Disaster. That’s what I thought as 10,000 of us began the closing procession of the Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool. It had been a glorious three days, full of inspiring talks, dramatic presentations, stunning liturgies in the Metropolitan Cathedral. It had been a weekend of firsts: the first National Eucharistic Congress since 1908, and the first one with a public Eucharistic procession.
The day before, Cardinal Nichols led the assembly in a holy hour. After focussing on the centrality of the Eucharist all weekend, we were called to pray together in silence before Our Lord. How moving to see people kneeling and prostrating in the aisles of the stadium, with a profound stillness enveloping us all.
Cardinal Nichols set the scene and tone for the Eucharistic procession by saying there would not be one iota of triumphalism, but it would be a penitential act in reparation for the sins of the Church. I sensed a sadness in him as he spoke of being bound to his brother bishops whose failings are exposed for all to see. He said: “Today I come as a beggar seeking forgiveness, laying the load, hurt, damage and mistrust we have caused at the foot of the Cross”. But he also called us to hope: “We walk with a humble joy for… He lets His face be seen, His face of tender compassion and hope for our broken world”.
This Eucharistic procession was crucial, and so as we gathered outside the Cathedral to begin our journey and the heavens opened and poured down rain, I thought disaster! It wasn’t supposed to rain that day. In no time, we were all soaked, sloshing through deep puddles, trying to sing from sodden pages. Penitential it was, but how could God allow this to coincide exactly with our procession?
It wasn’t long, though, before I sensed something lifting. Our singing was getting more full-hearted and joyful; we were smiling and greeting the astonished denizens of pubs and cafes; the clouds were thinning and the sun straining to emerge. When we turned the last corner, the sun burst out and right in front of us was our glorious cathedral, shining like the heavenly Jerusalem. I suddenly understood that the rain wasn’t a disaster, but cleansing waters from heaven. We had asked for forgiveness and new beginnings, and He was answering our prayer.
At the Cathedral steps, a stream of white-robed bishops and priests ascended with the Blessed Sacrament. As we all looked up, we united in prayer, peace, and love for Our Lord. His blessing fell upon us at Benediction and joy began to ripple through us all – especially when the enormous bells overhead began to peal. It seemed all of heaven was proclaiming, Redemption is at hand! Be washed in the purifying waters and wait for new life to burst forth!
Disaster? No. I’d call this hope.