48th INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS
ÂTHE SITUATION OF THE FAITH IN THE EUCHARISTÂS
Welcome to the Delegates from Oceania
Intervention by H.E. Mons. Barry J. Hickey,
It is my privilege to welcome to this 48th Eucharistic Congress the many delegates from Oceania who have come here on pilgrimage to participate in this celebration which will deepen their faith in the Blessed Eucharist, affirm their communion with the universal Church and inspire them to take Christ's message of love to the world.
THE PEOPLES OF OCEANIA
Oceania is geographically large consisting of many countries bound together by the mighty Pacific Ocean. Hence its name, Oceania. The area includes some large countries like Australia and New Guinea, and many small countries and islands scattered over a vast area of water. Hundreds of languages are spoken by the peoples of Oceania, representing a bewildering number of cultures, both traditional and modern.
In Oceania the cultural patterns and traditions of original populations have been influenced, in some places very profoundly influenced by successive waves of people from Europe and other countries. In Oceania the old exists with the new, the traditional with the modern, subsistence economies of fishing and hunting with technological economies of the First World.
Into this complex situation the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been brought by brave missionaries and has flourished in rich soil.
It is not just the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean that bind us together but our common faith in Jesus Christ. It is this faith that we share as brothers and sisters that brings us here today to proclaim our deep love for our Saviour, Jesus Christ, present to us as our Eucharistic Lord.
We continue to be inspired by the central theme of the Synod of Oceania held in Rome in 1998, to Walk his Way, to Tell his Truth and to Live his Life.
It is in walking the way of Christ, in telling his truth and in living his life that we make the Gospel come alive in our diverse cultures. We are not simply on the receiving end of missionary efforts. We have pledged ourselves to be missionaries too, to enter fully into the new evangelisation, in solidarity with the Holy Father.
To quote from the Synod of Oceania - "The Church in Oceania received the Gospel from previous generations of Christians and from missionaries coming from overseasÂ . As the peoples of Oceania came to accept the fullness of Redemption in Christ, they found a striking symbol in the night skies, where the Southern Cross stands as a luminous sign of God's overarching grace and blessing. The present generation of Christians is called and sent now to accomplish a new evangelisation among the peoples of Oceania, a fresh proclamation of the enduring truth evoked by the Symbol of the Southern Cross. (No 13).
From the beginning of the evangelization of the countries of Oceania, the Blessed Eucharist, especially the Holy Mass, has been central to the life of the Church.
One has only to think of the sacrifices people made to travel long distances to attend Mass in the days when priests were few, to recognize the importance of the Mass in the lives of the people. In the early beginnings of Australia, when the Faith was often very strong among the early convicts transported to the colony, demands were constantly made to the colonial authorities to provide a Catholic priest to minister to them. When priests eventually came, they said Mass in prisons and in work camps on improvised altars, and were welcomed with tears by people who had hungered for the Bread of Life for a long time.
Missionaries travelled constantly throughout the islands of Oceania forming Christian communities and saying Mass for them. They left behind people they called catechists to continue the instruction of the people and their formation in prayer and Christian living, looking forward to the eventual return of the priests so they could participate again in the Sacrament that brought them into personal contact with Jesus Christ, their Saviour, their Shepherd and their spiritual nourishment.
With the development of the Church priests became more plentiful and the communities flourished with Churches, Religious Congregations, Catechists and Religious Educators, schools and works of charities.
If there is a shadow over the present situation it is that some countries like Australia and New Zealand are strongly influenced by a form of modern secularity that seeks to undermine what has been built up over many years, particularly attendance at Sunday Mass, Eucharistic devotion and vocations to the priesthood and Religious Life.
Recent surveys have confirmed our experience that the strong faith of our forefathers is not as strong in more recent generations. This has given rise to considerable concern and demands a vigorous response in terms of the new evangelisation.
The fall away of Mass attendance has occurred in all age groups, but especially among young people, many of whom have not had strong parental encouragement in matters of faith nor strong catechetical instruction. Our surveys have found, alarmingly but not surprisingly, a diminution of belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and a poor appreciation of Sunday as the Day of the Lord.
Various factors have caused a drop in vocations to the priesthood in the larger countries of Oceania, in Australia and New Zealand in particular. The secularity of society is a major factor in the paucity of vocations but not the only one. One must also consider the effect of small families, the opportunities for study and advancement and the perceived role and life of priests, as well as the diminished cohesiveness of the Catholic community and the greater numbers of nominal Catholics.
Nevertheless the numbers of those presenting themselves for the priesthood vary significantly among and within Oceanic countries. In some places there are already welcome signs of a revival.
The lack of priests in some areas has meant that smaller communities do not have Mass every Sunday.
The Synod of Oceania was very conscious of the effect of fewer priests on access to the Sacraments, particularly to the Eucharist. The Holy Father in his Post-Synodal Exhortation said "I make my own the Synod's insistence that greater efforts be made to awaken vocations to the priestly life, and to allocate priests throughout the region in a more equitable way" (No 40).
In his Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday of this year the Holy Father said "There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist". We look to the future with confidence that our prayers for vocations will be answered.
These shadows should not give rise to any sense of powerlessness in the face of creeping secularism. The same promises that Jesus made about the Eucharist are promises that will attract the modern heart as strongly as the people of past ages. "Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood," he said "will have eternal life" (Jn 6,55).
"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in himÂ .. Whoever eats me will live because of me." (Jn 6, 56, 58).
A world hungry for spiritual nourishment and the voice of love will be as attracted to Christ's words. We should not doubt that what we must do is offer the world the Bread of Life and offer our personal witness of a life transformed by our Eucharistic Lord.
If we have spoken of the shadows we must also speak of the lights, and there are many.
Despite the decline in numbers, those who are faithful are being drawn closer and closer to God through the Blessed Eucharist and coming to understand how the Eucharist can affect their daily lives.
The numbers of those attending daily Mass is steadily growing in many parts of Oceania. In the quiet hours of the morning both young and old find their way into Church, seeking the quiet of daily Mass for contemplation and communion with Jesus in the Eucharist.
Whereas Sunday Mass is a joyful community celebration with good music that lifts the heart and willing participation by the people in the Liturgical Action, daily Mass has a different character, a silence and a spirit of interiority that is treasured. It is especially in those occasions that a deep awareness of the real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist is fostered. This leads to visits and adoration of the Blessed Eucharist at other times as well.
All of this flows into the celebration of Sunday Mass when we keenly sense not only our unity with Christ but our unity with one another in him. Where care is taken to fulfil the requirements for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy the spirit of communion with Christ and with one another is deepened. The truth of the opening words of the Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" is fulfilled at Sunday Mass: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist", and again: "The Church was born of the paschal mystery". (No 3).
The constitutive effect of the Eucharist on the Church in bringing it and holding it together, nourishing it and making it holy, forming it into the very Body of Christ, is felt week by week as the people come together to offer themselves and their lives to God, through Christ, with him and in him.
They understand in this way that the Mass is the great act of worship of Almighty God, that they are drawn into the sacrifice of Christ that effected their salvation and that they are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is a source of great joy that so many people receive Holy Communion each time they attend Mass, and that they prepare themselves to do so as worthily as they can.
After some years of uncertainty the people are returning with great enthusiasm to the practice of Eucharistic Adoration. In many parishes, perhaps in the majority of parishes, some hours are set aside each week for adoration. Perpetual adoration in special chapels is also increasing.
LOVE IN ACTION
All this points to a deep love for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and a desire to be one with him. While secularism is making inroads to some extent, there is every reason to hope and believe that those who love for the Eucharist will recapture the hearts of those whom the secular society leaves empty.
We are mindful that Jesus offered himself to us as food and food that transforms us. The transformation that he wants is a purification of hearts and minds, a rejection of sin and of sinful attitudes, a conversion to prayer and a holy life. In brief, a transformation to love, love of God and love of neighbour.
At the institution of the Blessed Eucharist Jesus wrapped a towel around himself and washed the feet of his disciples. This startling event set within the Paschal Meal, the way in which Jesus clearly taught that the food of life, his own Body and Blood, should lead us to perform even the most humble acts of love and service for others.
Serving others in love is one of the most precious fruits of the Eucharist. If Jesus seeks to draw us into a deep communion with himself, he also wants the whole of mankind to be one with him. It is up to us to manifest his love for all peoples and to strengthen the ties of brotherhood. We cannot therefore be indifferent to the sufferings of those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Eucharist therefore urges us to look beyond our own spiritual nourishment to the plight of people who are in need. Christians, strengthened by the Eucharist, need to be in the front line in serving the poor, the homeless, the addicts, the persecuted and the rejected people of the world.
At this Eucharistic Congress, as we honour and praise our Eucharistic Lord, let us affirm our solidarity with all those who have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ. Let us commit ourselves, especially in our own regions of the world, not only to serve those in need, but to draw them into the very life of Christ. They are not simply to be the objects of charity but are to be offered the joys of knowing Christ and finding him in our Christian communities where no one will be hungry or rejected. This must be our response to Christ's call that all be one.
On 8 October 2000 the New Millennium was entrusted to the Virgin Mary. Today we renew our confident prayer that Mary will lead us to find Christ her Son in the Blessed Eucharist, so that, in union with him, empowered by him and acting in his name, we will give clear witness to the world of war and suffering that he, and he alone, is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
B. J. Hickey