Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 30, 2008
New life born on Plains of Abraham
Erucharistic Congress 'turning point' for Quebec, says Oulette
By JOSEPH SINASAC
The Catholic Register
It seemed fitting that the week-long International Eucharistic Congress ended on a battlefield. Some 55,000 people celebrated "God's gift for the life of the world" in a Mass where, almost 250 years ago, British and French soldiers shot each other down.
Instead of a memorial to death, the plateau known as the Plains of Abraham became a celebration of eternal life.
The entire congress, June 15-22, continually posed such contrasting images.
Through the 400-year-old streets of one of North America's most secularized societies, about 25,000 pilgrims paraded with the Blessed Sacrament in an evening, candlelit procession on June 19. It was one of the most vivid displays of religious fervour seen in Quebec in half a century.
At a time when the Catholic Church is lamenting an aging and declining priesthood, 12 young men were ordained on July 20 in a three-hour liturgy marked by tears, cheers and standing ovations.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, described the ordination as "the turning point" in a renewal of the Church in Quebec.
In the safety of a coliseum where the events of the congress unfolded, 12,000 or so pilgrims listened to Burundian woman Marguerite Barankitse, who almost lost her life trying to save Hutu people from her own tribesmen, the Tutsis, during a civil war.
And they listened to Pope Benedict, in a live satellite homily to the closing Mass, urge them to deepen their understanding of the Eucharist "so as to bear witness courageously to the mystery."
The pope said the Eucharist, as the supreme gift of God's love, calls Catholics to make the world a better place.
The congress offered a rich cornucopia of spiritual food throughout the week. There were the daily catecheses, each featuring teachings from prominent cardinals or prelates from around the world.
These were followed by powerful witness talks from notable Catholics, including Canada's Jean Vanier.
In chapels and churches throughout the city continual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament took place. Pilgrims knelt before the sacrament at all hours of the day and night, keeping silent vigil.
The congress was the 49th in a series that began in France in 1881. The next one is set for 2012 in Dublin, Ireland.
A eucharistic congress "allows us to encounter" questions about modern existence and "examine the meaning of our life and death," Cardinal Jozef Tomko said at the opening ceremonies June 15.
In Quebec City, among the pilgrims from 80 countries were 1,500 priests, 250 bishops and 40 cardinals. Their presence gave the event a decidedly Roman flavour, especially as almost every liturgy mixed in a generous dollop of Latin with the vernacular of the day - French, English or Spanish.
This congress also had a youthful atmosphere. There was a special hall to highlight the contributions and needs of youth ? "Espace jeunesse," it was called. And on June 21, there was a youth vigil featuring high-energy music and testimonials.
Ouellet, noting the ordinations the night before, told the gathered youth that, "young people are rising to rebuild a eucharistic culture for youth and for the culture of Quebec."
A eucharistic culture includes love, fraternity, respect and openness to life and hope, he explained.
"I call you to stand up and to promote this culture for Quebec and Canada," he said, also followed by roaring applause.
Pope to young people
The youth rally included a taped message from Pope Benedict. He assured the pilgrims of his prayers and encouraged them to meditate on this great mystery of faith (the Eucharist).
The Eucharist allows believers to relive the sacrifice of Jesus through which he saves the world. It is also nourishment for everyday life.
"Allow yourselves to be transformed and to be bearers of peace and of his message of love," the pope said.
To prepare their souls for receiving the Eucharist, on June 19, the exposition grounds for the congress were turned into a "city of forgiveness."
A special prayer liturgy, led by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, included a moving dramatization of the story of the prodigal son, written and directed by Montreal Father Robert Gendron.
Afterwards, hundreds of priests heard Confessions and gave absolution for sins at various locations.
While there was some criticism in mainstream media of the congress, especially over its emphasis on piety, most pilgrims were pleased with the week.
"To be honest with you, I didn't want to come," said Georgette Helen of Toronto. "But since I've been here it's touched me, it's moved me."
Victoria Coyle of Brantford, Ont., was impressed by the diversity of languages and races represented. "Seeing different parishes from all over the world come together to share our faith - it's like a new light is shining," she said.
Cody Gabrielson, a 23-year-old from Winnipeg, said he was drawn to the congress because he has a "really deep love for the Eucharist."
Gabrielson said the congress impressed upon him "that there's a deeper unity among Catholics" than he originally thought.