OPENING TALK AND WELCOME
of His Excellency Monsignor Piero Marini,
The Plenary Assembly constitutes one of the fundamental occasions in which the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses directs its activity to the service of the Church. It comprises Members of the Pontifical Committee, National Delegates and persons who are invited to participate in the meeting. I most gladly express fraternal welcome to all. In particular, in the name of all I extend most joyful and sincere congratulations to two members of the Committee who will soon be created Cardinals: His Excellency Monsignor Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, Archbishop of Colombo and His Excellency Monsignor Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”. With particular joy and gratitude I greet the National Delegates, who have been chosen from the respective Episcopal Conferences. They are 70 and come from the five continents: 16 from Africa; 16 from America (North, Central and South); 10 from Asia; 2 from Australia and Oceania; 23 from Europe; 1 from the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate; 1 from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Finally, a cordial welcome to the Irish Delegation led by the president of the Local Committee, His Grace the Most Reverend Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin.
2. THE PONTIFICAL COMMITTEE
The Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses had its origins in France in the second half of the XIXth century. It was the fruit of the Eucharistic apostolate of St Peter-Julian Eymard, an “Apostle of the Eucharist” (1811-1868) and of other outstanding persons, like the Blessed Antoine Chevrier (1826-1879), Léon Dupont (1797-1876) and Monsignor Gaston-Adrien de Ségur (1820-1880). All this, through the intuition and commitment of a woman, Miss Emile-Marie Tamisier (1834-1910) whose project of “Eucharistic pilgrimages” became gradually transformed into Congresses of Eucharistic Works, later called “Eucharistic Congresses.”
The Committee of Eucharistic Congresses was immediately set up under the Holy See and blessed by Pope Leo XIII on August 27, 1879. From the first Congress of Lille in 1881, through the successive “Rules” that guided the work, the Committee supported and promoted until today 49 International Eucharistic Congresses that have had a clear impact on ecclesial life.
This impact is well illustrated by the vast crowds who from the beginning have taken part in the International Eucharistic Congresses, which are like public manifestations aimed at stimulating the faith of Catholics in the “Real Presence,” in the growth of their zeal for devotion to the Eucharist, above all outside of Mass, and in proclaiming the social kingship of Christ against an increasing spirit of laicism (secularism). This was not all: in a happy blending with the liturgical movement, the Eucharistic Congresses progressively fostered the understanding of the Eucharist as a nourishment of the Christian life and they were emphatically committed towards building up true peace between people and nations. Beginning with the Congress of Munich in 1960, the significance of “Eucharistic piety” at the Congresses was oriented more and more towards the Mass and this new physiognomy of Eucharistic Congresses has been incorporated into the Roman Ritual De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucaristici extra Missam (21 June 1973, nn. 109-112). From then on Eucharistic Congresses are regarded as a Statio, that is, “an assembly-point of commitment and of prayer, to which a particular community invites the universal Church,” during such gatherings the Eucharistic celebration becomes the centre and summit of every form of piety, of various manifestations of cultural events, of theological and pastoral reflection, of an option regarding social involvement.
After almost 130 years, the Pontifical Committee, continues its mission “To make our Lord Jesus Christ ever better known, loved and served in his Eucharistic Mystery, the centre of the Church’s life and mission for the salvation of the world” (Statutes of the Pont. Com. for I.E.C., art.2).
3. THE NEW STATUTES
With the aim of facilitating and fostering the carrying out of its task the Pontifical Committee undertook an updating of its Statutes, which were approved by the Holy Father Benedict XVI on December 24, 2009. The new Statutes replace those of April 2, 1986, and reflect the renewed shape that the Pontifical Committee assumed within the framework of the Roman Curia. The new aspects of the Statutes can be summarized as follows:
New administrative configuration
The Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses has now a new administrative shape and is subject to the General Regulations of the Roman Curia (Statutes, n.14). This new aspect has involved the updating of different articles related to the concrete life of our organism, which now depends economically on the A.P.S.A. and is endowed with a stable body of personnel.
Relationship with National Eucharistic Congresses
The Statutes have recovered, even if in an implicit way, the link between the Pontifical Committee and National Congresses, stating in n.3 that “the Pontifical Committee… is available to collaborate in the celebration of National Eucharistic Congresses” in order that the Statio Orbis celebrated every four years may not be an isolated occasion, but the summit of the Eucharistic journey of the whole Church that is renewed in faith and communion by an ample network of Congresses.
The maintaining of this coordination has been inserted so that National Eucharistic Congresses may become an extraordinary instrument to extend the beneficial influence of the International Congresses. In a word, this is so that the Eucharist may become ever more the font and centre of Ecclesial Communion.
In concrete terms, the Pontifical Committee has already realized this new set-up when the President or personnel of the Secretariat took part in the National Eucharistic Congresses of Mexico (May 2008), Brazil (May 2010), Slovenia (June 2010); and it has offered his collaboration for the preparation of the Congress of Spain that took place this year and that of Italy which will be held in September 2011.
Relationship with the Eucharistic aggregations of the faithful
In number 3/d of the new Statutes it is stated that the Pontifical Committee “is available to collaborate in fostering and coordinating, in view of Eucharistic Congresses, the activity of associations (aggregations) of the faithful that have the scope of increasing piety towards the Eucharistic Mystery in all its aspects, from the celebration of the Eucharist to its worship outside Mass.”
The celebration of Eucharistic Congresses is an opportune occasion to involve ever more fully in the pastoral liturgy and in the path of the new evangelization those associations of the faithful which have the scope of increasing piety towards the Eucharistic mystery. It is also an occasion to foster renewal of expressions of Eucharistic worship outside the Mass and different forms of Eucharistic devotion in accordance with the directives of the documents of the Council, the Magisterium and in particular those of the Roman Ritual De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam of 1973.
We cannot in fact forget that the fruitfulness of the associations of the faithful, who in various ways draw inspiration from the Eucharist, must be supported by a patient work of formation over a wide radius and at all levels.
The follow-up of the Congress
Lastly, the Statutes also trace the path for the task of the Pontifical Committee in the period after the Congress. “In order that the Eucharist become ‘a source and summit’ of the Church’s life and mission, the Pontifical Committee is available to collaborate with the local Committee and the competent Liturgical and Pastoral Offices of the different Episcopal Conferences so that the celebration of every International Eucharistic Congress may bear its fruit.” (n.29)
Every International Eucharistic Congress always sparks off a renewal in the theological and pastoral understanding of the Eucharist. For this to happen its trajectory cannot end with the celebration of the Statio orbis. Rather, beginning indeed from the celebration of the closing week, the beneficent influence of the Congress is extended not only to the hosting country, but also to the universal Church in multiple forms. For example, benefitting from the experience of the International Eucharistic Congress in which they have participated, bishops or Episcopal conferences have learnt a possible method for celebrating and organizing similar events of Eucharistic Congresses at a National and local level. Again, different nations can benefit by continued reflection assisted by the contribution of the National Delegates who have participated in the International Eucharistic Congress, for example that of Québec.
Finally, an effect of the Congress is that its contents may be made available to all by means of Internet, television, radio, the press and other Mass-media communication. Always the follow-up of the Congress is borne out also in the final resolutions or “wishes” (‘voti’), which the organization of the event offers to the Universal Church and to the particular local Churches and should signify a development in considering and worshiping this great Mystery.
4. SCOPE OF THE PLENARY ASSEMBLY
This Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Committee is taking place between two International Eucharistic Congresses. On the one hand it looks to what was realized in 2009 at Québec, reliving and spreading out its particular features, its teachings, the significant choices made, the ecclesial effects of that Congress celebrated in the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city. The celebration of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress had as its theme: “The Eucharist, gift of God for the life of the world.”
At the end of a long preparatory path that involved the Archdiocese of Québec and the whole Canadian Church, the Congress was lived as a joyful event of grace by all those who were fortunate to take part; it was a sign of how by being united around the Eucharistic Table all people of the earth can experience their unity of faith and their communion in love.
The Congress of Québec was also, as will be shown shortly by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, an extraordinary experience of faith. Religious persons from all over the world together with simple lay members of the faithful committed in the Church broke the word of God through sharing their reflections and witness. Thousands of volunteers gave of their time and efforts to welcome pilgrims coming from so many different countries. The Christians of Québec, but not only these, found consolation to discover that in so many parts of the world people of faith are not discouraged by the complexity of the phenomenon of modernity, but they know how to leave a creative mark on life and social options. The celebration of the Eucharist, thus, appears as the source from which inspiration and strength are drawn in the Church and the life of each and all the baptized.
The eyes of this Assembly, however, must now turn towards Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, which has been chosen to host the Congress of 2012. The Irish delegation, led by His Grace Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and the local Secretary, the Reverend Kevin Doran, tomorrow will be presenting the Basic Text of the Congress together with the work that has been done up to the present in programming the realization of this event.
The jubilee Congress (the 50th !) will happily coincide with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Because of this, the theme of the Congress, which will show the central place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church as brought out by the Conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium (n.7), is: “The Eucharist – Communion with Christ and with one another.”
“Communion” – the Servant of God John Paul II stated – “is certainly a key notion in the ecclesiology of Vatican II… Koinonia is a dimension which clothes the very constitution of the Church and every expression of it: from the profession of faith to the testimony of praxis, from the transmission of doctrine to the articulation of structures.” (Address to the Roman Curia, 20/12/1990, AAS 83, 1991, 742.)
The talks that will be given during this Plenary Assembly, the reflections and in-depth considerations, all this will assist us to enter into this perspective and offer us some useful tools to undertake the journey of preparation for this great ecclesial event.