Friday, September 7
We – myself and fellow pilgrim Sara de Nordwall – were sent on our way to the Eucharistic Congress with a blessing from the parish priest at the Church of the Most Precious Blood at London Bridge.
Today happened to be my birthday, and so I had invited friends to a pilgrim birthday tea, and this concluded with prosecco, the pilgrim blessing, and then the short walk to the Tube, and on to Euston.
Liverpool: city lights and the big landmarks, including the Metropolitan Cathedral. The Congress proper begins tomorrow with Mass there.
Today was dedicated to a Symposium with speakers exploring, among other things, the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and how to teach it to the children and prepare them for First Communion.
Sara and I – both great talkers – prayed evening prayer from the excellent Magnificat booklet and agreed on silence after that to be in proper pilgrim mode. I’m writing this late, with tomorrow’s packed programme in my thoughts.
Saturday, September 8
A bunch of nuns at the bus stop, evidently heading for the congress, so we joined them and, following their advice, went to Mass at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament before heading for the vast Echo Arena at the conference centre along by the river for the congress itself.
Long queues, but when I looked in, the Arena it looked so vast I wondered if we’d fill it. I need not have worried, by the time things began there were very few spare seats to be seen. Meanwhile, the joy of meeting many friends, a lot of greeting and hugs, and the bliss of hot tea cheerfully dispensed. Then finding a seat, unpacking the pilgrim bag given to each of us (contents included a candle, a programme, a copy of Magnificat, maps, info on various congress events). And then came music, lots of rather splendid lighting effects, a welcome from the Archbishop of Liverpool and the Papal Nuncio, and the thing began.
An inspiring, upbeat, powerful day. This was a superb and glorious celebration of the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith. Bishop Robert Barron was forthright, challenging, inspiring and informative as he directed us to the Mass as true worship – worth-ship, placing ourselves in the right relationship with God. If we rightly order things, giving glory to God first, then other things are rightly ordered: peace on earth and goodwill to men.
He quoted Romano Gardini, the great liturgical scholar: the Mass is a serious form of play, of doing something simply for its own sake, not because it is functionally necessary like mending a car.
A really superb team of young actors then made a drama presentation on Adoration of the Eucharist – beautifully done.
The day had a glory about it. Vast crowds, an atmosphere of goodwill. Even the queues for food at lunchtime were chatty and friendly. I went out to see the Mersey and got a rain-drenched glimpse of what Liverpool meant to generations of seamen and travellers: the grey sea and river, the Liver Birds and the city and the near Atlantic.
Bishop Barron’s second talk was, if anything, even better. He spoke of ordering our lives as in the great rose window of a Gothic cathedral: Christ at the centre. Thomas Aquinas listed four substitutes for God in our search for happiness: wealth, pleasure, power and honour. All will disappoint us. Only God satisfies.
He spoke of the greatness of things – of having “greatness of heart”, of magnanimity. Hans Urs von Balthasar emphasised our need to seek the “Theo-drama” over the “ego drama”: life is not about me.
There were presentations from Youth 2000 – young people describing how adoration of Christ in the Eucharist had changed their lives – and from Aid to the Church in Need, asking us to go to Mass on behalf of those who can’t: Catholics whose churches have been burned down, who have been tortured or imprisoned for their faith.
And the day ended with a solemn, humble, powerful time of Adoration before the Eucharist, Cardinal Vincent Nichols preaching and speaking of penitence and prayer, and leading us in kneeling with the vast, silent crowd: something I will remember for years to come.
More? Of course there was more. A pleasant meal with family and friends. Nightfever at the Blessed Sacrament shrine, packed with people, glittering with candles. Liverpool streets filled with Saturday night revellers, girls on hen nights, much shrieking and shouting. And some of them – many of them, the most unlikely of them – came in to pray, invited by the young congress teams.