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Dublin after 80 years
The Eucharistic Congress of 1932 revisited in preparation for that in 2012
Eighty years ago, in 1932, Dublin hosted the Eucharistic Congress. To commemorate this event, in the year in which the capital of Ireland has been chosen as the venue for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress (10-17 June 2012), a meeting with the title “Gathering and Remembering 1932” was held on 23 April. It was attended by over a 100 delegates, many of whom will participate in the Congress itself. In 1932 the Eucharistic Congress was celebrated throughout the country, though the main events took place in Dublin. Hundreds of participants flocked to the city to welcome the Pontifical Legate, who was then Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri. To mark the occasion the streets of Dublin were hung with bunting and all public offices were illuminated at night throughout the duration of the Congress. Memories and testimonials of the event were recounted at the meeting on 23 April. Angelo Bottone participated in it on behalf of SIR Europe.
The memories of those who were children at the time. The surviving participants in the Congress of 1932, all of tender age at the time, recalled the jovial atmosphere that accompanied the whole duration of the event. The city, especially in its drabber and more impoverished quarters, had been transformed into a riot of colours: flags, flowers, ribbons, portable altars. Everything had been prepared to impress the thousands of foreign visitors and to celebrate so important an event. Sister Josephine Bourke, now in her nineties, participated in the children’s mass. “We remained in the city that evening and, something very unusual for the time, we were taken on a tour round the city to see the illuminated monuments, the decorated quarters. The sky was lit up with a luminous sign saying ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’. For one night the city belonged to everyone and even children could stroll at their ease in a festive atmosphere”. Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri, Pontifical Legate, arrived by ship and was welcomed by an aerial squadron forming the sign of the cross. From the harbour to the city centre, the nine-mile route was lined by two interminable rows of schoolchildren, some 36,000 in all. The profound religious sense of the Irish population struck the many foreign bishops and participants. It was altogether an event that was brimful of faith, but also of a joy that still transpires from the recollections of those who were children at the time. “In 1932 I was eleven years old and a real madcap – recalls Sister Monica McMahon –, during the recitation of the rosary in Phoenix Park I stood up and cried out to the whole world: ‘That’s our parish priest, he’s a holy man!’. My sister, embarrassed by my outburst, immediately shut me up”.
The voice of the tenor McCormack. The Congress of 1932 was a popular event that involved not only the city of Dublin but also rural Ireland. Paddy Dowling, now canon of Dublin Cathedral, was only just over the age of three at the time. “We lived some forty kilometres from the capital and we didn’t have a radio at home. Everyone tried to go into the city. My father emptied the little van he used for his work and filled it with people. During the mass my father said to me: ‘Look, that’s John McCormack. Don’t forget it, don’t forget it!’, and ever since then the image of him has been stamped in my memory”. Panis Angelicus sung during the offertory by John McCormack, the most famous Irish tenor, is an indelible memory in all us veterans. McCormack’s voice moved not only the huge throng that had gathered in Phoenix Park, probably a half million people, but also reached the whole country thanks to a brand-new radio transmission service that would later become Ireland’s national radio.
The political implications. During the commemorative event a documentary with original newsreel coverage showed something of the importance, not only religious but political, of the Congress in 1932, emphasizing aspects that the participants, given their young age, could not have gasped in 1932. After a ferocious civil war, the Congress provided Ireland, which had only recently won her independence, with the opportunity to show unity and efficiency to the whole world. The Fianna Fail party, whose leaders had been excommunicated during the civil war, had recently come to power with a minority government and seized the occasion to seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church. Historians recognize that the Catholic identity of the fledgling Irish State, later enshrined in the Constitution of 1937, had a founding moment in the Congress of 1932. The participants included Liam Cosgrave, now 92 years old, former Prime Minister and son of William T Cosgrave, first President of the new State. “I remember walking for kilometres to go to the children’s mass. Everything had been organized to perfection, with a great deployment of soldiers and Garda (Ireland’s national police). A sea of faces united in a wonderful movement that created an excellent opinion of the new Irish state”. This year’s International Eucharistic Congress will have a different tone and a different value, in view of the social changes that have taken place in recent decades and the delicate relations that currently subsist between the Republic of Ireland and the Catholic Church. It will have an international character (25,000 people are expected to attend each day, representing 100 countries) and comprise a programme of 160 events with a special section dedicated to youth between the ages of 18 and 25.