THE 300 young people from the diocese of England and Wales who set off for Lourdes on July 15 to attend the 42nd Eucharistic Congress have now returned to their deaneries and parishes, universities and schools.
They came to Lourdes either with certain expectations or, it Inuit be admitted, with no expectations at all. After all what is the purpose of a Eucharistic Congress in the 1980s? The Holy Father's absence centred our focus on this question. Where there were expectations these were largely to do with learning more and knowing more about the Eucharist through discussions and lectures; the place of understanding being the head more than the heart.
Such expectations gradually crumbled before the reality of life in the 'Camp des Jeunes'; 9,000 young people lived there in tents, some 700 in the English speaking village named Columba, for the first day in brilliant sunshine and then in such torrential ruin that guy ropes and goodwill were cousins strained.
In these difficult circumstances it was difficult to maintain the calm and detachment in which intellectual discussion may flourish. Moreover the struggle for survival takes time and survival here had to do with basics such as food, dryish clothing and cover so that with a further deluge the following day planning and communications fell apart.
Arguably and certainly for the majority of those who were there. that day the Eucharistic Congress really began. for the adverse conditions gave us a real experience of Eucharist.
To be more explicit. the young people at the 'Camp des Jeunes' began to share. Long French loaves were broken and distributed but also private rations of nuts, chocolate, fruit and biscuits.
The German contingent with their 20 handicapped delegates in wheelchairs will never know how their example served to mellow our bitterness. Such sharing of resources. example and the generosity of the adult delegates down in Lourdes itself brought us all to a closer understanding of community, and at a Eucharistic Congress. of Eucharistic community. For if there was sharing there was also deprivation. actual hunger and actual cold — not intended or willed, but there to be transformed by cheerful acceptance. The words we had heard at the opening Nlass about the relationship between sacrifice and the thanksgiving for any true Eucharist suddenly came alive.
From sharing comes understanding and growth. This growth had to be growth in faith, and for the English speaking delegates the liturgies of subsequent days opened our eyes to the richness of God's gift. in the talents of those — especially from the African nations, who animated the large celebrations in the Anglophone tent. and in the seclusion of private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the all night vigil at St. Pius X Bailica.
Outside the thunder and lightning might wreak their full havoc but Christ spoke to our hearts. These experiences, the real miracle of Lourdes, may not make press headlines but they will endure and give a contemporary reading to the Church's purpose in holding Eucharistic congresses.
For the English youth delegates as well Camp Columba had one further lesson, to do with the universality of the Church and our common baptism — across every national barrier into the Eucharistic community.
In our village we had young people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales. Yugoslavia. Germany and France. From the young themselves there arose, with no adult prompting, a service of reconciliation between English and Irish of every allegiance. To exchange flags may only be a gesture but it is a rich one where accompanied by prayers imploring peace.
Our experience was of Jesus Christ as bread, as gift; and as broken not merely as victim, but broken for a purpose, his sacrifice transformed by thanksgiving to the Father. The new world may delay in coming, but in it, 9.000 renewed young people and the many 'moMs jeunes' as the French politely call them. the Church has cause for hope. and hope on a global scale at that.
Sr M Oliver Byrne IBVM HAVING had the privilege of attending the Lourdes Eucharistic Congress I can witness to it's many successes, it's disastrous aspect, 1 did not see. The presence of the Living Bread. was very much a reality, bringing with it unity and healing. Through a God given unity. easy communication and real sharing could take place.
The talks in English were thought provoking, but were given an added richness by becoming the basis for group discussions. These often arose spontaneously and broke all barriers, which only the power of the Holy Spirit can do. Signs were used where words could not be understood and smiles and laughter touched those who might otherwise have felt left out.
Everyone in Lourdes became part of a praying community. The heavy rain at times, could not dampen the spirits of those present. Mary must indeed have been pleased, to see such numbers arriving as pilgrims.
Those in the Youth Camp seemed "All washed up-, at times, but their trust in God was rewarded by blazing sunshine. The life and light which the young people brought to the Liturgy, was a sure reflection of their strong faith.
May the grace and renewal we have all received, help us to live as bread broken for a new world. My thanks to all who arranged the English happenings at the Congress. Praised be Jesus Christ.
Catherine Morris liens.
HAVING just returned from the International Eucharistic Congress which i found the most fruitful and beautiful experience I have ever had — words cannot describe my feelings, sadly though I feel I ought to bring to your attention a few points which should be made known.
First, the food was absolutely disgraceful — bread and jam for breakfast; bread and frozen meat for lunch and bread and a few salad items for dinner is hardly a very, staple diet for two weeks especially when we were wet and cold and it was only after much complaint that we were given a hot drink twice a day.
Many of the young people at the Congress had to spend extra money in order to obtain decent hot meals in town. People in prison get better food than we were given.
Secondly, some of the tents on the camp were not made or put up to protect us from the terrific storms that we suffered during the Congress.
Some girls during the early hours had to abandon their soaking sleeping bags and beds to find drier beds in the admin. tent or in the infirmary.
Thirdly, the washing and toilet facilities were a disgrace. Icy cold showers were hardly inviting when one was already' wet and cold from the weather.
Finally, I, like thousands of English speaking people found it terribly frustrating when daily Congress papers were being printed. books on the Congress were available and talks and conferences were being given everything being in the French language with no English translations available.
I felt as though we were not part of the "French Congress'. Fortunately in the Youth Camp we did have discussions in English organised by the English organisers and ourselves.
For all the problems the Congress was spriitually most helpful for me and I am truly thankful for being given the opportunity to attend and I hope that I shall be able to share this experience to help others towards God.
The atmosphere on Camp was one of love, peace and joy, we also had a unique opportunity of visiting the Blessed Sacrament in the Taize tent which was exposed for 24 hours a day during the whole Congress.
It was wonderful being with people from all over the world sharing their traditions and cultures. I would also personally like to thank all the Bishops and adults who when they realised how we were being exploited gave the English and Irish young people a meal in their hotels. It was a magnificent gesture and lovely to taste real food.
Jesus said "take up your cross and follow me". We were offered that cross at the Congress and it was heavy, but the French organisers were lacking in charity to have neglected our physical needs to such an extent. Miss Catherine M Harwood Norfol k