06/24/2004, 00.00
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The hunger of man and the world for the Eucharist

by Bernardo Cervellera
Cardinal Tomko discusses the Guadalajara Congress that will open the Year of the Eucharist

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The "silent apostasy" of Western Europe and the West in general is born of man's weak conviction, in today's technological era, of needing God, of needing the true Jesus that each day offers himself to us in the Eucharist, "faith's testing ground".  As Cardinal Jozef Tomko, president of the International Eucharistic Congress, explains to AsiaNews, "faith in the person of Jesus Christ and in his divinity must be reinforced.  As soon as you yield on one, you yield on the other.  A new evangelization is needed, to reinforce faith in the Eucharist and in the divinity of Christ."

This seems to be the conviction of the Pope in wanting the Year of the Eucharist.

I was overjoyed by the Pope's announcement of the Year of the Eucharist, which will begin with the International Eucharisitic Congress of Guadalajara (from October 10 to 17) and will finish with the Synod of Bishops, which will also be on the Eucharistic (from October 2 to 29, 2005).  This Year will extend the effectiveness and the productiveness of the International Congress and will facilitate the celebration of congresses at the diocesan and local levels.  There will be a greater impact.  Italy, for example, will begin organizing its national Eucharistic Congress in Bari in October.  This will increase the responsability of the Pontifical Committee for Eucharistic Congresses.  All this engages our responsability and preparedness.

How are you preparing for the Congress, which, as we know, the Pope would like to attend?

The preparation for the upcoming Congress in Guadalajara has been underway for some time:  already in November 2002, the plenary assembly for the national delegations had dealt with preparations, which are being carried out in the host city, but which also engage the Committee in terms of stimulating participation from all continents.

The Congress will be preceded by a 3-day theological symposium, the theme of which will be the Holy Father's encyclical on the Eucharist.  There will be a day for each continent in the programme.  A cardinal from each continental area will present catechesis on the Eucharist and will be responsible for the liturgy of the day.  There will also be a day dedicated to the "woman of the Eucharist", to Our Lady, in that there will also be a pilgrimage to Zapopan, a highly venerated shrine in Mexico.

How is the Congress important for faith and mission?

All eucharistic congresses have resulted in a revival in faith and mission.  They are truly an occasion to promote faith in teh Eucharist, summit and source of Christian life (a definition from Lumen Gentium).  This is the purpose of the international congresses, which is clearly set out in our statutes: "to always improve knowledge and love for the Lord Jesus in his eucharistic mystery, focal point of the Church's life and its mission for the world's salvation."  Pratically the same title for the Year of the Eucharist and the Synod of Bishops.

I don't have statistics, but it is clear that the eucharistic congresses, by promoting eucharistic worship, promote vocations.  For example, those places maintaining the tradtion of the first Friday of the month, of monthly confession, are where vocations are flowering.  And then, how many vocations are coming from those who serve at the altar?  The Pope also referred to this in his letter to priests...

Our congresses are definitely celebrations of faith.  Nairobi, Seoul, Philadephia (where the young Archbishop Wojtyla was among th catechests).  Seville, Wroclaw, Rome...

The Congress in Guadalajara will be very important for bringing together American Catholics, both from the North, where Hispanics are increasingly numerous, and from the South.  And eucharistic adoration: I've discovered that there are thousands of groups that even meet for night-time adoration.

Our congresses have also a social value: the thousands of those invited will be accomodated by the families of Guadalajara: this is proof that we can live as brothers and sisters in the world.

In the missionary world, a "Christological weakness" can be noted: it's not so much an announcing of Jesus Christ, but social commitment, sentimental generosity...

The Eucharist fuels mission.  Jesus, in the Last Supper, offered his body "for the life of the world".  Pro mundi Vita was the title of a eucharistic congress in Munich in 1960.

The Eucharist represents and gives salvation by a specific quality: it is Christ's gift of life to the world, through the gift of ourselves.

It is also a gift for the world in its entirety, "from end to end":  no land, no culture can be excluded from the gift of the Eucharist.  Missionaries must realize that they go throughout the world with the Word and the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is taken for granted, there are attempts to desacramentalize it...But without the Eucharist, communities will sooner or later be consumed and estinguished.

Instead, the Eucharist is a truly important element in the missionary Church.  Once, when I was at Propaganda Fide, there was a problem.  Many in missions were proposing to build, not churches for liturgical use, but "multi-use halls", in which to hold meetings, catechism, rallies, celebrations ecc.  At a certain point, people and bishops themselves were asking that churches be built, with tabernacles.  Other aid agencies were thinking more "efficiently", in instrumental terms, at the risk however of losing the sacred element.

There are signs everywhere of love and devotion for Christ and the Eucharist.

To understand to what degree Africans experience the presence of mystery, one only needs to participate in one of their liturgies: there is such beautiful music during the consecration, notes that are simply moaned, that give a sense of wonder, as in oriental liturgies.

And then, what can be said about the great dignity and joy with which so many poor people receive the Eucharist, where there exists no distinction of class or rank?

There is a much more profound preception of sacrifice in these peoples, since already their ancestral religions made sacrifices: Christ's sacrifice becomes even more eloquent.

Prayer before the Most Holy is very typical in Asia: it penetrates into the culture; the rite of the arathi, in the Indian world -- the presentation of fire and incense to the divinity -- has found a place in the liturgy and doxology.

In Europe, eucharistic culture had an influence on the construction of cathedrals.  Today, only the monument is seen, but in all reality these structures mark the place in which Jesus in present.

As for America, I remember how, in Puebla, during the conference of the Latin-American bishops, we were struck by the number of people who, in the evening and at night, went to church to pray before the Eucharist.  Here in Italy and in Europe, churches remain closed for fear of thieves and who knows what else...

It seems that in the West faith in the Eurcharist, in the figure of Jesus Christ himself, has been dampened; is this what compelled the Pope to launch this Year?

The Eucharist is a testing ground for faith.  >From the time of Jesus, the story of the Eucharist has scandalized, it is a "strong" story, as we see in John.  To refuse the realism of the Eucharist is to refuse the divinity of Jesus.  To believe in such a mystery, I must be aware that it's not just anyone talking to me, it's God himself.  These two realities, Eucharist and faith, are connected.

And today, like at the time of Jesus, it is Peter who reacts: "Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life".  The Pope reacts in the name of the Church.  If in some areas there has been a dampening of the faith in the Eucharist, we must reinforce faith in the person of Jesus Christ and in his divinity.

As soon as you yield on one, you yield on the other.  This is how things are in Western Europe and its silent apostasy.  A new evangelization is needed, to reinforce faith in the Eucharist and in the divinity of Christ.

The Liturgy is often a celebration of "ourselves" and not of He who is present...

Each Congress is an appeal for dignified and decorous liturgy, in the presence of Jesus.  It is a concrete appeal for fundamental realities, for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, he who is the most precious gift to the world.  Mass is therefore not a game, nor a mere theatrical representation, the launch of social activity, but the re-presentation of the salvific dramma of Calvary, re-presentation as biblical and mystical memory.  But mystical does not indicate solely something symbolic, something almost fake, far from truth.  The Sacrament expresses a living reality.  In his encyclical on the Eucharist, John Paul II calls for the dignity of the celebration.  At Guadalajara, we will greatly stress the concept of "decorous" liturgy.

Other personal memories on the Eucharist?

There is a very illustrious one among my personal memories: the Holy Father.  In the encyclical of the Eucharist, he likens Communion and the silence following the Communion to "resting our head on Jesus' shoulder", talking, listening, lettign ourselves be consoled...

Perhaps in a prosaic way, I can say that in 55 years of priesthood and of daily Mass, it has always been a nourishment for me.  I am forever struck by the words of Jesus: the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.  This means above all that to feed on Christ gives us life, sustains us.  But also, the one who feeds on Christ, lives for the cause of Christ, is absorbed by Christian deeds.

I would add that the Mass I have always celebrated, even prior to being prefect of Propaganda Fide, has always been a Mass for the people of God living around the world.

I think we must give new force to the pratice of visiting the Eucharist.  At his time, Saint Alphonse had even written booklets for helping the dialogue between the individual and Jesus Christ.

The Eucharist is an "inter-ecclesial" question, of internal faith, or does it make itself felt, socially and culturally, in the outer world?

It would be enough to ask: does the world still need God, does it need such a clear sign of his presence as is the Eucharist?  Does the world need faith?

I come from a former Communist country, which finds itself faced with a change in faith.  Once, life was perhaps easier: the Church was faced with an atheist and hostile materialism.  This made good and evil very clear; the Church suffered more, but everything was clearer.  Today we are facing a Western agnostic materialism, which seems to swim in prosperity, but inside is unhappy and desperate.  It doesn't even pose itself the question of God -- the atheist Communist world at least opposed itself.  This agnosticism definitely needs the Eucharist, that supplements the soul: this is what is needed by this society without life and without faith.

The Eucharist give a new social environment: it creates and transforms life, gives a sense of plenitude, give a sense of existence and therefore will not go after suicides, drugs, artificial paradises.

The Eucharist can give so much to the world.

In this way, the international character of these congresses puts on display a new world, a world centred around its Redeemer, a world that does not go to war, and in fact shares what it has and is.  The Eucharist rebalances man, who needs to change.

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See also
Pope's letter on the Eucharist now in Urdu
"Mane nobiscum Domine": Pope's letter on the Year of the Eucharist
Suggestions and proposals to celebrate the Eucharist
Eucharist is a 'love bomb' that changes the world, says Bishop of Mumbai
The Immaculate Conception and the Eucharist, a course in Christian culture in Tashkent


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