The Eucharistic Congress was a massive event in our diocese. The more involved I became, the more I reflected that when we talk about the Body of Christ, we mean both the Blessed Sacrament and the People of God.
Many of us in Liverpool were concerned that both aspects should be easy to see at the Eucharistic Congress, which led us to prepare a parallel programme that would celebrate the rich and warm diversity of Catholic life and so reflect the two experiences of communion. Often, when we approach the altar and say ‘Amen’ to the minister’s ‘The Body of Christ’, we just mean ‘It is’ but we wanted to emphasise that we also mean ‘We are’. It was this ‘We are’ aspect that was explored and emphasised in the parallel programme.
Now it is over, the question is, how do we judge its success?
In terms of content, the topics included welcome, conversation, reconciliation, scripture, the sacred, community, mission, asylum and refugees, the environment, music, miracles, poverty, food, ecumenism, outreach, the diaconate, children, schools, and parish organisation. Quite a list!
In terms of numbers, most impressively there were over 400 people involved in planning and delivering the events and over 600 people attended. The best-attended event was at St Francis Xavier parish church for the screenings of episodes of the TV series ‘Broken’ and discussion with the screenwriter Jimmy McGovern. Yet there were many other highlights such as the ecumenical conversation on Eucharist that the regional church leaders shared in the Anglican church on the waterfront, and a stimulating and reflective day at St Philip Neri with a wide grouping of northern dioceses, the National Justice and Peace Network, and other national organisations. Elsewhere, the singalong of Beatles songs went down a storm; the exploration of the diaconate received some interest; more people than predicted went to the event about Welcoming the Stranger; and I had a great experience of church at the Nugent kitchen, making bread, eating curry and chatting to people.
In terms of witness, the events showed the wide range of activities that are part of Catholic life. They were prayerful, thoughtful, socially-engaged and active. Above all, they happened.
In terms of organisation, the programme was devised, co-ordinated and delivered by laity, with some help from clergy. It showed us a glimpse of our dynamic Church: active, enthused, engaged with society and not restricted to the sanctuary.
The next event on the J&P calendar takes place on 28 October when we will celebrate the canonisation of Oscar Romero during 11am Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral. Then on Tuesday 13 November, Asylum Link Merseyside will be holding a ‘Welcoming the Stranger’ event at LACE conference centre. ALM is one of only five organisations from across Europe chosen to launch the new language support toolkit produced by the Council of Europe. If you are interested in learning about this resource and would like to get involved in working with asylum seekers and refugees, please contact Sarah on 0151 709 1713 or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we head towards Synod 2020, we can rejoice that the Body of Christ is alive and well.