By Christopher Howse
THE WORLD Eucharistic Congress in Lourdes has this week see-sawed between disaster and triumph.
It burst into action with a rally as much as 20 times as large as last year's National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool. But the enthusiasm of thousands of delegated from 100 countries could not conceal the failure of the theoreticians guiding discussions to transmit their often blindingly intellectual ideas to the people.
This forty-second Eucharistic Congress is presided over by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin from the West African republic of Benin, as legate for the convalescent Pope who received him in a private audience before he left for Lourdes. As a fairly young, and very energetic, African and the son of a railway worker. he is a symbol of the strengths of the Congress.
Many of the ordinary delegates have no idea what they are meant to achieve.
The successes of the Congress have been the international and group massess, vigils and celebrations. The opening rally last Thursday. in the grassy meadow over the river from the grotto was a triumph of cheerful unity.
As the thousands poured across the bridge, the sun caught their banners. England's 400 adult and 300 young people, holding their carefully embroidered banners aloft dwarfed the 16strong Spanish contingent. But pride of place v+ent to the colourful singing delegations from Africa and Asia — from Ethiopia, Benin, Upper Volta (which sent 100) or Malaysia and the Philippines.
The English youth group from Arundel and Brighton sponsored one of the young delegates from
Pope's message and Lourdes Notebook page 2; Youth triumph page R.
Peru. The youth made a big impact, with nearly 10,000 from nine years olds to early twenties.
They also suffered the worst aspect of the huge venture. They camped in the rain, which poured relentlessly for hours, in ex-army tents with leaks, on meagre rations of inedible food. cut off' from the town and seldom informed of events or changes of plan.
Bishop McGill of Paisley was so shocked by the conditions for
the Scots youth that he made arrangements for them to move to the town.
People are complaining, with reason, about the disastrous organisation. Masses and sessions have been changed without warning. The rain made some large gatherings a penance. The dominant groups were Frenchspeaking and their deliberations were often so abstract as to be unintelligible.
The hoteliers complained because the Church authorities guaranteed to fill their places and then let them down. There are said to be fewer people in Lourdes this week than is normal at this time of year.
Worst of all, the sick are practically excluded. One coach driver said: "In Lourdes it has always been the sick who come first." Hardly a wheelchair was to be seen in the streets.
The Pope's message to the Congress said: "In Lourdes the worship of the most Holy Eucharist and a due honour to the blessed Virgin Mary go together perfectly, so that the practice of the Church and the feeling of the faithful become harmoniously attuned."
The Pope referred to the preparatory symposium held by theologians in Toulouse and con