It came from one of the thousands of little conversations that took place among Catholics who travelled from far and wide to gather on the banks of the river Mersey last month. It was a reflection from a delegate in the ACC Liverpool Echo Arena, a Dominican sister, Karen Marguerite D’Artois, seeking to make sense of the overall meaning of the Adoremus Conference.
‘The timing of Adoremus was providential,’ she said. ‘The Church in England and Wales needed this kind of coming together to pray, to worship, to reflect, to be together and to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it.’
There have been so many positive words said in the aftermath of the first national event devoted to the Blessed Sacrament in this country since 1908. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Catholics gathered in Liverpool for the three-day event, between Friday 7th and Sunday 9th September, and each will have taken home their own impressions, not only from the main Congress events in the ACC Convention Centre but also the Saturday Youth Congress for 13 to 20-year-olds and the parallel events around the city, such as the well-attended screenings of Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Broken’ at St Francis Xavier’s church.
For the Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, the hope is that Adoremus will act as a reawakening. ‘For the individuals who’ve been here and taken part in any of the events, Masses, presentations, I hope there’ll be a reawakening of the importance of the Eucharist in their daily lives,’ he said. ‘That has to be the fundamental thing.’
Archbishop Malcolm added: ‘When we receive the Eucharist in church, it’s imperative for us to be charitable, to be sharing, to give of ourselves to others. You can’t do one without the other. I’m hoping this renewal of our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament will make us more aware of social-justice issues, will make us more caring of each other and allow us to share what we have but also give of our time and ourselves to other people.
‘It also helps our parishes,’ he continued, ‘to know that in their worship of God in the Blessed Sacrament, in Mass, in Adoration, the Eucharist is really an expression of the way in which we’re united in the body of Christ and how that unity can actually sustain us in our daily lives. That will then make our parishes grow – they won’t just see themselves in terms of structure and organisation but truly as a Eucharistic community.’
The conference began on 7 September with a symposium on the Eucharist. After the welcome and opening prayer, Canon Mervyn Tower spoke about ‘The Scriptual Context’ in the first keynote speech. Then Canon David Oakley reflected on ‘The Eucharist in the life of the Church’ before Sister Margaret Atkins delivered the third keynote speech on ‘Teaching the Eucharist’.
Katharine Mellor, a delegate from Nottingham Diocese, was appreciative of the flow of ideas. ‘The journey through the past, what goes on in the present and how to instruct that was really good,’ she said, before highlighting a Scriptural reference made by Canon Tower. ‘It was when God goes into the Garden of Eden and says “Where are you?”, and he said that God will come looking and intends to find us because he can overcome sin. He went to find Adam and Eve because he was bigger than the sin they created. That was amazing thing to hear.’
Alfred Banya, a deacon from Southwark Archdiocese, identified another pivotal message from that opening day. ‘I like the way it has come across that Christ is present in different forms, obviously under the guise of bread and wine but also in the people that we come across. There are some people who as Catholics may not share with us in the Eucharist, but Christ is still present in them and by us engaging with them, they’re actually sharing in the presence of Christ.’
Day 2 of Adoremus was titled ‘The Adoremus Congress Day – Exploring the Place of Eucharistic Adoration’ and it drew over 5,000 delegates to the main hall of the convention centre, as well as the 1,000 young people next door. The highlight for many came in the form of two keynote speeches from the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron. His insights included reflections on the deeper meaning of the Mass and on the roads we travel as Christians, which he defined as ‘find the centre, know you’re a sinner, realise your life is not about you’.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols said of Bishop Barron’s contribution: ‘He explored with us how we best participate in the Mass and understand the actions of the Mass as praise, adoration and sacrifice, and then he talked about walking the pathways of holiness.
‘It’s very difficult to put into words the experience of simply being present before the Lord. Robert Barron gave us a lovely image when he talked about the meaning of the word, Adoremus, “adoratio”. He said it literally means “mouth to mouth” and in a way praying before the Blessed Sacrament is being face to face with the Lord.’
The Cardinal gave his own reflection at the Exposition and Benediction that followed, and afterwards he said the event had underlined the ‘joy and richness of the Mass’.
For the young people present at the Youth Congress, they had their own crucial message to take home according to Sister Mary Ann Francalanza, an FCJ sister from Bellerive, namely ‘the important message they are loved and don’t have to be any different than who they are. It’s a really key message that quite a few of the speakers have come back to.’
Day 3 was Adoremus Pilgrimage Day and featured two morning Masses and then a Eucharistic Procession through the streets around the Metropolitan Cathedral. The pouring rain that fell did nothing to diminish the occasion for the Bishop of Hallam, Ralph Heskett. He said: ‘The participants of Adoremus could hardly be described as fair-weather Christians as we walked in procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Liverpool in the driving wind and rain. It was wonderful to see all ages and from all over the country come together and celebrate and witness their faith in the gift of the Eucharist.’
As for Archbishop Malcolm, he said he was ‘humbled and honoured’ to take part in a walk involving leaders of Liverpool’s other churches, including the Anglican Bishop, Paul Bayes, and Sheryl Anderson, moderator of the Methodist Church. ‘Fifty years ago that would have been impossible,’ he noted, before evoking the ‘turning point’ walk of local church leaders down Hope Street with Pope John Paul II in 1982.
Adoremus, he hopes, will prove another event of lasting resonance as the Archdiocese looks to the future. ‘In 2020 the Archdiocese of Liverpool is having a diocesan synod where we will be able to discern under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the next steps forward for our Archdiocese, so having this Eucharistic Congress here is really a blessing as it is going to underpin and fuel our deliberations through devotion into the future.’