By Father Raymond J. de Souza
I was a little embarrassed watching the coverage of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, not because of anything that went on in Ireland, but rather because of my original attitude toward the congress being held there.
As I watched the pilgrims from around the world gathering in Dublin, I saw that their gestures of sympathy and solidarity were better than an attitude of ostracism and punishment.
When it was announced in 2008 at Quebec City that the 2012 Eucharistic Congress would be held in Dublin, I was rather dismayed.
I understood that sometimes a local church in distress can be buoyed up by such an international event; after all, that was the logic of having the congress in Quebec City: to administer an emergency transfusion to the anemic local church.
Yet Dublin struck me as a step too far. After all, it would be hard to find any place where spectacular incompetence had brought the Church into greater crisis than in Ireland. And Irish society as a whole, led by its government, was hardly better.
It's not the sexual abuse scandal alone. Other countries have dealt with the shame and pain. Ireland seemed then, and still seems now, unable to get its act together.
Recently Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin called for an independent inquiry into Brendan Smyth, the Norbertine priest who molested numerous children over some 40 years. Mishandling the Smyth case in 1994 caused the government to fall in Ireland, the only place where a clerical abuse scandal has brought down the civilian government.
Smyth was convicted and died in 1997, shortly after being imprisoned, yet all these years later Archbishop Martin, generally viewed as a champion of healing and reform, judges it necessary to have yet another inquiry.
Ireland has had plenty of those. In the last four years major government inquiries have reported and the Church's own inquiries have reported, to say nothing of the special apostolic visitation ordered by the Holy See of Ireland's archdioceses and seminaries.
The Irish bishops as a whole have proved supremely disappointing, simply unable to find the path of renewal. Pope Benedict XVI administered a devastating assessment of their conduct in his letter to Catholics in Ireland, and officials in Rome are all the more scathing in private.
The Irish government has hardly been better, itself flailing about as it has become clear that whatever rot existed in the Church could be found elsewhere in Irish society, with the police and the legal system also proving inadequate to the task.
In the past year the Irish government has allowed a petulant anti-Catholicism to flourish, closing its embassy to the Holy See and passing an egregious law that requires priests to do what they cannot do, namely violate the seal of the confessional.
Given this pathetic scene in Church and state, why would anyone desire to be in Dublin for a grand ecclesial event? More to the point, was there any sense in which Dublin deserved to hold such an event?
For that reason, despite having great experiences at Eucharistic Congress 1997 in Wroclaw, Poland; the 2000 congress in Rome, and then in Quebec City, I had no interest in going to Dublin.
Hence my embarrassment when I saw that so many others took a rather more noble view, precisely going as pilgrims to Ireland in order to offer comfort and solace to a suffering church. It was not so much a celebration that drew them as a concrete act of charity to be done.
I was particularly struck by the number of bishops who devoted more than a week for the Eucharistic Congress, no insignificant sacrifice of time and expense.
Bishops from across the country, including the archbishops of Vancouver, Edmonton, Quebec City, and all three from Ontario, were present. The chief Canadian present of course was Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, who represented the Holy Father as the papal legate.
I suppose any international event in Ireland would draw upon the large Irish diaspora in Canada, but it seemed from the coverage I saw that people were going as genuine pilgrims, aware of the afflicted church in Ireland, and not just as religious tourists. It is to their credit that they went for those reasons, bearing witness to the faith in difficult circumstances.
Many speakers said that Ireland was on the path to renewal. That is likely more hope than reality, but the path to renewal is not meant to be walked alone. God bless those pilgrims who chose to walk alongside the Irish this past week in Dublin.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is pastor of a parish and chaplain at Newman House at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.