Pope Benedict XVI has joined the ranks of the quarter of a million pilgrims to ring for renewal in the Church in Ireland on the International Eucharistic Congress Bell. Ahead of his weekly general audience the Holy Father met with a delegation from the IEC2012 organizing committee from Dublin, Ireland, led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, aptly beneath the ‘Arch of the Bell’s’ to the left of the Vatican Basilica.
Fr Kevin Doran, Secretary General of IEC2012 said: “The Pope blessed the bell, rang it vigorously, and paused to admire the icons as Archbishop Martin explained their significance. He was presented with Shamrock by Colette Furlong and with the first copy of the Congress Commemorative Medal, by Sheena Darcy.”
“To the surprise of its critics, the Eucharistic congress is taking shape as a genuine moment of renewal in the church,” said Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, as he launched the “Ring for renewal” initiative earlier this week. Listen to Emer McCarthy’s report:
Cathedrals, churches and chapels across Ireland are being asked to ring their bells for two minutes at 12 noon and 6 p.m this Saturday March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, as a symbol of renewal and a call to gather in preparation for the Congress. Archbishop Martin insists that the event “is being seen as a unique opportunity for renewal of the Christian life.”
In fact when they were thinking about a symbol to represent the Dublin Congress, the organizers decided on the symbol of the bell. Why? Because apparently St Patrick, Patron Saint of the Irish, left a bell with each of the Christian communities he founded throughout the island in the 5th century. The idea being that these communities, on hearing the bell, would be called to conversion, to prayer, to and ultimately to communion.
For the past year, a bell taken from a convent on Ireland’s North Sea Coast, has been visiting all of the communities of Ireland’s 26 dioceses. Inner city parishes, fire stations, hospitals and hospices, schools, chapels, cloistered convents and ecumenical organizations.
Through winter cold, sleet and rain and under summer sun the spectacle of men and women young and old struggling beneath the weight of the bell as they carry it literally on their backs from village to village, up mountains and along motorways has puzzled many a motorist. The sound of the bell and hymns ringing along the main streets of towns has stopped many people in their tracks. The bell has become a vibrant sign for the Irish people of the coming Congress, an invitation to them to prepare and become involved, even those who have distanced themselves from the faith and the Church over the years.
The pastoral program that has accompanied the bell’s pilgrimage reflects this. It no longer takes the faith formation of Irish people as a given, offering introductory courses on scripture, liturgy and Church teaching.
“Our main aim is to try and bring as many people as possible to closer union with Christ” says Fina Golden. She is just one example of the new Church that is emerging in Ireland. A lay Catholic, she is on the board for pastoral preparation for the diocese of Elphin. “We also want to leave a lasting legacy in the diocese after Congress is finished, that people will remember, that hey will have deepened their faith and their communion with one another”.
In the past the Church in Ireland was often accused of clericalism. However the Church that is emerging in the lead up to Dublin 2012 while dramatically reduced in numbers, is vibrant, informed and above all centered on bringing forth the laity. They are literally everywhere, and they are not all Irish.
Meet the man behind the Bell, Hungarian Gellert Merza: “It was a fantastic opportunity to be out there and to see how people are attracted to the Church, to the Eucharist. And this little bell that we are carrying about in Ireland is a great opportunity for people to come and reflect again on what the Eucharist means for themselves. The bell is not the most important thing, it was just to start something, to ring in something and of course to call people to the Congress itself”.
To date more than a quarter of a million people- including Pope Benedict – have rung the Congress Bell in Ireland, in Lourdes, France and now also in Rome.