By Stefan Bos
Thousands of pilgrims from Hungary and worldwide remembered Jesus Christ giving Himself in the Holy Eucharist to His disciples during the Passover meal before his crucifixion and resurrection on Easter Day.
With the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, cardinals, bishops, and other delegates want to send a message of hope to a world in turmoil amid a covid pandemic, wars, and uncertainty.
They look forward to the upcoming closing Mass with Pope Francis on Budapest's spectacular Heroes Square. But speakers also urged the delegates not to forget the millions of believers suffering for their faith in Christ globally.
Cardinal Luis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, noticed that, in his words, the West is not aware of the fears and difficulties that Christians are facing in the Middle East. He spoke of 2014 when some 120,000 Christians fled their homes in Iraq to escape Islamist militants almost overnight. Not one of them, he said, stayed behind and converted to Islam.
Cardinal Sako also recalled how 48 people were killed when attending Mass in Baghdad, including two priests whom he knew personally. They had asked the terrorists to take their lives instead of the worshipers. But instead, they and everyone else were killed.
Cardinal Sako says more than 10 years after that, Christian persecution remains part of church life in the Middle East. "Martyrdom is the charisma, charm of the Chaldean Church. Because since its founding, it has gone through persecution by Persians, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans and today by extremists like al-Qaida and ISIS," he stressed.
Supporting persecuted Christians
Hungary's government supports persecuted Christians. During the Congress, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén opened an exhibition on the persecution of Christians in warzones at the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest.
He noted that one out of every eight Christians is persecuted for their faith today, mainly in Islamic countries.
Alexander Faludy, a prominent church expert, based in Budapest, isn't surprised that persecution was an important theme at the Eucharistic Congress. "Thinking about the situation of persecution of Christians. The Eucharist was born in crisis in Jesus, knowing that He was going to the cross," he told Vatican News.
"But He was giving His disciples an everlasting sign of His presence with and love for them. So this celebration of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is in itself a heartening thing to look upon," added Faludy, who writes for prominent church publications The Tablet and Church Times.
Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő agrees. He said it was impossible to celebrate the Eucharist without mentioning the trials of Christians persecuted for their faith.
The cardinal on Sunday will join Pope Francis for the closing Mass. The Mass is viewed as an encouragement for churches in Hungary and other Eastern European nations that are now part of the European Union. In countries such as Hungary, the Church is still overcoming the legacy of decades of Communist dictatorship, while looking for renewal and a faith-led future.