Analysis The International Eucharistic Congress at Lourdes closed last week. Christopher Howse sums up some aspects of the gathering.
MANY people went to last week's Eucharistic Congress in Lourdes expecting it to be like the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool. Some came away thinking it had been no more than a jamboree.
Yet there were discussions. Up to 10,000 people took part in the round tables on, for example. 'Sunday without a priest'. They were all French-speaking, and the vast majority from French parishes which had been preparing for the week with talks throughout the year.
The rest of the world had to make something of the Congress by themselves. Even what filtered out from the round tables was entirely irrelevant to large sections of the international delegations.
Fr Marcella Azevedo, a Brazilian Jesuit, told a gathering that the Church failed by reflecting only a pre-modern Western culture. Fr D. S. Amalorpavados gave a most interesting comparison of traditional Christian teaching and Hindu wisdom. He went as far as singing in Sanskrit. This all had its place. but it would be hard to blame the Bulgarian delegation. the Lithuanians or the Ethiopians for staying away.
As it happened, the Congress receive a large dose of African influence from the first. The choice of Cardinal Bernardin
Gantin was the West African socialist state of Benin was the Pope's legate was ideal. If he had sufficient grasp of French modes of thought to meet them in their own ground in discussion, he was smiling and energetic enough to keep up a constant rapport with the crowds frorri the morning to night. The local Lourdes newspaper called him the Man of the Congress.
For the English-speaking contingent. numbering 3.000 or so, perhaps the most memorable event was the Mass in a large marquee on the meadow opposite the Grotto, presided over by Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga, Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda. He is a man of forceful character, who survived the Amin regime, and even overshadowed his co-celebrant, Cardinal Tomas 0 Fiaich.
The Mass was organised by the Africans. with choirs, drums and dancers from Zimbabwe. Zambia and Nigeria. It was unlike anything most of the delegates from America. Ireland or Britain had ever experienced. During his sermon, Cardinal Nsubuga would make a particularly telling point and then break into song, with the choirs joining in.
He said: "Most of us Africans have high appreciation for signs and symbols. We also have a high regard for the sacred. This is why we Africans, as far as I know. abhor the excess of secularisation that brought certain ways of behaviour in some churches. We like to guard the sacredness of persons consecrated to God."
In a way, the Pope's absence was a blessing. The legate filled his function, bearing his crozier. The people were. after all, supposed to be there because of the Eucharist, not to take photographs of the Pope, In the souvenir shops, cards were on sale showing the Pope with arms raised outside the basilica. A forgery, of course, and as it turned out. unmovable stock.
In his message to the sick, Pope John Paul said: "From the first announcement of the Eucharistic Congress, I ardently desired to participate in it, in person, 1 wished to gather together. so as to offer it to Christ, the immense homage which would ascend to Him from this city of Mary' ...
• "I deeply regret not being physically present among you. But Providence invites me to offer this in sacrifice, as do many other sick and disabled and to participate without seeing or hearing you."
In his message to all at the Congress. the Pope addressed himself to its theme — Jesus Christ. bread broken for a new world. "The new world was announced by Jesus during his whole earthly life as the Kingdom of God: won by his sacrifice, inaugurated by his resurrection and the gifts of the Spirit. Henceforth it is built around Christ present in the hearts of men, the first born from the dead and the head of the Church."
"The true breaking of bread, and what is fundamental to us Christians, is none other than the Sacrifice of the Cross ... The Eucharistic celebration is one with the Sacrifice of the Cross; it neither adds anything to it not multiplies it. The Mass and the Cross are one and the same sacrifice," Without ordained priests, the Mass cannot be offered, the Pope says. But he adds: "Your Baptism makes you also, in another way, and in another sense, 'a priestly people'. Thanks to this qualification, each one of you is called to present himself in generous offering. accepted by the Father in Christ. It is for you to give your Eucharistic participation the same sense that Christ gave to his sacrifice."
Throughout his 3,000 word meditation, the Pope stressed the supernatural basis of renewal for the world. Among the delegates those who had the chance to practise this best were perhaps the young people.
The English and Welsh youth delegation suffered a week in the cold and wet (the weather was freakishly bad) with poor shelter and food. Many were sick. No one would help. Organised events failed. (Even the planned 1,00C guitars for God were cut to 350.)
The young people were reduced to making their own congress. They could appreciate the poverty and powerlessness of people in the Third World. For all the hardship and frustration there was no real grumbling. It was a question of living the
Eucharist by sharing what there was, by comforting others and by keeping cheerful. On their return to England, they had formed a genuine community and were making plans to keep up contacts.
Fr Jonathan Cotton, Congress coordinator for England and Wales said: "Perhaps the most significant event in the English speaking tent village was the service of reconciliation between Ireland and the UK organised and proposed by the youth of both countries," An English girl with the Irish Tricolour and an Irish girl with the Union Flag came together and crossed flags of unity. The three cardinals. 38 bishops and more than 200 priests who said Mass for the young people afterwards were deeply impressed. Archbishop Thomas Morris of Cashel, Ireland said that he had never seen anything of the kind in a life which began before the Easter Rising.
The 8,000 young people sent a message to the youth of the world. "We declare our intention of acting and of acting together in a new world. To you, young people like ourselves, to you men and women of the whole world, we dare to issue a call to live and offer that possibility to all. It will be together, whatever our beliefs, that we will take our place in history."