Eucharist: Light and Life of the New Millenium
Cardinal Jozef Tomko
President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses
INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS, GUADALAJARA, MEXICO: 10-17 OCTOBER 2004
To some, the Holy Father's announcement of the Year of the Eucharist on the recent feast of Corpus Christi might seem unexpected. Others observe that John Paul II is steering the Barque of Peter toward those fundamental realities that are central to the faith and to the Church.
The Eucharist, described. by the Second Vatican Council as "the source and summit of Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, n. 11), is undoubtedly one of these realities. The faithful are being made increasingly aware of its essential role for the Church and for humanity: in continuity with the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, followed by the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the next Eucharistic Congress will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, from 10 to 17 October 2004; and in October 2005, the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held, with the theme: The Eucharist. The Year of the Eucharist most appropriately links these two events that concern the universal Church.
Development of Congresses
The International Eucharistic Congress has an importance of its own, but now it also becomes the initial event, the first phase, as it were, of the Year of the Eucharist.
The Eucharistic Congresses evolved as a form of Eucharistic devotion through which disciples of Jesus express their loving response to the Lord who loved us "to the end" (Jn 13:1), to the extreme. The response can come from a local or parish Church, from a particular or diocesan Church or from the universal Church.
The International Congresses began in 1881 with the Congress in Lille, France; the Guadalajara Congress will be the 48th to be held.
Having acquired considerable importance for the universal Church, the Congresses are now organized in coordination with the Pontifical Committee in Rome. The Committee's general goal is "to make ever better known, to love and to serve our Lord Jesus Christ in his Eucharistic Mystery, the heart of the Church's life and of the mission for the world's salvation", and its main and specific aim is to "promote the regular celebration of such Congresses (Statutes, art. nn. 2, 3).
The theme of the upcoming Congress in Guadalajara is: "The Eucharist: Light and Life of the new millennium". This great city's location where the two Americas meet and its international airport will facilitate the arrival of the faithful. Latin America, where more than half the world's Catholics live, is a Spanish-speaking area whose people also live in North America.
For one week they will gather every day, under the guidance of the Prelates of one continent after another, to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice and listen to the catecheses on the theme. In the afternoons, they will have the opportunity to meet in national or language groups.
One day will be devoted to a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Zapopan to honour the "Woman of the Eucharist". The closing celebrations, the "statio Orbis" at which the Pope traditionally presides, are scheduled for the last day.
A three-day theological symposium during which well-known scholars will examine the major topics of the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia is part of the programme for the week preceding the Congress.
At Guadalajara too, the Congress will obviously focus on the Eucharist, the mystery of the faith and a gift beyond compare. This gift bears no resemblance to an object, since "the Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift — however precious — among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 11).
The Church, having come together from the ends of the earth, will meet at the Congress to revive and to profess with wonder and joy her reverence, adoration and love, her faith in the Person and presence of Jesus Christ, alive and true under the veil of the sacrament.
The theme of the Guadalajara Congress, "The Eucharist — Light and Life of the new millennium", points to Jesus Christ, true God and true man. This theme rings out as if to recall what is essential to humanity and to indicate where the one Saviour of the world is to be found. It echoes the most beautiful descriptions in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his work of salvation: "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6:51). Christ is light and life for our world also in the third millennium!
The very "secular" but fairly common question as to what the Eucharistic Congress and the Year of the Eucharist will contribute to the contemporary world is basically whether Jesus Christ and God himself mean something to modern man.
The new millennium has already been marked by the outbreak of wars, by an explosion of terror, violence and horror, and by secularism in various parts of our planet; but also by a great aspiration to peace, brotherhood and solidarity, to respect for human beings and for human life. It is these aspirations that are treated and brought to fruition at the International Eucharistic Congresses.
If the world needs a "supplement of soul", it will find such a remarkable contribution to one in the enlarged "Upper Room" that every Congress constitutes.
Indeed, in the most important moments, these congresses gather around Christ in the Eucharist, on average, the representatives of more than 80 nations, thereby becoming a true "statio Orbis". The prayerful atmosphere and the fervour of faith shine out from these assemblies and are spread far and wide as light and life for vast sections of the earth's population.
What better remedy could there be than this to the emptiness of the new agnostic materialism that is spreading in certain Christian regions and is manifested in the loss of the meaning of life and a sort of annihilation of values?
Those who were able to take part or at least who recall the memorable Eucharistic Congresses in Bombay (1964), Nairobi (1985), Seoul (1989), Seville (1993), Wrocław (1997) and Rome (during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000), will be able to gauge the importance of these events for the life of the Church and of human society.
Yet, the International Eucharistic Congress will be but the commencement of the Year of the Eucharist that will last until the Synodal Assembly in Fall 2005. It will be a favourable period in which to bring the fruits of the Congress to all the particular Churches, but above all, it will be a year of an intense revival of faith and of Eucharistic devotion throughout the Church. It is certainly a question of the grandiose pastoral project of John Paul II, which he refers to in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, inviting the faithful to start afresh from Christ.
The Year of the Eucharist that will begin with the International Eucharistic Congress "ultimately... has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem" (n. 29).
Weekly Edition in English
11/18 August 2004, page 2
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