15 June 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The penitential dimension to the International Eucharistic Congress of the Catholic Church taking place in Dublin this week is one of its most striking features.
For any faith in which symbolism is a predominant lingua franca, the visit to Lough Derg being made by the papal legate, Cardinal Marc Oullet, is a significant gesture of repentance, particularly if it is, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has stated, being carried out at the behest of Pope Benedict himself.
It is one of several aspects of the events associated with the Congress that attempt to further the Catholic Church’s ongoing attempts to reach an appropriate accommodation with the shameful legacy of clerical sexual abuse.
Many of those observing the Congress at a critical distance will judge its activities solely in the light of its response to the suffering inflicted on children entrusted to the care of clergy, suffering compounded by the grievous failures of the Catholic Church to confront what was happening and make those responsible amenable to civil justice.
And their judgement has in some cases been severe. The failure to accord a position of centrality to abuse survivors or their representatives in the proceedings of the Congress has evoked justified anger and condemnation – for those whose lives have been indelibly marked by the torment of abuse, symbolic gestures, regardless of their provenance, are insufficient and irrelevant.
But events like the Eucharistic Congress are incapable of responding adequately to the abuse legacy – they can only try with humility and delicacy not to compound it, and affirm the sincerity of its repentant acts.
For those more intimately engaged with the events of this week – the thousands of pilgrims who have travelled from across the world to participate in the Congress, and the many Irish Catholics who are taking part or following proceedings – this is an important religious occasion, one which invites an engagement with their personal faith and an opportunity for reflection and meditation on the many challenges confronting it, and religion in general, in the contemporary world.
The rebellion against the influence of religion on Irish society has taken on powerful force in the context of the scandals that have beset the Catholic Church in recent times – but it has been going on a great deal longer than that.
The coming into being of the more liberal, pluralist and secular Ireland that we now live in has been more an evolutionary than a revolutionary process.
The social historian can point to this or that legislative landmark along the way as transformative – but history is inclined to forget that the abandonment of the old and the adoption of the new is an almost imperceptibly gradual process in the hearts and minds of the individual.
Irish Catholics, indeed the adherents of all Christian and non-Christian faiths, have been engaging in their own interior exercises in scholasticism for several generations now, striving for an accommodation between social change and the precepts that govern their spiritual beliefs.
The development in thinking that results throws up many questions, and those attending this week’s Eucharistic Congress will be seeking answers to affirm them in their faith at a time when trends in wider society seem increasingly inimical not just to the Catholic creed but to the manifestation of religion in general.
This reposes a burden of responsibility on the leadership of the Church that sharpens the crisis in communication that seems to beset it at the present time.
Those laity and priests participating in this week’s events do so with the desire of having their tested faith renewed.
At a time when many have turned away from the Church in disillusionment and despair, the responses of its leaders to the many urgent questions of their remaining faithful would seem of crucial importance.
We live in days when keeping the faith, whatever it is we believe in, is often difficult.
Yet religion’s value as a force for human good abides, demonstrated not least by those historical and contemporary examples of the consequences when its moral influence is suppressed.


For many Irish people, the auspicious religious events commencing at the RDS on Sunday would have had secondary relevance to those that were to unfold on a football field in Poznan in Poland.
Whatever comment that might make about the state of the nation, there is no doubt that the country had built itself up into a mood to party over the return of the Republic of Ireland soccer team to major tournament action.
The anticipated fillip to the national morale never materialised, alas, and we were left beggars at the feast as Croatia put us in our place with a 3-1 drubbing.
As reality bit hard, it seemed we had all got carried away on a tide of undue optimism – our footballing faith had taken a beating, and the national party was abruptly cancelled.
What a pity – all our spirits could have done with a lift, and many aspects of business and trade appear to have been robbed of a bonanza that would have given at least some aspects of our battered economy a bit of respite.
But is all really lost?
Few even remotely conversant with the power stakes of world football would give Giovanni Trapattoni’s team any chance of prevailing when they meet world and European champions Spain in their second Group C game in Gdansk tonight.
Overturning the Iberian aristocrats, even taking a point off them, would be an upset on a seismic scale.
Pride rather than progression would appear the Republic side’s priority for the remainder of their stay in the tournament – but precedent teaches that pride can be a powerful motivating factor to the Irish sporting animal.
Can the wounded pride of Poznan be redeemed by a giant killing in Gdansk?
Why don’t we get the party ready once again, just in case…?

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