By Jim Fair

“The world has closed up, our hearts have opened up” – was the title of the unique online pre-meeting, organized by the Secretary of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) that has been postponed to next September. Faithful should have attended the Catholic world meeting between 13 to 20 September in Budapest. However, the pandemic has overwritten the plans, and the event is going to be held in September 2021.

Given the huge interest – by March this year some 60,000 registered participants have been recorded – during the originally scheduled week of the Congress, upon Cardinal Péter Erdő’s invitation, many guest speakers gave testimony, shared their thoughts both on the pandemic, its impact on the faith, and on the Eucharist as well on the world event’s YouTube channel, in video messages.

View all the presentations here

These short videos arrived from 5 continents and through them, a special pre-meeting could take place, even if only online. During this week viewers could hear heartbreaking messages from Nigeria suffering both from hunger and religious persecution or from Iraq just awakening from the post-war shock. Some speakers recalled their experience of deepening their faith during the quarantine. The short videos were preceded by Cardinal Péter Erdő’s very personal, heart-felt introductions.

Mons. Piero Marini sent his message to Budapest from Rome. The President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses emphasized that the coronavirus pointed out the understanding of what really mattered: Holy Masses have never stopped during the pandemic, but manifested in solidarity that had been inspired by the Eucharist, instead. Mons. Marini also called us for an ecological conversion, since in the hope of a better future, we are responsible for our planet as well as for our fellow men. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York highlighted the pontifical guidance, pursuant to which “there is no renewal in the Church unless there is a renewal of our deep faith.” Father Konstantin Szabó, a Greek Catholic priest, was talking about his experience of having a fear of God, and about the deepening faith, he was going through during the forced confinement. In his message, he outlined, that “the most important was that we were able to go through this challenging period with love.”

All along the history of the International Eucharistic Congresses since 1881, it has never happened that a pandemic would have prevented the celebration of one of the largest Catholic events. Nor has ever occurred that this world event itself was preceded by an online pre-meeting.

Pope Francis, who was also to attend the Closing Mass of the World Meeting in Budapest extended his greetings. Today, following the usual Sunday Angelus the Pontiff greeted Hungary, the pastors, the faithful, and all those who were expecting with faith and joy the Budapest International Eucharistic Congress. Pope Francis asked everyone: “Spiritually united, let us continue the preparation, finding the source of the Church’s life and mission in the Eucharist.”

The pre-meeting was ended by Cardinal Péter Erdő’s message. The Primate of Hungary was talking in Heroes’ Square, from the site where the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress would have been closed by the Statio Orbis on 20th September -according to the preliminary plans- with the participation of Pope Francis. And where the 1938 Catholic World Meeting, also held in the Hungarian capital, had started and ended. Péter Erdő sent his message from the very same square, where Hungary, as a freshly liberated country from the communist dictatorship, had welcomed Pope John Paul II in 1991, and where the Pontiff had been praying together with more than half a million faithful. According to Cardinal Péter Erdő, the pandemic has brought us profound lessons. As he worded it: “the desire for the Eucharist dominated this year. May God grant that next year at this time we may really celebrate together with the believers arriving from all over the world.”

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