Eucharistic Congress International
June 15 – 22, 2008
Québec city

Agnes“Eucharist as Gift from God for the Life of the World”

This was the theme of the 49th International Eucharistic held in Quebec City from June 15th to 22nd, 2008. The theme and the Congress song remind us once again that Eucharist is truly a gift of God placed in our hands for the life of the world. These words resounded in our ears and hearts throughout this week of reflection, prayer, celebrations, and meetings. They invited us to deepen this “mystery to believe”. This faith event revealed the traits of a universal Church with its diversity seen in peoples from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. All gathered in Quebec City which was also celebrating its 400th year of foundation. So many occasions for all to give thanks to God for his goodness and his fidelity!

When one speaks of a Congress, one must also speak of the preparation that goes into it. Due to the magnitude of this event, the Archdiocese of Quebec has been getting ready for the last 2 or 3 years. This was done by the creation of several organizations and preparation teams. As I was on holiday, I offered to help as a volunteer. This is how the General Secretariat of the Congress asked me to work in communications, in my present field of studies. I arrived two weeks before the opening. Our headquarters were at the Garnier Residence. This is near the offices of the Archdiocese. Most of the offices for the Congress were also in this building. The person in charge went over with me of what would be our workload. The work entailed the smooth running of all the cardinals’ communications and all other speakers with the media. We started by sending all the cardinals attending the Theological Symposium and the Eucharistic Congress an e-mail. In it, we asked for their availability for interviews with the media. Depending on their dates of arrival and departure, we then created a schedule so as to best manage their time and to meet the journalists’ needs. The Symposium was held at Laval University’s Theology Faculty from June 11th to 13th. This was our first plunge into this event. This was also a good test run to see how well our plan was working. It also allowed us to complete the necessary adjustments. We were also able to better distribute the work load among us in accordance to the number of cardinals to be reached each day. During the Congress, which started the next day with the official opening, we left in the morning at 6:30 am to head to Château Frontenac where the cardinals were staying. This gave us a chance to meet with the ones who would be giving interviews throughout the day before they headed in shuttle buses to the Eucharistic City. When we had not been able to reach the needed number, the rest of the set up happened in the back corridors of the Coliseum before each Eucharistic celebration. There was a teaching and a witness in the morning. This is why after each mass, there was a press conference in Marc Cardinal Ouellet’s and the two speakers’ presence. There was a brief summary of the morning’s events. As Archbishop of Quebec City and the Primate of the Canadian Church, he would then invite the journalists to ask questions to one or the other of the speakers. These were powerful moments. It was also moments where the Archbishop took the opportunity to remind journalists of their role to inform and to do it well based on what was actually being lived at the Congress. This is why he invited them to go onsite and see for themselves what was happening.

What did I get out of this experience?

I would like to start by saying that an International Eucharistic Congress is not an ordinary event. It permitted me to admire and appreciate our church in its diversity. There is nothing more wonderful to feel among brothers and sisters in Christ with all our differences, especially in our world that so often build walls of separation when they do not share each others’ faith. As stated Joseph Cardinal Tomko, Papal Legate, during Saturday’s prayer vigil: “We are not afraid to be together, because there is no terrorism when we feel like brothers and sisters”. This experience also gave me an opportunity to use the communications skills learnt and to see how much is still to acquire. I am grateful to God for these simple, open, and welcoming people. I valued their high sense of responsibility, their generosity, their team work, their love of work, their joy, their sense of humor despite all the stress of the last days. During the Congress, I used much energy to overcome myself and dare to go out to meet the other, the stranger. I was sent for a specific mission. In the process, I discovered cardinals filled with humanity, ready to listen, joyful, and sometimes quite funny. I met great communicators, who were comfortable with the new technologies in the media. In truth, I met caring shepherds with a watchful eye on the well-being of their flock.

“To be Gift for Others”

In the words of one speaker, “We are the Eucharist”. If God is in us, we are thus able to give life to others with much love. This is what I saw, learnt, and felt through all those who gave of their time for the success of this Congress. I am thinking not only of those seen at the Eucharistic City, but also of the countless others who worked in the shadows to get everything ready I witnessed the gift of life in an elderly of 70 years old, through a young girl, or a caring young boy, a father, a mother leaving her children at home, a religious going out all day strengthened by the prayers of her sisters. I saw it in a handicapped gentleman who spoke and walked with difficulty, but who was always on time to distribute the meal tickets. Each of these actions came with a kind word, a pinch of humor to lighten up the atmosphere, to relax, to give joy to someone. May this congress that has just ended renew in us a love for the Eucharist as it is deposited in our hands for the life of the world. May God’s blessings pour down on Quebec’s, Canada’s, and the universal Church.

“Eucharist is truly the bread of life
Which on our paths of hope
nourish and comfort us.”

Agnès Diouf fmm
© November 2008