The solemn feast of Pentecost saw the commencement of a Eucharistic Congress in the Diocese of Wollongong. Titled "Bread for New Life," it is the first such congress in Australia held outside a capital city. The congress spanned two weeks, with the first focusing on regional seminars, while the second incorporated a more diocesan flavour.
"The Eucharistic Congress," said Bishop Philip Wilson, "has its origins in a recommendation provided two years previously, by a diocesan Jubilee committee ... We will celebrate the Eucharistic Congress in union with Pope John Paul and those who are participating in the International Eucharistic Congress in Rome at the same time."
On 16 June thousands of primary and secondary school children from across the diocese took part in a the Great Jubilee function for students, while that evening, representatives from each community in the diocese participated in a ceremony displaying diocesan church unity, with around three thousand in attendance.
The Lord Mayor of Wollongong, Councilor George Harrison, himself from a Greek Orthodox background, gave an excellent speech challenging those present to let their faith "make a difference" if they really believed.
This was followed by an address from Bishop Michael Putney of Brisbane on the "Themes of the Jubilee 2000 and the Eucharistic Congress." During his address, Bishop Putney emphasised that the primary purpose of the liturgy was adoration of God and not celebration of the community. The word "community," he pointed out, does not truly capture the Church's term "communion," which is a participation in the inner life of the Trinity, while the word "celebration" can be used in both a sacred and secular sense, and discernment is needed when applying it to the Sacred Liturgy.
A highlight of the congress was the celebration of Mass in two of the Eastern Catholic Rites. Bishop Peter Stasiuk CSsR celebrated Mass in St Francis Xavier's Cathedral in the Ukrainian Rite in a beautiful ceremony. The Ukrainian Rite derives from the Byzantine tradition and has been handed down from the time of Saint John Chrysostom. Concelebrating bishops distributed Holy Communion under both species in the tradition of the Ukrainian Rite by using a spoon to place the Body and Blood of Christ into the mouth of each communicant.
Later that week, Bishop Issam Darwich celebrated Mass in the Melkite Rite, also of the Byzantine tradition. The Melkite Rite does not have any particular custom regarding the colour of vestments worn. Instead, this is determined by the celebrant, and in accordance with what he deems appropriate on the occasion. Both liturgies displayed an almost tangible sense of the supernatural and left the congregation with an unmistakable sense of reverence.
During Mass for the feast of the Trinity (18 June), a large choir made an impressive contribution, while Bishop Wilson spoke of the necessity of returning to our baptism as the foundation of our relationship with the Trinity and of appreciating that the Trinity is the source of our life. At the conclusion of the Mass the principal concelebrant, His Excellency Archbishop Francesco Canalini, Papal Nuncio to Australia, read out a letter from Cardinal Angelo Sodano (Vatican Secretary of State). The letter read in part: "The Holy Father was pleased to learn of the Eucharistic Congress being held in Wollongong ... His Holiness prays fervently that the Eucharistic Congress will lead to a deeper appreciation of Sunday Mass as the joyful gathering of the whole Church to celebrate the 'weekly Easter' (Dies Domini, 14) and to a new experience of intimacy with the risen."
The feast of Corpus Christi was marked with an outdoor concelebrated Mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, Penrose Park, officiated at by Archbishop Canalini, and attended by over 3,500 people. Those present were reminded of the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist and how respect for it needed to be shown through acts of devotion undertaken with reverence. The Nuncio warned against any taking the Eucharist for granted. That afternoon, he led a Blessed Sacrament procession.
Gift of faith
The day concluded with Benediction and an address from Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth, who spoke about the secular culture, which, he said, "seeks to produce the self- sufficient individual, with rights and responsibilities ... It all sounds wonderful, except it is not the person that Jesus wants to form." He concluded: "Let us go back to our parishes and our communities refreshed and enthusiastic about the great gift of the Faith."
A Eucharistic Congress is always a special time for the diocese in which it is celebrated. While its fruits must result from the Holy Spirit's action, they also depend on the fidelity of those who receive the grace. May the hope generated during this time of blessing serve to renew God's people in this part of the world for years to come.
Fr Mark De Battista is a priest of the Diocese of Wollongong. He was ordained in 1995 and is currently the Administrator of St Brigid's Parish, Gwynneville. He resides at the Cathedral presbytery in Wollongong.