By Lydia O’Kane
Over 80 years ago, the city of Budapest hosted the International Eucharistic Congress for the first time, just a year before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Congress itself has its origins in France and it was through the perseverance of laywoman Marie-Marthe-Baptistine Tamisier that the first-ever Congress was held at Lille in 1881 which was designed to promote devotion to and belief in Jesus Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
The International Eucharistic Congress is now returning to Hungary, a country that has witnessed many challenging moments in its history down through the intervening decades.
The theme for this event which opens Sunday, September 5 is, “All My Springs are in You” which comes from Psalm 87, and celebrates Jerusalem as the place where God lives among his people.
“It has grown to become a global gathering with all the challenges of course that has at the moment because the present Congress, like the Olympic Games, was due to take place last year and so the Congress is the Congress of 2020 taking place in 2021,” says the Bishop of Elphin in Ireland, Kevin Doran.
Bishop Doran who was responsible for the organization of the 2012 Congress in Dublin, and is the Irish bishops’ delegate for International Eucharistic Congresses notes that the Congress affords the opportunity to have a gathering “that goes out beyond the limits of our own parish and in some sense stretches our vision of Church,” while nurturing people with God’s word and with his body and blood.
Having been at the forefront of preparations for the Dublin gathering in 2012, the Bishop of Elphin modestly says that “in a small way” he helped with the English translation of the theological document of this year’s Congress. He notes that this work gave him an “insight into I suppose the story behind the theme of the Congress and also gave me an opportunity to have some working relationship with the people on the ground in Budapest.”
Organising a Congress
Asked about the task of organizing a Eucharistic Congress, the bishop replies saying that there is a lot involved from both a liturgical and catechetical perspective. “The third dimension of it is what we might call the logistical element, the preparations of the space, sound equipment, the training of volunteers, putting stuff on the internet and Facebook so that people can join from overseas. I know that by the time we finished in 2012 we had 50 staff and 2,500 volunteers.”
In many countries in Europe and beyond, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns meant they were not able to receive the Eucharist for a lengthy period of time. Bishop Doran says that this Congress is in a sense “extra special” because it means that people are able to gather again albeit in smaller numbers. He also adds that having Pope Francis in Budapest for the closing Mass will be a special moment, but also presents challenges with regards security. “I imagine that the Pope’s coming, like the coming of any special guest, will be a great joy for the people of Hungary, but will also require that they work even harder, so they deserve the support and our prayers for the success of the Congress and the Papal visit.”
Asked if the Eucharistic Congress can be a tool for evangelization, Bishop Doran recalls that some people in Ireland said to him that in the beginning, they weren’t all that excited about attending the Dublin event, but having done so, they had to go back a second day. He adds that the whole idea of learning and sharing faith holds great appeal for many people and “is something that fits very well alongside praying together and celebrating the Eucharist together.”
Budapest and history
He notes, “it also depends on each nation; for instance, if you take Budapest, the last time the Congress happened in Budapest it was in 1938 just before the Second World War and when you think since then the people of Hungary have been through the oppression of the Nazi regime and then the Marxist Socialism. I suppose what’s happening in the last 30 years really is a renewal of the Church in Budapest.”
What also comes to mind, he said, is the fact that from 1938 to 1991 “it wasn’t just Catholics who were persecuted, the Jewish people were persecuted almost out of existence; people of other Christian traditions as well. So, in a certain sense in that particular context in Hungary, I think one of the things they hope for is that having suffered together, people of faith will now also grow together, and learn to celebrate their diversity of faith in mutual love and peace.”