People gather on the lawn of the Royal Dublin Society as they listen to a lecture during the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin June 14. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Young people at eucharistic congress bring legacy of World Youth Day

By  Sarah MacDonald, Catholic News Service
  • June 15, 2012

DUBLIN - As the plainchant of "Tantum Ergo" drew the eucharistic procession to a close, the presiding prelates began to filter away. That's when some trip hop music erupted at the back of the massive assembly of pilgrims, which moments before had been on its knees in prayer and adoration.

The flash mob was really a very organized bunch of young pro-lifers. Decked out in colorful T-shirts, they were singing and dancing about the sanctity of human life. Irish Catholicism could hardly be described as exuberant, but this is what a new young generation of committed Catholics has imbibed from World Youth Day: a deft ability to combine prayerful if staid processions with vivacious displays of faith that often include a strong social message.

Many of those young people attending or volunteering at the International Eucharistic Congress cite World Youth Day as a primary influence in the development of their faith. Many are affiliated with groups such as Youth 2000, Catholic Youth Care, Taize or gospel choirs.

Eimear Felle, a 27-year-old Dubliner volunteering at the Congress, told Catholic News Service she was at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and in Sydney in 2008.

"I received so much from these. That's why I decided to volunteer at the Congress," she said. "I wanted to give something back instead of always receiving. I felt it was time to reverse the roles."

She said she believes that, for Ireland, the 50th International Eucharistic Congress is "a huge opportunity which we may never see again."

She links her decision to volunteer to her understanding of the Eucharist.

"When a man came to my parish to talk about the Congress and the need for volunteers, I didn't have to think twice about volunteering -- after all, the Eucharist is about sharing," she said.

Felle works in the family business and so was able to take off June 10-17 to help pilgrims at an information stand in the mornings before spending each afternoon volunteering at the hotel where most of the visiting prelates stayed. This latter role gave her "a new insight into the cardinals and bishops. I see their human side, and they are just like the rest of us," she said, laughing.

But the eucharistic congress is being held against a backdrop of anger over the clerical abuse scandals in Ireland as well as declining Mass attendance and a more aggressively secular culture. Felle said many people in Ireland "are letting their anger overshadow the positive aspects" of the church's work.

"It is very easy to do, but if they could just open their minds a little bit and see what is going on ...," she said, adding, "I really feel something good is going to come out of this -- Ireland really needs this."

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, had just finished celebrating Mass in the main arena of the Royal Dublin Society. One of his altar servers was Joseph Merrick, a 25-year-old schoolteacher from Dublin.

"There is a great vibe around the campus," he said, remarking on how it reminded him of World Youth Day in Madrid and Sydney.

"I chose to become a volunteer for the week because the church has done an awful lot for me, and this is one small way of giving something back." He added that having attended two World Youth Day events, "It's an opportunity to give a little back to the people who hosted me in their countries."

Merrick is involved with a number of faith-based groups, including Youth 2000 and the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, an order that raises money for Christians in the Holy Land. He also has been a spokesman for St. Joseph's Young Priests Society, a lay-run organization that promotes priesthood and support for seminarians; it is Eucharist-centered.

The 25-year-old said it can be difficult to explain to his peers what his faith means to him.

"All you can do is be patient and explain as best you can to your peers why you believe this or do that. Maybe in some small way seeds might be sown," he said.

Ying-Yi Lee, 32, traveled with a group from Taiwan. She converted to Catholicism nine years ago after spending a year studying in France.

"Before that I knew nothing because Catholics in Taiwan are a small minority," she told CNS. Less than 2 percent of the population in Taiwan is Catholic.

"When I returned to Taiwan from France I met a French missionary, and I asked him about catechesis. Three years later he baptized me," she said.

For five years she volunteered in the church; she also has had paying jobs in her parish and at her diocesan headquarters.

Her family members, who moved to the U.S. 11 years ago, have not been happy with her decision.

"I have explained to them that, just as young men in Taiwan spend time in military service, I have given some time to the church. But they also see that I am happy with my decision and more content than when I was earning much more in my previous role in a commercial company."

"This faith attracts me a lot," she told CNS. "The faith that I had before is a faith of fear: fear of hell and fear of death. But the Catholic faith is different; it is a faith of love. We love people so we reach out to them. I want to work with the church and use my life and energy and talents for the good of people.

"You don't have to preach to people; as a young person, the way you live your life can be a declaration of faith and a means of evangelization," she added.

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