Bishop's Column

Communion with Christ and with One Another

Thirty-six years ago, as a young college student and a new Catholic, I arrived on Irish soil for the first time.  I was there to study Irish history, literature, and poetry, which I did.   But I also became a student of the faith and Catholic culture which ran deep in the Irish soil.

It was at that time that I started receiving the Eucharist on a regular basis, and I fell in love with the Mass and with Ireland.

Ireland was a much different country 36 years ago. It was a thoroughly Catholic country, which was defined by its love for Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother.  However, over the past few decades, the Irish people have experienced the boom and bust economy of the "Celtic Tiger" of the “90's”, the horrible scourge of clergy sexual abuse scandal, a bitter anti-clerical press and a general loss of faith. Ireland is losing its Catholic identity and becoming a secular place.

I returned last week to this Ireland with Msgr. Tom Fryar, Tess Stone and 57 brave Denver pilgrims, including my octogenarian mother, for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin.

Ireland is a land of mystics and monks, saints and scholars, so we began our pilgrimage by making a tour of the most historically significant and spiritually important places in Ireland. On our first full day, we celebrated Mass at Saint Kevin's church in Glendalough, the site of a famous monastic community which produced the first bishop of Dublin, St. Laurence O'Toole in 1161.

From there we traveled to Waterford and Ardmore to the ruined monastery of St. Declan, who actually preceded St. Patrick at the end of the 5th century in bringing the faith to Ireland. From these two monastic settlements, monks were sent out all over Europe to evangelize the pagan world.

We then travelled up the west coast to Galway, where I spent my semester abroad. We spent a full day in Knock, where Our Lady appeared to 50 villagers in 1879.  She brought a message of silent adoration of the Holy Eucharist, the Lamb who was slain to save us from our sins.

When we returned to Dublin, the Eucharistic Congress was in full swing.  The Congress featured huge outdoor Masses, processions, Eucharistic adoration, talks and workshops, and international celebrations. Someone once described an International Eucharistic Congress as the World Youth Day for adults.

The highlight of IEC was the closing Mass on Sunday at Croke Park where 80,000 faithful gathered to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the culmination of the theme of the IEC, "communion with Christ and with one another." Among our pilgrim group, we experienced this communion deeply.

Barbara, our Irish tour guide was absolutely phenomenal in her knowledge, both historical and all things Catholic, and brought us in touch with the roots of why Ireland is still a mystical place.

Catholics in America are greatly indebted to Ireland for much in our Church. Most of our early bishops were of Irish descent. Through centuries of persecution, famine and immigration, the Irish have handed on the Catholic faith, producing numerous saints and martyrs in the process. The Holy Father told the IEC assembly that "Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries, and by its power and grace generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread God's message of love and forgiveness well beyond your shores."

We owe a debt to Ireland, and we should repay it.  I pray that through our pilgrimage of prayer, fellowship and Eucharistic communion with the people of Ireland we may have been able to pay back a little of what Ireland has given to us. We were certainly blessed a hundredfold by the hospitality, charm and, yes, faith which still runs deep in the soil of this enchanted land.

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