Monday 9 July 2012

'The Catholic Olympic Games'

(I'll get back to raving about Finland later, but I wanted to post about the Eucharistic Congress before I forget all the details.)

My mother accused me of going to the International Eucharistic Congress to mock, but this is not so.  I went because I have never forgotten (and who could?) the description in my school history book of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress - the last time it was held in Dublin.  The textbook described it as a kind of 'Catholic Olympic Games'.  Who wouldn't want to go to that?

If you're still in the dark, the Eucharistic Congress is a kind of ├╝ber-conference for Catholics, with talks, exhibitions, symposia etc.  Oh, and lots of prayer and frequent saying of mass.  You might walk in thinking it looks like any other big conference / trade show - and then you notice that there are a great many people dressed in religious habits.  (There were nuns in all sorts of exotic habits I'd never seen before: it was like the Nun Doll Museum come to life.)  There was even a retail hall, selling all sorts of religious artefacts, vestments, books etc - and offering information about becoming a priest or member of a religious order.  There was an exhibition about the 1932 Congress - this was a HUGE event, with people sleeping outside in the Phoenix Park so they could attend the big masses there.  I also learnt that there were separate masses held for men and women, which - is just a bit bizarre but also typical of Ireland in the 1930s.  There was also an immersive exhibition that offered to take you 'through' the village of Capernaum in the time of Jesus.  This was immensely popular; so much so that we had to queue for stand-by tickets ...

The truth is, if you were inclined to mock, there was a lot of material that lent itself to mockery.  (The merchandising, for example ...)

But at the same time, we spoke to a great many interesting, open-minded people, who are genuinely trying to find a way of practising Catholicism in the 21st century.  Oh, and spotted an archbishop.

So while the 2012 event may not have reached the athletic heights of 1932 (500,000 people attended the final blessing of the Congress), it was certainly a different - and very interesting - kind of day out.

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