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The Congress has prepared Ireland for a possible papal visit

It has shown we Irish Catholics can put aside our bitterness about abuse and rejoice in what unites all the world’s faithful

By on Monday, 18 June 2012

Pilgrims inside Croke Park in Dublin during the Statio Orbis (PA photo)

Pilgrims inside Croke Park in Dublin during the Statio Orbis (PA photo)

At the entrance to the final Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, a man and a woman in their 30s held signs saying “RTÉ is anti-Catholic” and “Abortion: thou shalt not kill”. A middle-aged man had “Arrest Cardinal Brady, Protector of Paedophiles” on four different signs which hung from his shoulders. Streams of thousands of people were unaffected by the few demonstrators and filed past them. In all 80,000 people were present for the Mass, which Cardinal Brady concelebrated.

I met some people who had given up the faith, but came yesterday and said that at the very least it was a sublime occasion to hear Ireland’s top musical talents. The Three Tenors, The Priests and soprano Celine Byrne have voices that would melt marble. One thing I found frustrating was that the RTÉ Concert Orchestra did take over and it was hard to hear the Palestrina Choir. One young pilgrim brought an enormous 1932 Eucharistic Congress flag that had been preserved by his family until now. People saw the flag’s antiquity and gathered round to hear how it had been passed down through the generations in his family.

The Congress could prove to Rome that Ireland is ready for a papal visit. It showed that despite a few objectors, thousands of Irish people can gather in loving adoration of Christ in the Eucharist, that they can engage with people from different parts of the world; that we can put aside our bitterness about the Irish Church’s mishandling of the abuse cases, and rejoice in that which unites all the 1.4 billion Catholics: Christ in the Eucharist.

The Pope perseveres through media scandals like the “Vatileaks” and tetchy negotiations with the SSPX, but never loses sight of his goal of redefining that Christianity is a Person, his name is Jesus Christ and that we can have “friendship with Jesus Christ”. Pope Benedict is not a proud, haughty figure who wants people to worship him, and relegate Our Lord to second place.

Now Benedict has seen that the tiny island of Ireland is capable of hosting a major, international event designed to lead people in adoration of the Eucharist, he may make plans to come. The Pope sees himself as being the humble servant of Jesus who was truly present on the altar in Croke Park. Now that the Pope has heard the rousing renditions of Panis Angelicus performed at Croke Park, he knows that there are some strong voices of faith in Ireland. It wasn’t incidental either that the crowd went into hysterics of clapping before and after the televised message from the Pope.

President Michael D Higgins was there with an enormous smile on his face, and Prime Minister Enda Kenny watched the proceedings with sharp eyes. If Ireland’s political class can make time to come to the Congress, and assist at Mass while sitting near holy Joes and Josephines like me, then curiosity at least will urge them to welcome Joseph Ratzinger to Ireland and get to know him a little. Books about his life invariably become international bestsellers because he is a survivor of the Nazi regime, a noted university professor, had a close friendship with Blessed John Paul II, is a best-selling author, and he is leading the Church in one of the most difficult times of her history.

The Pope is not impervious to our predicament of believing in the Church’s goodness, when so much badness has prevailed. In his message, Pope Benedict asked: “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?”

There have been two crises in the Irish Church happening simultaneously. One: the abuse crisis where some lost their dignity at the hands of abusers. Two, the crisis of faith where Irish Catholics second-guessed themselves about their allegiance to the Church that Jesus Christ personally founded, and doubted if its doctrines were true in light of reports into sordid crimes. Were we really right to uphold the sanctity of the Church down through the centuries? The Pope explicitly made mention of this in his message that clergy guilty of abuse, “undermined the credibility of the Church’s message”.

The Pope sent Cardinal Ouellet to be his representative. At the closing Mass, Ouellet gave the sermon and referred to the parable of the little mustard seed, that while it is the smallest, it will grow to be the biggest tree. The Congress might just have sowed the tiniest seeds in some young people. If it has persuaded just a few young people to taste and see that the Lord is good, then it will have been worth all the effort.

Not wanting to be downcast or hopeless, but the fact is that a large percentage of the white-haired Irish people who attended the Congress were in the autumn or winter of their lives. The reality is that had the Congress taken place 20 years from now, there would have been much fewer Irish people present because the more elderly faithful may not have lived that long. This may sound morbid – but it also explains the absolute importance of why the Congress took place in 2012.

Timing is all. And had the Congress not taken place now, it may not have planted the seed of faith in young people who will grow stronger in the Church.

A papal visit would nurture the seed planted by the Congress.  It could avert the next looming crisis which is that much faith could wither in the ground, along with the older generation of Irish Catholics. They are the greenhouses for the faith, but for how long?

Many young people and twenty-somethings were among the 1,700 volunteers. They worked day and night to help people from Portugal and Spain who couldn’t understand the thick Dublin accent, to help Japanese pilgrims who were in culture shock and to help Americans make sense of the road signs written in Gaelic. Perhaps we could turn the country over to these very volunteers and ask them to run Ireland – they’d do a grand job.

  • Mikeoregan(usually lionheart)

    Brilliant stuff Mary. (I wonder if we’re related).

    Your reports from the congress have been really well written and perceptive. They have provided much needed for hope.
    My parents where in Dublin last week visiting relatives and were being approached by Americans who spoke of the congress and their faith. 
    I hope this leaves a lasting impression, but as you say, it needs following up and not being left to cool. A papal visit would be perfect.


  • theroadmaster

    The parable of the very tiny mustard see might be the best analogy to sum up our hopes for the future of the Faith in Ireland, following on from the Eucharistic congress.  People have commented on the low-key nature of the pre-Congress advertising for this great event, and the fact that it was overshadowed by the simultaneous hosting of the European football Championship, in Poland/Ukraine. But it may be prove to be fortuitous for the future renaissance of the Faith, as the credible witness of many thousands can work a lot more wonders than a triumphant spectacle of pageantry and publicity.

  • Andrew4

    God  always triumphant over evil,No matter how bad it seems,God`will always continue to call back his lost sheep.We can see from Croke park many heard his call…

  • Patrick

    Yes, Ms. O’Regan’s reports have been superb. It was very heartening for me, as an American with Irish roots to see the faith expressed in that dear country.

     I had hoped that Pope Benedict would have been able to attend the congress because I am sure that he would have been successful as he always is on these “controversial” papal trips, but I can see that it might be best to be patient. Perhaps he will come in the near future and this time the sun will shine! 

  • Lefty048

    i heard a report on a radio news station that the pope said how the scandal in ireland came about was a  “mystery” to him.  the kindest thing to say here is that he is 85 and it’s time for someone else. 

  • teigitur

    You canot be serious, he is a fantastic Holy Father. Ad Multos Annos!

  • Patrick

    Perhaps you should read what he ACTUALLY said…”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.” 
    You should also read his “Letter to the Catholics of Ireland”, which goes into great detail about the possible causes:

  • Burt

    The Pope is lovely and very Holy Mary O’Regan..
    Unfortunately his detractors are not. Many of his worst enemies are in the hierarchy I fear.
    Right after the Eucharistic Congress there is a new Irish Catholic controversy, because the Pope is trying to keep his promise made at the outset of his Papacy to expunge the filth. He needs all the prayerful support he possibly can.

  • Parasum
  • Parasum

    And what’s going to happen ? Nothing. The people he criticises are going to stay in place, the same old habits of mind are going to carry on, nothing will change, thre Church will stsat as worldly-minded as ever or become even more so, yet more Catholicds will give up the whole wreched charade as a ghastly wastre of time; the hierarchy in Rome & Ireland & elsewhere will bury its head even deeper in the sand. Papal or Vatican hot air & tree-killing will not change a single life for the better – it will merely give the dummies in the Vatican the false impression they are doing something. But Papal burbling is a waste of time.

    When he wants to act, he does so. His slowness &  inaction in this matter only goes to show that the molestation of minors by clergy and religious is not of any great importance to him.

    “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?”

    ## Is he so ignorant that he doesn’t know the answer ? If so, why is he Pope ? He shouild read less German or Polish theological blabber, and start reading the New Testament instead.

  • Ronk

    I think I can answer the Pope’s question: In most cases the people who committed these mortal sins did NOT go to the sacrament of Penance, or else they deliberately concealed these sins from their confessors, so that when they repeatedly received the Lord’s Body and Blood with their soul in such a state, it did not give them graces to repent but instead they profaned the Body and Blood of the Lord, and confirmed themsleves in their sin. The Pope as usual is charitably assuming the best about people even though it’s unlikely.

    You are attacking the wrong guy. The Pope has done more than any person on earth to rid the priesthood of what he called “the filth” which had entered it.

  • Macca

    I cannot agree with the heading of this article -  it glosses over the extent to which the faith of the Irish
    Catholic people has been challenged by church structures that have let
    them down so badly. Much more healing has to take place before there is likely to be any widespread interest, much less welcome for a Papal visit. The recent congress may have helped those who participated but I wonder to what extent they represented the rank and file of Irish Catholics, those who strugglle on in their faith and religious practice and the many who have walked away. The Hierarchy has a long way to go in terms of listening  and responding to the needs and fears of us, the People of God.

  • Susan

    ‘Were we really right to uphold the sanctity of the Church down through the centuries?’ Of course we were. The Church is the Bride of Christ and our Mother, not just the sum total of her members, It is members of the Church who do evil, not the Church herself, who remains holy, Christ’s presence in the world.

  • Andrew Brennan

     I wonder would Ratzinger finally agree to give testimony as to how many Irish cases he put aside when he was head of the CDF?  He was many years in that Office and must have come across hundreds of cases where children were being abused by Irish clergy. Perhaps he could explain his inaction; his reasons for not informing legal and medical authorities.

    If he does make his way to Ireland I’m quite sure there will be many abuse survivors willing to make a citizen’s arrest on him in order to get answers to these questions.