The Eucharistic Congress is a landmark event. But how many will be there to see it?
A major moment in the life of the English and Welsh Church will take place next weekend. An estimated 5,000 people will process behind the Blessed Sacrament through Liverpool’s streets, passing cocktail bars, cafes, a university and a recently closed Masonic hall. The procession will circle back to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral, where Benediction will be given from the top of the steps.
The event is the culmination of Adoremus, the National Eucharistic Congress. The last time a major congress on the Eucharist was held in England was in 1908, when permission for a Blessed Sacrament procession was refused on the grounds that it was “provocative to Protestant sentiment”. (A procession without the Blessed Sacrament went ahead anyway, drawing 40,000 people.) This time, far from protesting, Protestant leaders will be part of the procession. Walking alongside Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool will be the city’s Anglican bishop and leaders from the Methodist, Baptist and Congregationalist churches.
The congress is the result of two years of planning. In the spring of 2016 Cardinal Vincent Nichols proposed the idea to the bishops’ conference. Eucharistic congresses happen periodically – the last one was in Birmingham in 2005, while he was the city’s archbishop – but in recent history they had been local, rather than national events. Cardinal Nichols, a Liverpudlian, specifically suggested that it be held in Liverpool.
(Some have wondered if this might be a way to banish the memory of a previous Liverpool gathering, the 1980 National Pastoral Congress, whose lay delega tes declared “we are the Easter people” and suggested the Church needed to review its teaching on contraception.)
Next weekend’s congress is spread over three days. The first day, on the Friday, is a symposium featuring talks on various aspects of the Blessed Sacrament – from teaching children to pray in front of the Eucharist to Fr Ian Ker on Adoration in the era of Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi.
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