jesus present in the Eucharist who will be food for the journey of purification and renewal to which we commit ourselves as we leave this Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress strengthened in our desire to deepen our Communion with Christ and communion with one another.

Benedict XVI’s message at the International Eucharistic Congress 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With great affection in the Lord, I greet all of you who have gathered in Dublin for the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress, especially Cardinal Brady, Archbishop Martin, the clergy, religious and faithful of Ireland, and all of you who have come from afar to support the Irish Church with your presence and prayers.

The theme of the Congress – Communion with Christ and with One Another – leads us to reflect upon the Church as a mystery of fellowship with the Lord and with all the members of his body.  From the earliest times the notion of koinonia or communio has been at the core of the Church’s understanding of herself, her relationship to Christ her founder, and the sacraments she celebrates, above all the Eucharist.  Through our Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ’s death, reborn into the great family of the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; through Confirmation we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit; and by our sharing in the Eucharist, we come into communion with Christ and each other visibly here on earth.  We also receive the pledge of eternal life to come.

The Congress also occurs at a time when the Church throughout the world is preparing to celebrate the Year of Faith to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, an event which launched the most extensive renewal of the Roman Rite ever known.  Based upon a deepening appreciation of the sources of the liturgy, the Council promoted the full and active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic sacrifice.  At our distance today from the Council Fathers’ expressed desires regarding liturgical renewal, and in the light of the universal Church’s experience in the intervening period, it is clear that a great deal has been achieved; but it is equally clear that there have been many misunderstandings and irregularities.  The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery.  Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow.  Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity.  Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal.  In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life.

The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others.

Moreover, the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, his body and blood given in the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins and the transformation of the world.  Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries, and by its power and grace generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness well beyond your shores.  You are the heirs to a Church that has been a mighty force for good in the world, and which has given a profound and enduring love of Christ and his blessed Mother to many, many others.  Your forebears in the Church in Ireland knew how to strive for holiness and constancy in their personal lives, how to preach the joy that comes from the Gospel, how to promote the importance of belonging to the universal Church in communion with the See of Peter, and how to pass on a love of the faith and Christian virtue to other generations.  Our Catholic faith, imbued with a radical sense of God’s presence, caught up in the beauty of his creation all around us, and purified through personal penance and awareness of God’s forgiveness, is a legacy that is surely perfected and nourished when regularly placed on the Lord’s altar at the sacrifice of the Mass.  Thankfulness and joy at such a great history of faith and love have recently been shaken in an appalling way by the revelation of sins committed by priests and consecrated persons against people entrusted to their care.  Instead of showing them the path towards Christ, towards God, instead of bearing witness to his goodness, they abused people and undermined the credibility of the Church’s message.  How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of Penance have offended in this way?  It remains a mystery.  Yet evidently, their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it had become merely a matter of habit.  The work of the Council was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ.  The Eucharistic Congress has a similar aim.  Here we wish to encounter the Risen Lord.  We ask him to touch us deeply.  May he who breathed on the Apostles at Easter, communicating his Spirit to them, likewise bestow upon us his breath, the power of the Holy Spirit, and so help us to become true witnesses to his love, witnesses to the truth.  His truth is love.  Christ’s love is truth.

My dear brothers and sisters, I pray that the Congress will be for each of you a spiritually fruitful experience of communion with Christ and his Church.  At the same time, I would like to invite you to join me in praying for God’s blessing upon the next International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place in 2016 in the city of Cebu!  To the people of the Philippines I send warm greetings and an assurance of my closeness in prayer during the period of preparation for this great ecclesial gathering.  I am confident that it will bring lasting spiritual renewal not only to them but to all the participants from across the globe.  In the meantime, I commend everyone taking part in the present Congress to the loving protection of Mary, Mother of God, and to Saint Patrick, the great patron of Ireland; and, as a token of joy and peace in the Lord, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.



IEC 2012: Full video of Fr. Rosica’s speech on Catholic Media

International Eucharistic Congress 2012  – Is there a Catholic Media? 

Above is Fr. Thomas Rosica’s address on Catholic media. He made this special and passionate presentation on Day 6 of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland. Many thanks to for hosting this video.


Below is the text of the entire speech:

IEC2012 – Fr. Rosica: Is there a Catholic Media?

Address to the International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin, Ireland

Dear Friends,

On the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in southern Israel is the site of the Essene settlement where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947.  The scrolls removed from a cave that day and the days following would come to be recognized as the greatest manuscript treasure ever found – the first seven manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls!  The Essenes, an ascetic Jewish sect of the Second Temple were a somewhat fanatical religious group that existed from about 200 BC to 75 AD. They deliberately built their community in an inaccessible site.  They were a group of priests and laymen pursuing a communal life of strict dedication to God. Their leader was called the “Righteous Teacher.” They viewed themselves as the only true elect of Israel who alone were faithful to the Law.  The Essenes were convinced that the leaders and people in Jerusalem had lost their way and had become unfaithful to God.  So these devout Jews fled to Qumran to clear their heads and prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The Essene writings revealed the mood of Messianic fanaticism among the Jews of the time and have disclosed much about the nature of the Essene community, their way of life and beliefs as well as many details about the Second Temple and its rituals and worship.  The Qumran texts provide us with a very good background picture of one aspect of the religious world into which Jesus came.

I begin my presentation with the story of Qumran because it offers the Church one paradigm of how to deal with the world, with news, with media and communications.  There are some people and even leaders in the Church today who feel very much like the leaders of the Essene community – who view themselves as the only true elect of the Church, the only remaining faithful who have not lost their way!  In their mind, the only way to deal with the world is to flee from it, and construct their community in inaccessible sites like that of the Dead Sea… to build a hermetically sealed fortress that keeps the outside world outside!  Communications becomes an internal affair, preaching to the restricted gallery of the saved, the clean and the non-problematic people.

I do not believe that the Qumran method is the way to deal with the world today!  Rather than fleeing the confusion and ambiguity of our age, and hiding in the nostalgia of a past that is now buried in the heart of God, some of us must remain in the city, in the present, in the thick of things, offering the world the unambiguous message of the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, a ray of hope, and a dose of badly needed joy.  And we have to do this work on different media platforms, simultaneously!

Jesus’ media method

Jesus did not make his home base on the shores of the Dead Sea, but rather in cosmopolitan Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  In that little fishing village strategically located on the extension of the Via Maris, he had regular dealings with many people including tax collectors, and a Roman centurion. He was very much at home in Capernaum, not in Jerusalem nor at the Dead Sea.  Though clearly not a politician, Jesus had a keen sense of politics and rarely turned down an invitation to dinner.  Jesus bonded himself with the unclean, the sick and dying, with sinners, and those living on the fringes of society.  He befriended sinners and the wretched of his times- never condoning their behavior, but inviting them to an alternative lifestyle. He teaches us that by “being with people” he also heals, restores, renews and reconciles broken humanity.

Jesus asked his followers to go to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable.  He always spoke in a language that people understood and used the media that people found accessible.  He was the ultimate communicator. His incarnation was God’s greatest communication with humankind.  His challenge remains the same to us today. To do this effectively, we must engage with the traditional media and new media, whether as communicator or consumer.  The most effective way we can use the media is by bearing true witness to the message we seek to deliver. The strength of our message and our stories lie in the authenticity and transparency with which they are presented.

In using the media to evangelize the masses, we must never lose sight of the need to reach and teach the individual as though he or she were the only person being addressed.  We need to keep our focus on reaching the world with a message of hope, a theme that has been key in teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, especially in his encyclical on hope, “Spe Salvi.”  We must have a passion for the truth, always seeking in depth that solid soil of the vital relationship with God and others, a place to really build a culture of respect, of dialogue and of friendship and a way of respecting the dignity of every man and woman.

We have a long way to go in the media area both in the Church and in our media establishments.  Barrier walls and hostilities that exist between media and Church must be overcome.  It serves no purpose for Church officials, leaders and individuals to vilify those involved in the media, to stonewall and not respond to the constant “urgent” phone calls of this reporter, that producer, some editor.  That’s the nature of the beast!  They don’t call it breaking news for nothing!

Nor does it serve any purpose for those in the media world to ignore or marginalize the Church and religious issues into banal, trivial matters that don’t merit serious reflection.  We have much to learn from each other, and we have much good work to do together to serve the cause of truth and decency in a world that is becoming more devoid of value, virtue and meaning.  The most profound realities and truths cannot be reduced to sound bites.

What is required of Catholics who wish to enter the arena of media- in small and big ways, is prudence, wisdom, intelligence, savvy, humor, and above all, humanity.  And dealing with the media today is not the sole work of “designated” church communications personnel- some who know the trade, and know the importance of proactive and active work, while others, (thinking that they are experts), know the trade poorly- always remaining in fearful, reactive and crusading modes of response!  We will all make big mistakes and blunders in venturing forward on the media stage.  But we can learn from those mistakes, let go of grudges and old animosities, and build a collaborative future.

Let’s recall several key points about the media.  Contemporary media are not inherently evil or sinful.  Putting energy and creativity into positive expressions will help build a more humane media environment. Catholics involved in the media have a great responsibility to humanize a rather difficult world. At the same time, as the media dramatically reshape society, we must be cautious and wary of the negative side. Let us also not be fooled to think that mass media today is morally “neutral”. It is often subordinated to economic interests intent on dominating the market and to attempts to impose cultural models that serve ideological and political agendas.

The media have a huge role in shaping attitudes, a role that has been amplified by globalization. That requires careful reflection on their influence, especially when it comes to questions of ethics and the solidarity dimension of development.  Media have a civilizing effect when they are geared toward a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values. That means they need to focus on promoting human dignity, be inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth.

Rather than simply rejecting or ignoring new media, we should focus on the ways we can use them to reflect and express our values and help us provide models of empathy, solidarity and respect for the human person.  In doing so, we participate in the redemption of new media and the renewal and evangelization of the Christian community.

One of the prized values in the media industry is impartiality in presenting news and current affairs. This means both sides of a case must be presented, ideally within the specific programme or series.  To show impartiality in a single programme, an interviewer will put present critical questions and challenge the person interviewed. This often leads to a claim that interviewers are anti the opinion of the person they are interviewing. So whenever a Catholic is interviewed, the interviewer will take the opposite point of view. This means they may sound anti-Catholic to some people. But they sound equally anti-something and anti-whatever the view of the person interviewed. Attempting to handle topics with impartiality is sometimes handled sympathetically and sometimes badly.

Are some news interviewers and programs anti-Catholic?  The answer is yes.  In the media world, there is much animosity toward the Catholic Church. That is undeniable.  Many have personal prejudices as well.  Crises in the Church, particularly the devastating abuse crisis over the past years have provided good reason to many to distrust the Church.  It is tiring, however to hear Catholics and people of faith condemning the public television networks or even smaller, religious networks for being anti-Catholic simply because the network attempted to present the whole picture.

Several weeks ago when we presented in a very measured, objective manner the current “leaks” crisis at the Vatican, I received numerous nasty phone calls from our viewers telling me that I was showing disrespect by intimating that there were problems at the Vatican!  I told one woman that the entire world was speaking about the “Vatileaks” and her response was: “Catholic media should never present anything bad about the Church.” There are many who express this same idea.  Others complain when we present positive, happy stories of Catholic life, stating that we should speak much more about hell and damnation, since the world needs to hear that message!

The future of religious broadcasting lies not in demanding more dedicated religious programming but in creating programmes that inform, educate and entertain; this in fact may be a better way to communicate faith to a secular society that literally switches off when religion is presented as education and instruction.  No serious public service broadcaster is going to ignore religion but neither will they be cheerleaders for religion. Churches and faith communities need to understand the parameters of the modern media environment and work within them, helping creative programme makers to find new approaches to religious broadcasting, approaches that will inform and entertain according to contemporary criteria of good TV and good radio.

With the digital age upon us, we are seeing a considerable diminishment of the Catholic and Christian press.  The Churches cannot ignore the great potential of online media if they wish to keep the truths of the faith in close touch with the emerging culture and the younger, growing generations.  At the same time, we cannot ignore “old media,” because many less developed countries around the world still rely on traditional technologies. The task of Church communicators, journalists and broadcasters is to keep working to develop and use new media to communicate the Gospel and promote a culture of dialogue.  A single medium is no longer enough to capture the full attention of the audience.

Visual and electronic media, today’s dominant media, need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking requires the opposite. Thinking takes time. It needs silence and the methodical skills of logic.  Nevertheless these new forms of media have undermined the intellectual discipline that we once had when our main tools of communication were books or print publications.  Material progress is never an unmixed blessing.  New media also includes the viral world! Video clips that go viral can reach as many people if not more than a TV programme.  Churches need to be aware of these developments because they are low cost and highly effective at reaching those segmented audiences.

We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that a perfect communications strategy could ever make it possible for us to communicate every message the Church has to offer in a way that avoids contradiction and conflict.  In all honesty, success in this sense would be a bad sign, indicating ambiguity or compromise, rather than authentic communication.

The search for meaning is the most powerful force in the world. What we need to do is show the culture that we’re not against them, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change their circumstances. When that happens, people will listen.  We must avoid providing what are portrayed as easy and simplistic answers for every question addressed to us. Often the right answers are difficult.

Successful Catholic media experts throughout the ages

In every age the Church has used whatever media are available to spread the good news.  St. Augustine practically invented the form of the autobiography; the builders of the great medieval cathedrals used stone and stained glass; the Renaissance popes used not only papal bulls but colorful frescoes; Hildegard of Bingen, who is said to have written one of the first operas; the early Jesuits used theater and stagecraft to put on morality plays for entire towns; Dorothy Day founded the simple Catholic Worker newspaper; Jesuit Fr. Daniel Lord, S.J., jumped into radio; Bishop Fulton Sheen used television with tremendous success; and now we have cardinals, bishops, priests, sisters and brothers and Catholic lay leaders who blog and tweet.

And don’t forget Rita Antoinette Rizzo (a.k.a., Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, who founded the Eternal Word Television Network out of a barn on her property in the deep south of the United States.  Say what you wish about her, but she is one of the most chutzpah-filled women I have ever met and known.  Then of course there is Fr. Robert Barron, the Chicago priest who has given Catholic apologetics a new brand and incredibly beautiful, credible image through his “Word on Fire” and masterful “Catholicism” project.

This evening I wish to highlight, however, two individuals from our Catholic heritage who exemplify for us the power of evangelization, media, symbol and communication.  St. Francis of Assisi sought to convey the Christmas story through the nativity scene enacted in the Umbrian hilltop town of Greccio on December 25, 1223. Francis made a living Nativity scene, to be able to contemplate and adore it, but above all to know how best to make known the message of the Son of God who for our sakes was stripped of everything and became a little child.  Francis’ intuition was astonishing: the nativity scene is not only a new Bethlehem because it re-evokes the historical event and focuses attention on its message, but it is also an occasion of tremendous consolation and deep happiness.

The nativity scene celebrates the covenant between God and man, between earth and heaven.  Thanks to St. Francis, Christians are able to understand that at Christmas God truly is ‘Emmanuel’, the God-with-us, from Whom no barrier or distance separates us. In that Child, God became so close to each of us … that we can establish an intimate rapport of profound affection with Him, just as we do with a newborn child.

The second communications expert I would like to hold up for you is one closer to us, to our moment in history.  Let me take you back to the moment when he entered the world stage.  It was a lovely, fall evening, October 16, 1978, when Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla walked out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Following the white smoke from that now familiar Sistine Chapel chimney, the stranger was presented to the waiting crowd as “Pope John Paul II” and he spoke personally to the huge crowd in St. Peter’s Square, going beyond the prescribed Latin words of an Urbi and Orbi blessing.  He immediately bonded with the audience, describing himself “a man from a distant country” now called to Rome.  From the very beginning of his Pontificate, the youthful, athletic pope took the world by storm.  The media knew from the beginning that they had a friend in this Church leader.  And Church-media relations were forever changed on that unforgettable night.  We witnessed those changes on a daily basis over the next 27 years.

For three months during the winter and spring of 2005, the world was inundated with words, stories, and profoundly moving ceremonies coming to us from Rome- images that helped us recall and evaluate this world charismatic leader’s life and mission.  In this age of titillating television reality shows depicting the crudest form of human existence, the world was invited to take part in another kind of reality show of deep pathos and emotion- first in the Papal Apartments at the Vatican, then at Rome’s Gemelli Policlinic and finally back in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican.

The 2005 reality show invited the entire world into the passion of John Paul II from Rome- the mystery of his suffering and dying, of life and death and new life.  Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through.  The Vatican reality show reached its apex in the Octave of Easter and was an extraordinary teaching moment for the church and for the world.  It was brought to us by the media and choreographed by the star himself, John Paul II.  It came as no surprise- for the late Pope had remarked on several occasions in private and public discourse: “If it doesn’t happen on television, it doesn’t happen.”

Throughout his nearly 27-year Pontificate, John Paul II taught us that communication is power.  He told us to use that power wisely. Prudently get our message out and it will have a shot at bearing fruit, despite obstacles.  And if anyone knew about obstacles, John Paul II did- having lived long and prospered, despite being faced from the very beginning with the tyranny of Nazism and then Communism. Hiding our message will do no one any good, after all.  Like the mustard seed in that New Testament parable, we must sow in order to reap.

Blessed John Paul II taught us that there is much more to the Church and the papacy than preaching, speaking, writing, greeting people and traveling – although he certainly did enough of all of that.  He communicated through spontaneous, symbolic actions that were often more eloquent than some of his speeches, homilies and encyclicals- especially his finally moments on the world stage.  Those actions were often powerful symbols.  The word ‘symbol’ comes from the Greek word ‘symbolein’ – ‘to bring together’; it’s the opposite of the Greek word ‘diabolein,’ ‘to break apart, to divide’ – the origin of our word ‘diabolical.’ Symbolic actions help to bring people together in peace and in love.  Up to the moment of his death – and even after, Pope John Paul II was bringing people together in peace and in love.  That was communication at the service of truth.

Karol Józef Wojtyla began his historic service to the world with words that would become the refrain of the entire Pontificate: “Do not be afraid!”  Would that many of us in the Church and in the media world take these words to heart!  Think of the walls that might come tumbling down!  Imagine the bridges that would be built!

Interestingly enough, the last major formal document of Pope John Paul II was an Apostolic Letter entitled The Rapid Development, released on January 24, 2005. The contents of this remarkable document were somewhat eclipsed by the late Pope’s final suffering and death, and the election of his successor. The letter was addressed “To Those Responsible for Communications” and contains an important message to every media mogul, copy editor, reporter, writer, broadcaster, producer, web master and blogger, whether Roman Catholic or not.  A “spirituality of communication” is one of the major contributions of the letter that is none other than John Paul’s Testament on Social Communications.  It is not a coincidence that the last document of this great Pope should be on the theme of Communications, for if any church leader ever embodied and exemplified the great communicator, it was John Paul II.

In Rapid Development, John Paul wrote: “The media provides a providential opportunity to reach people everywhere, overcoming barriers of time, of space, and of language; presenting the content of faith in the most varied ways imaginable; and offering to all who search the possibility of entering into dialogue with the mystery of God, revealed fully in Christ Jesus.”

Communicators must be witnesses of values that are good for society.  But there was also a warning and a challenge in this brief document:  “Many people, in fact, believe that humanity must learn to live in a climate governed by an absence of meaning, by the provisional and by the fleeting. In this context, the communications media can be used ‘to proclaim the Gospel or to reduce it to silence within men’s hearts.”

“Rapid Development” should be required reading for every single person who works with young people.  For the document, far from being merely a manual for communications workers, is a charter for those who wish to evangelize the modern world, especially through the multiple platforms of media available to us today.  And if any generation of young people has been entrusted with the mission and vocation of Evangelization through the media, it is this generation.


People constantly ask me where I did my media training and film studies.  I smile and tell them that I don’t even watch TV and I see few movies.  I studied Scripture at the University of Toronto, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Ecole Biblique et Arcéhologique Française de Jérusalem, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  I learned about ancient texts, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic verbs, and things of the past.  I never studied filmmaking, media, public relations, and all the other hi-tech things that are now part of my new world.

But I also tell them that I had the privilege of having a master and mentor who knew the power of words and images, and who taught me everything I know about television, media, and Evangelization.  It was a character study of nearly 27 years… a master class that I never sought out and certainly never deserved.

Blessed John Paul II taught us how to engage the culture around us.  There is certainly a time for confronting the culture with the message of the Gospel and the Church, but such “confrontation” must be done with civility, conviction and charity. We need to show the culture that we’re not against them, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change their circumstances. When that happens, people will listen… as they stopped and listened to the story of Pope John Paul II.  And in doing so, many saw the face and heard the voice of God speaking to them and to our world.

How can this continue to happen in our day?  Pope Benedict uses the image of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, not a remote encampment far from the city, on the shores of the Dead Sea in a very inaccessible place on earth.  The Courtyard of the Gentiles was the part of the Jerusalem Temple that was open to all peoples, the part that Our Lord cleared of money changers: “Today too,” he says, “the Church should open a sort of ‘Court of the Gentiles’ in which people might latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery…there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.”

People are drawn to the Church in order to find their spiritual purpose. They are not Godless and they wish to learn from our wisdom. This is part of the new Evangelization that will lead some, but not all, to church membership. Many people today seek meaning and purpose in life, be they affluent or poor. This contemporary search defines our work in the broadcast media, both Catholic and secular; handled properly, the media can indeed be the Courtyard of the Gentiles for the 21st century.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada
President, Assumption University – Windsor, Canada

* Fr. Thomas Rosica has been a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) since 1986.  A scripture scholar and lecturer in New Testament, he was chaplain of the University of Toronto before becoming National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Canada.  Following World Youth Day, he became the founding CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Television, Canada’s national Catholic Television network.  In October 2008, he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as the English-speaking Media Attaché of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God at the Vatican.  In February 2009, Fr. Rosica was appointed by Pope Benedict as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.  As of December 1, 2011, Fr. Rosica is also President of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario (Canada).

– Photo Credit: Emanuel Pires

IEC Day 5 – Richard Moore, Founder of Children in Crossfire

Below is the official text of the talk of Richard Moore, Founder of Children in Crossfire, as delivered on Day 5 of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

Good afternoon everyone.  First of all can I say how delighted I am to have the opportunity to speak here today.  I’m going to share my personal story with you and because it is a personal story then what has worked for me, may not work for everyone.

My story begins in 1972 when I was a 10 year old boy in Derry, Northern Ireland.  At the time, Derry was in the grip of a very violent war.  The Creggan estate where I grew up was right in the centre of the troubles.  Bloody Sunday happened in January 1972 and arguably the weeks and months that followed Bloody Sunday was around the most violent period in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict.  Many people injured and maimed on Bloody Sunday were from my estate, so as you can imagine, it was a very volatile time.  Rioting, shooting and bombings happened on a daily basis.

I went to Rosemount Primary School (P.S).  Rosemount P.S and St Joseph’s Secondary school were both on the edge of the Creggan estate.  Beside the schools was an RUC police barracks.  Because of its location, it was a target for the IRA and a target for riots on a daily basis.  As a result of that, the British Army were brought in to protect it, so around the police barracks there was, what I would describe as, semi-permanent military installations.  One of these military installations faced up towards the Creggan estate in between my school, Rosemount P.S and St Joseph’s Secondary school.  On 4th May 1972 I got out of school as normal and I ran up along the bottom of the school football pitch.  I had to pass this army installation on my right hand side.  As I ran past it, a British soldier from inside the hut fired a rubber bullet.  It struck me here on the bridge of the nose; I lost this eye and was left completely blind in my left eye, so I am blind now just over 40 years.

What I remember that day was approaching the army installation and the next thing I remember, I woke up and I was laying on the school canteen table.  My music teacher, Mr Giles Doherty, heard the bang; he ran up, found me lying at the bottom of the football pitch and carried me into the canteen.  I remember him saying, ‘What’s your name son?’ and I told him my name was Richard Moore.  He got a terrible shock because I was in his music class and he knew me very well but he was unable to identify me due to the extent of my injuries.  My nose was completely flattened, my eyeballs were down at my cheekbones and my face was a bloody mess.  The next thing I remember is I woke up in the ambulance.  At that stage my daddy and my sister were beside me.  I only lived 2 minutes’ walk from the school, so my daddy and my sister were on the scene very quickly.  I knew I was in an ambulance because I could hear the siren and my daddy was holding my hand, saying ‘you’ll be ok Richard, you’ll be alright’.  At one stage one of the ambulance personnel said to my daddy, ‘there’s a woman outside, she’s very upset will we let her in?’ My daddy replied ‘no it’s his mother don’t let her in’.  The reason why he said that was because he didn’t want my mother seeing me in the state that I was in.

I don’t remember anything then for about 3 or 4 days.  Initially they thought I was going to die from the injuries, and then they thought I might have brain damage and finally they told my parents that I would be blind for the rest of my life.  When you consider the other options then blindness was considered a bonus.  I spent about 2 weeks in hospital and all during that time I thought I couldn’t see because of the bandages on my eyes.  After about a week I was moved from a private ward out into the general ward.  I was a football fanatic, I loved playing football and I  can remember when they moved me into the general ward there was a young boy in the bed opposite me and I can remember joking with him, ‘I can’t wait to get these bandages off my eyes, I’ll teach you how to play football’.  That must have been very difficult for my parents and my brothers and sisters who kept a constant vigil around my bed.  I come from a big family.  There were 12 children; 9 boys and 3 girls and I was the second youngest and for them to hear me talking as if I was going to be able to see again must have been very difficult because they knew the real truth.  They knew that I would never play football again.

After 2 weeks I was released from hospital and about a month after I was shot, my brother Noel took me for a walk up and down our back garden and on this particular day he said, ‘Richard, do you know what has happened to you?’ and I said ‘yes, I know I was shot’.  He said, ‘do you know what damage was done?’ and I said, ‘no’.  That’s when he told me that I lost my right eye and would never be able to see again with my left eye.  I accepted it there and then I literally took it in my stride, until that night when I went to bed on my own and I cried for the one and only time I can remember about blindness.  I cried because I realised for the first time that I was never going to actually see my parents again and to a 10 year old boy you don’t think about the bigger things in life.  You don’t think about what you’re going to do about your education, how you’re going to cope or what about a job.  All I felt was this enormous sense of loss, that I was never going to physically see my parent’s faces again and I cried myself to sleep.  The next day I woke up, got out of bed and began to put the pieces of my life back together.  I would always say that that day was the first day of the rest of my life as a blind person.  I eventually returned to primary school and went onto St. Joseph’s secondary school were I did my O’ Levels and A’ levels and then eventually went to the University of Ulster where I got my degree in 1983.  I got married in 1984 and I now have 2 children, Naoimh (pronounced Neev) and Enya.  Naoimh is 23 and Enya is 20.

I have done a lot of things since I lost my eyesight; I was compensated by the British and with half the money I bought a house and with the other half I bought a pub.  By the time I was 20 years of age I was the part owner of 2 pubs in the centre of Derry, so when I came out of university I went straight into running my own business.  I also learnt how to play the guitar after I was shot and with my wife Rita, we set up the Long Tower Folk Group which sings in the Long Tower Chapel in Derry every Saturday night at 6 O’ Clock mass.  I also played in bands which performed throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.  I became of Director of Derry City Football Club and in fact the last time Derry were champions of Ireland I’m delighted to say I was a director. The reason why I’m telling you all of that is not to be boastful or not for you to think that I’m a wonderful person.  It’s because I could not have survived what happened to me if it were not for 4 things.  Firstly I come from a good family; secondly I come from a good community and thirdly despite everything that happened to me and the difficulties that existed in Northern Ireland at the time, I still had choices and opportunities available to me, even as a blind person and throughout my self- employed life I became very conscious of children in other parts of the world who may have had their eyesight but didn’t have what I had.  As a result of this I sold out my business in 1996 and set up Children in Crossfire.  Today Children in Crossfire supports projects in Tanzania, Ethiopia and the Gambia and we work with children under 8 years of age who suffer as a result of the injustice of poverty.  Children every day who suffer the most horrendous abuses, who are denied the basic human rights that you and I have come to accept as normal in our lives; the right to an education, the right to food, the right to clean water and most of all the right to life itself.

I am not the only person that suffered as a result of my blindness.  My parents suffered enormously.  I can remember at night, just after I got out of hospital, lying in my bed, listening to my mother crying.  My parents were very devout Catholics.  They didn’t support violence and they went to mass every day.  They did their best to keep us safe in a particularly difficult environment and despite their best efforts, the troubles found us.  My father, he stood in the street and cried the day he came back from the hospital after they told him I would be blind for the rest of my life.

For me, I am a very happy and contented blind person.  99% of the time I never think about my eyesight, but there are times in my life when I have missed my eyesight.  For example when my two daughters were born Naoimh and Enya, I was in the ward when they came into the world for the first time.  I would have given anything to see them.  When they opened their eyes for the first time, when they smiled for the first time, I missed all of that.  I can remember when they made their First Holy Communions and Confirmations in St. Mary’s chapel where I made my First Holy Communion and Confirmation and they walked up the aisle in their beautiful dresses and everyone telling me how lovely they looked and I couldn’t see them.  In those moments, I thought about the British Soldier who shot me and I wondered did he ever think about me, did he ever think about the legacy of violence.

Despite all of that, I never had a moment’s anger or a moment’s bitterness.  If you think about anger and bitterness, it’s a self-destruct emotion.  If I had have been angry, who would it have effected most?  It would have been me, it would have destroyed me from the inside out and I genuinely believe that I couldn’t have done all the things that I have done with my life so far, if I had have been destroyed by anger. I never knew the soldiers name until 2005.  The BBC made a documentary about my story and as part of that documentary they tracked down the soldier, 33 years after I was shot.  His name is Charles and in January 2006 I flew to Scotland on my own and met Charles for the first time.  To sit at a table in a hotel foyer, opposite the man who pulled the trigger and blinded me for life and caused all those hurts to me and my family and to like him was an incredible experience.  Charles and I talked for four hours and three quarters and I have to be honest and say that it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.  I no longer saw a soldier, I saw a human being, a father, a grandfather.

I suppose I learnt two things about forgiveness that day; first of all forgiveness is first and foremost a gift to yourself.  Forget about Charles, if he wants my forgiveness he has it but that’s not what’s important.  What’s important for me, for my peace of mind and my happiness is that I forgive him.  So first and foremost, forgiveness is a gift to yourself.  The second thing is, forgiveness won’t change the past, but it will change the future and again what I mean by that is, the fact that I forgive Charles won’t give me back my eyesight and it won’t take away all those hurts that were caused to me and my family, but what it will do and has done in my case, is changed the future.  And I genuinely believe that I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done if I had to carry the baggage of anger and hatred.  There is no question, I am a victim of violence and I have no control over that but I am not a victim of anger and I do have control over that.

I often ask myself, how is it that a 10 year old boy from the Creggan estate in Derry was able to survive such a traumatic experience the way I have?  I think I can’t ignore the fact that it was the power of prayer.  Not my prayers but my parents prayers and I always say you can take away someone’s eyesight but you can’t take away their vision and my vision is the work that I’m doing through Children in Crossfire.

Thank-you very much for listening.

Homily of Cardinal Marc Ouellet at Lough Derg

This homily was delivered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Papal Legate to the International Eucharistic Congress, yesterday, 12 June 2012, during Mass in Saint Patrick’s Basilica, Station Island on Lough Derg, Co Donegal, in the Diocese of Clogher.  As part of his pilgrimage to Lough Derg, the Papal Legate celebrated Mass with approximately one hundred Irish and international pilgrims, some of whom had travelled to the island as part of their attendance at the Eucharistic Congress.  Before the Mass, Cardinal Ouellet, and his delegation, met with a group of survivors of child abuse in the Church which included representatives of institutional and clerical abuse, men and women, from different parts of the island of Ireland, North and South.  The meeting lasted two hours during which each survivor spoke of his or her own personal experience of abuse and its impact on their lives.

Bishop Liam MacDaid is the Bishop of Clogher.  The Diocese of Clogher is a cross-border diocese which includes County Monaghan, most of County Fermanagh and portions of Counties Tyrone, Donegal, Louth and Cavan.  Monsignor Richard Mohan is the Prior of Lough Derg.   Station Island on Lough Derg is located in the Diocese of Clogher and has been a place of pilgrimage for 1,500 years.  In 2011 over 16,600 national and international pilgrims travelled to Lough Derg to pray, undertake penance, and to reflect on the relationship with God in their lives.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Pope Benedict XVI asked me, as His Legate to the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, that I would come to Lough Derg and ask God’s forgiveness for the times clerics have sexually abused children not only in Ireland but anywhere in the Church.

Lough Derg in Ireland is the symbol of conversion, penance and spiritual renewal. Many people come here to pray, to fast and to apologize for their sins. According to a long tradition, they follow the steps of Saint Patrick who evangelized the country in the fifth century.

I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. We have learned over the last decades how much harm and despair such abuse has caused to thousands of victims. We learned too that the response of some Church authorities to these crimes was often inadequate and inefficient in stopping the crimes, in spite of clear indications in the code of Canon Law.

In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims, some of whom I have met here in Lough Derg.

I repeat here what the Holy Father told to the victims in His Letter to the Catholics of Ireland: “It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or to be reconciled with the Church. In her name I openly express the shame and remorse that we feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope.  It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin.”

Dear brothers and sisters, in today’s Gospel, Jesus said to His disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again?  It is good for nothing and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.”

The tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by Christians, especially when done so by members of the clergy, is a source of great shame and enormous scandal.  It is a sin against which Jesus himself lashed out: “It would be better for him if a millstone was put around his neck and he is thrown in to the sea than for him to cause one of the little one’s to stumble” (Lk 17:2).

As members of the Church, we must have the courage to ask humbly for God’s pardon, as well as for the forgiveness of those who have been wounded: we must remain close to them on their road of suffering, seeking in every possible way to heal and bind up the wounds following the example of the Good Samaritan.

From the context of this International Eucharistic Congress, I reaffirm the commitment of the Catholic Church to create a safe environment for children and we pray that a new culture of respect, integrity, and Christ like love would prevail in our midst and permeate the whole society.

May the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints help us all to eradicate the evil of sexual abuse and set us free toward a deep and lasting spiritual renewal of the whole Church.

We are here to pray God with the same words of Saint Augustine in the Confessions: “You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness: and you sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness: your breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tested you and now hunger and thirst for you: you touched me, and I have burned for your peace” (Book 10,27).

A true conversion can only happen through a restored deep personal relationship with Christ that we invoke for the entire Church, as the prayer of Saint Patrick, the Apostle of the faith in this country, reminds us:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.



After the homily the following prayers of intercession were prayed by all present:

–          For the Church: that its leaders be bestowed with wisdom and courage to strengthen people’s faith and nourish them on their journey. Lord, hear us.

–          For all of us here present: that we may be the salt of the earth for those around us and a light to guide people on their pilgrim way. Lord, hear us.

–          For the failure to love, respect, nurture and cherish young people, particularly the most vulnerable, we ask your forgiveness. Lord, hear us.

–          For the crimes and sins of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated against children and young people, especially in Church-run institutions, by clergy and other servants of the Church. Lord, hear us.

–          For the inadequate response often given by Church leaders when abused people told their stories, we ask forgiveness. Lord, hear us.

–          That all whose lives have been broken by abuse of any kind may experience support and lasting healing. Lord, hear us.

–          For personal intentions, for intentions of other pilgrims and for all who are sick. Lord, hear us.

–          For all who have been bereaved, and for our dead, especially family members and other loved ones; for those who died recently, all who have been pilgrims to Lough Derg and for those who died tragically or through violence. Lord, hear us.

–          Lord God, through the intercession of Patrick our Patron, hear the prayers of your people gathered here in faith and hope.  As you nourish us with your word, give us also the bread that gives us life – Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

IEC Day 4 – Homily of Cardinal Rodríguez-Maradiaga: St. Anthony of Padua and His Eucharistic Devotion

Below is the official text of the Homily of Cardinal Rodríguez-Maradiaga, as delivered on Day 4 of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

The Liturgy tells us that the saints fulfil a triple function in the Church: the example of their lives, the help of their intercession and the sharing of their destiny.

The first reading can be applied to the life of Saint Anthony who was anointed at Baptism, Confirmation and Priestly Ordination to ‘bring the good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to comfort the afflicted’ and to spread the Grace of the Lord. Like the disciples of the Gospel, he left his native Portugal and as an authentic follower of Saint Francis, enriched thousands of Christians through his own poverty. There are many edifying examples in his life but in the context of a Eucharistic Congress, I wish to concentrate on the following theme. – ‘Saint Anthony of Padua lived an intimate and passionate personal relationship with the Eucharist; This Divine Sacrament marked his days, filling them with confident hope’.

Face to face with the movement of the Cathars which rejected the sacraments, Saint Anthony was a witness to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist: ‘Yes, I firmly believe and vocally profess that that body which was born of the Virgin, hung on the cross, lay in the grave, was raised up on the third day and ascended to heaven to the right hand of the Father, that same body was truly given to the Apostles and this very same reality is brought about each day by the Church and given to the faithful……’.  

To counteract the influence of the Patarina Heresy (a reformist movement that began in the North of Italy) and which had disfigured the dogma of the Real Presence, reducing the Eucharist to a simple historical evening meal, ‘just a mere memory’, Saint Anthony, preaching one day in Rimini fully illustrated the reality of the presence of Jesus in the Sacred Host. However, the leaders of the heresy did not accept the reasoning put forward by the Saint, and tried to discredit his arguments. One of the leaders said to him.  ‘Fewer words now: if you want me to believe in this mystery, you will have to do the following miracle: I have a mule. I will keep her without food for three consecutive days. When the three days are passed we will come before her together, I with the grass and you with the sacrament. If the mule disregards the grass and goes and kneels and adores ‘your bread’, I will then adore it myself. The Saint accepted the challenge and went away to implore God’s help through prayer, fasting and penances.

For three days, the heretic deprived his mule of all food and then brought her out to the public square. At the same time, Saint Anthony came into the square on the opposite side, carrying in his hands a monstrance with the Body of Christ; all this in the presence of a multitude of people eager to know the result of this extraordinary challenge accepted by the Franciscan saint. Saint Anthony faced the hungry animal, and speaking to her, said: “In the name of that Lord whom I, although unworthy, hold in my hands, I command you to come and show reverence to your Creator, so that the malice of the heretics may be confounded and that all understand the truth of this most holy Sacrament which we the priests handle at the altar and (by which) all creatures are subject to their Creator”.

While the Saint spoke these words, the heretic was throwing barley to the mule so that it would eat, but the mule giving no attention to the food came forward step by step as if it had the use of reason and respectfully genuflected on both knees before the Saint who held elevated the Sacred Host and remained in that position until Saint Anthony gave it permission to get up.

The heretic, Bonvillo by name, fulfilled his promise and converted with all his heart to the catholic faith: The heretics recanted their errors and Saint Anthony, after giving the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament amid great applause and cheers, carried the monstrance in procession to the church where he gave thanks to God for the miracle and the conversion of so many brothers.

Beyond a spectacular miracle, what Saint Anthony taught regarding the Eucharist is the doctrine of the Church. First of all, it is a gift of the Lord, of which the priest is not the owner but the servant. The Eucharist is the most splendid Sacrament of the Presence of Christ; it is inevitable that the Eucharist has a transformative action in the heart of anyone who lives it. The Eucharist is a gift of love which will be only fully understood in eternity.

Blessed John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’ (2003) recalls that the church ‘draws her life from the Eucharist and has placed this sacrament at the centre of its pastoral ministry. In the Eucharist, Christ gives his body and his blood for the life of humanity. And those who are nourished in a dignified way at the table become living instruments of His loving, merciful and peace-bringing presence.

Saint Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that the evening meal of the Lord is not just a fellowship event; it is also a memorial of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. “So, then, whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes”. Who so ever takes part in it, is united to the mystery of the death of the Lord and is transformed into being its ‘missionary’.

There is a profound relationship between celebrating the Eucharist and proclaiming Christ. To enter into communion with Him means, at the same time, to be transformed into missionaries of the event that the celebration makes real. It involves making it contemporary in every age, until the Lord comes.

For that reason the saints, each one in a unique way in his or her own particular context, reveals or manifests Christ. Saint Anthony of Padua lived an intimate and passionate personal relationship with the Eucharist; which marked his life, filling it with confident hope’.

The life of Anthony of Padua, so rich in supernatural gifts and in extraordinary happenings, was founded on a radical Eucharistic piety. The expression ‘You yourselves, give them something to eat” (Lk.9:13) had a great significance in his own life, since in the many situations in which a multiplication of bread did happen, there was to be seen a consistent extension of his intense union with Christ and of his uninterrupted prayer.

Christ, ‘the living bread that has come down from Heaven’, is the only one who can alleviate the hunger of the human person at all times and in all places of the earth. He cannot do it alone, however, and for that reason, as in the multiplication of the bread, He involves the disciples: “He then took the five loaves and two fish and, raising His eyes to heaven, pronounced a blessing over them; He broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd”. (Lk.9:16). This powerful sign is an image of that wonderful mystery of love which is renewed every day in the Holy Mass: through the ministry of the priest. Christ gives His body and His blood for the life of humanity. And those who are worthily participate at the table become living instruments of His loving, merciful and peace-bringing presence.       

Saint Anthony was the first to teach theology in the Franciscan Order.

For him, to preach Christ is to understand and explain Him through the mystery of the Eucharist, by living in complete consistently, his union with Christ alive and present in the Most Holy Sacrament. He used to say “he endeavours in vain to spread the Christian doctrine who contradicts it by his works”: hence his long hours of contemplation and profound loving silence before the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle. His personal devotion was the most convincing way of preaching what he believed: that Jesus is present in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The strength and the abundance of miracles in his life, have their source and deep foundation in his profound Eucharistic life. The Eucharist, celebrated and adored, is the beginning of the configuration with Christ.

In our times we do not, perhaps, have the heresies of the past, but rather praxis of indifference. The Sacred Eucharist is simply ignored and does not occupy an important place for the great majority of people, who may not say it in words but they bring to mind the words of the Israelites in the desert “We are disgusted with that bread without yeast”. (Num.21.5) The purpose of an International Eucharistic Congress is to help us live better every day the faith of the Church in the Blessed Sacrament. Through the intercession of Saint Anthony may we be able, day by day, to give to the Sacrament of the Altar a more central place in our lives, and may we nourish through that Sacrament a Christian way of life which bears fruit in love and solidarity. Just as we requested in the opening prayer of the Mass: “Grant that with the assistance and intercession of this outstanding preacher, as we follow the teachings of the Christian life, we may know your help in every trial”. Amen

Photo credit: CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec

IEC Day 4 – Sr. Conchita McDonnell: Consecrated Life – A Life of Communion

Below is the official text of Sr. Conchita McDonnell, as delivered on Day 4 of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

In his talk this afternoon Archbishop Millar highlighted the vital importance for every priest of an intimate relationship with Christ. Quoting Pope Benedict he described this relationship as not a mere intellectual knowledge but a profound personal relationship – a knowledge of the heart so that the priest can speak of the Lord to others from this experience.

These words have a particular resonance for all those who live the Consecrated Life.

Christ is not only central to the life but gives it meaning. My personal testimony today flows from the living of that life for the past fifty years.

My call to religious life took root in the community setting of my own family. I was the eldest of three children of a devout father and a questioning mother. I lived in a home where family prayer and the Eucharist were highly valued. My first image of God as a little child was of going for a walk with my father and wanting to be carried home. In order to encourage me to walk my father said “ Let us see what gift God has for you” At a gorse bush to which I ran I found a barley sugar sweet which my father succeeded in dropping through the bush. The memory of that simple event has stayed with me over the years forming my image of God as a loving, giving God waiting to be gracious to us. In later life I came to see the Eucharist as God’s unparalleled gift to me and to all humanity.

Another formative memory from childhood were words often spoken by my father “The greatest gift God has given you is the gift of faith” This I only dimly understood until my early twenties (20’s) when I came to the awareness that I was being called to religious missionary life to share that gift with others as I had been gifted. As a result I joined the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary in Killeshandra Co. Cavan, where I received a formation which deepened and expanded my faith and prepared me for the rest of my life. I was left in no doubt that my effectiveness as a missionary depended on my fidelity to prayer and that my life was to be modelled on that of Jesus. The call to Consecrated Life is above all a gift totally unmerited. There is always a mysterious element to the call – why me and not someone else who is much better, more prayerful, more virtuous?

In my own experience of living religious life I have come to the conviction that I needed a community to keep me living in the truth of who I am and who God is. One’s prayer can be delusional and requires testing in the ups and downs of life and most especially among those with whom we live in community. The closeness brings out the raw reality and directs us back to the Eucharist for the forgiveness, strength and inspiration needed to fulfil the mission to love. The emphasis on the common life and the common good challenges our innate self-centeredness and urges us to live and to witness to communion.

Living in community with women who not only share the same faith and the same values but also live them in the concrete was pivotal for me. All my life I have thanked God for the two Holy Rosary Sisters with whom I first lived in community when I was assigned to Nigeria in 1966. Their love and care was evident in their relationship with the people among whom they lived. Their inclusiveness, generosity and respect for the dignity of all was evident in everything they did. No wonder then that when we were engulfed in the Biafra war the chief and elders of our area (most of whom were not Christian) came to say that we would be protected as one of themselves because we were a single group which showed no distinction of colour, religion or lifestyle. This was true communion – community at its best.

The community we lived together as religious sisters was nurtured and sustained by the celebration of Eucharist which had to be lived each day. St Paul links community and Eucharist and suggests, as a recent writer Daniel O’Connell put it, that a unified community is the necessary basis for a proper celebration of the Eucharist. He goes so far as to say that a divided community is an affront to any celebration of the Eucharist. This was vividly illustrated fro me by an African priest who told me of having removed the Blessed Sacrament and stopped celebrating Eucharist temporarily for a religious community which refused to attend to extreme dissension and disunity among them. Like St. Paul he saw the divided community as the antithesis of all that Eucharist signifies.

In contrast to how the synoptic Gospel writers present the story of the Last Supper by concentrating on the words of institution, the writer of John’s Gospel tells the story of the ritual of washing the disciples’ feet. The Church chooses that reading on Holy Thursday to highlight the meaning of Eucharist in how we live.  We have heard Archbishop Millar refer to Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Another Canadian Ronald Rolheiser OMI states in his recent book ‘Our One Great Act of Fidelity’ “The Eucharist is both an invitation that invites us, and a grace that empowers us to service. And what it invites us to do is to replace distrust with hospitality, pride with humility and self-interest with self-effacement so as to reverse the world’s order of things”.  It is clear that Jesus identified the true disciple, not by special privileges or position or talents but by conscientious fidelity in the day-to-day routine of life and service, expressing compassion, forgiveness, and love.

There are communities of men and women living the Consecrated Life, sharing the lives of the poor, who are living signs that no human life is destined to end on the rubbish dump. One of our sisters who entered with me in Killeshandra 50 years ago sleeps on the streets in Brazil with the dispossessed and vulnerable of this world. They are her community as indeed is the Holy Rosary community to which she belongs. One community nourishes the other and is deeply challenged in return. In his book ‘Tomorrow’s Catholic’ Michael Morrwood MSC writes “The effective power and compassion of God has to be embodied and Eucharist proclaims that we will be this presence”.

Despite all that has happened in Ireland in recent years it is clear that our witness is not ineffective but rather can have a lasting effect on the lives of people. While attending funerals of religious throughout Ireland since the recent reports on child abuse it is striking how much the individual religious is loved and cherished and his/her contribution to the local community referred to in loving concrete terms. At the funeral of one particular Sister, whom I knew, the whole town shut down as a mark of respect because she was a revered member of their community.

Monastic and contemplative communities also are embedded in people’s lives as they live in communion with an amazing variety of people including Travellers, the distraught and the poor. Hospitality is extended to all and for some it is the only experience of communion and love in their lives. In her reflection on the Cistercian film ‘Of Gods and Men’ Sr Marianne O’Connor, director general of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) writes “The film shows community life at its best where difference is seen as gift and not threat, where individual struggle is acknowledged and given space before a communal decision is reached and where tender, brotherly love is beautifully portrayed. While it says much about life within a community, it also speaks to the relationship of that community with those around it as the monks witness to their belief in being ‘brother to all’ – the Muslim villagers, the fundamentalists and the political authorities”.

It was commented on more than once after Vatican II that one of the positive changes which resulted from the council was that religious orders were no longer in competition with one another. Shortly before that the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) (under a different name) was founded. Through it there has been remarkable collaboration on the part of the religious congregations of this country on issues of education, health and justice. The Conference is inclusive of all religious communities of women and men, apostolic, monastic and contemplative. This communion has given strength, solace, mutual support and compassion especially during the past ten years of suffering.  In the public acknowledgement of our corporate sinfulness we embodied Eucharistic brokenness but not fragmentation. During those difficult years our collaborative ministerial outreach was intensified as communities tried to meet the evolving needs of an ever-changing society, allowing even our wounds to become radiant sources of compassion as communion with the marginalised and with each other deepened.

Another significant development since Vatican II has been a new openness and communion with people of other faith traditions. This has not been lost on the media, evidenced by the picture carried in the papers of the Catholic and Protestant Archbishops of Dublin leading a Good Friday procession through the streets of Dublin. As a refugee in Cameroon during the Biafra war I was greatly enriched by my friendship with another missionary refugee of the Scottish Presbyterian tradition. A welcome visitor to my religious community she, on one occasion, asked me about the significance of my ring. Gladly I spoke of receiving it at my final profession as a symbol of my life commitment to Christ and his mission in the context of community. Her response expressed a longing that her faith tradition might have a similar recognised structure which could afford her the same opportunity. The exchange brought the realisation that the formal life commitment was one further gift in my life. For me the ring has always signified the absolute centrality of self-giving love in consecrated life.

There are many expressions of communion. In my early years as a religious while teaching religion in a Teacher Training College for young men, I was approached at the end of the year by one of the students who, to my amazement, wanted to be baptised. I had taken it for granted that he was already a Christian. When I asked why he wanted to become a member of the Catholic community, he replied “Because your God is a God of love”. He then insisted that I suggest a Christian name for him and my mind returned to the initial seed of faith in my home so he was called Thomas after my father. Another student felt the call to priesthood and many years later became a priest. I had the joy of being present at his ordination. The evening before while sitting on the veranda I asked him what I had said that was so significant for the students. He said it was not so much what you said but how you were. Communion takes place at the unrecognised deeper levels of our lives.

Today we live our lives in a society which is increasingly fragmented and lonely but in spite of all the cynicism that would deny its validity our Christian hope affirms and confirms as do our expressions of communion, the absolute gift of the consecrated life to the Church and to the world.

For my own part I would not exchange my life as a Religious Missionary Sister for anything. It has enriched the very act of living and knitted me into the hearts of hundreds throughout this world leaving me with a profound sense of gratitude and communion with God and so many others.