Thank you all for attending today here in the RDS in Dublin as we formally launch the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Ireland next year.  Most of the week-long celebration will be based on this historic campus and Fr Kevin Doran and his planning team have relocated here.

The 49th International Eucharistic Congress took place in Quebec City, Canada in 2008. Pope Benedict’s announcement that Ireland had been chosen to host the 50th Congress was broadcast live from Rome as part of the final Mass of that Congress.

I, along with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Fr Doran and other Irish pilgrims who were attending the Congress in Canada at the time, felt honoured, excited and humbled that the Holy Father had chosen our country to host the next International Eucharistic Congress in 2012.

But our excitement soon gave way to a keen realisation of the logistical demands that such a large-scale and important week-long project places on the Catholic Church in Ireland.  More will be said on that issue by others here today.  What I would like to highlight this morning is the purpose of the Eucharistic Congress, and my hopes for it.

The purpose of every Eucharistic Congress is to deepen understanding of, and devotion to, the Holy Eucharist which is central to our Catholic faith.  That devotion holds a special place in the affection of Irish Catholics.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of every follower of Jesus. The hosting of the Congress in Ireland serves not just our local Church, but it will be an international event.  The celebration will attract thousands of pilgrims and will enable Catholics, at home and abroad, to meet and participate in daily Masses, discuss issues of faith, take part in workshops, witness reflections, and take part in adoration of the Eucharist.

Of course this is the second time that the International Eucharistic Congress has been hosted in Ireland. The 1932 Congress in Dublin was considered an organisational success and it publicly showcased Catholic faith in the newly established State.   But we live in different times now.  I know that the Organising Committee will seek to reflect those different times in next year’s Congress.   

It is our hope that the 2012 Congress will assist renewal in the Catholic Church in Ireland by reflecting on the centrality of the Eucharist at the heart of our increasingly diverse community, and give renewed impetus to the living of faith.

Last Thursday at Confirmation in Dromintee, Co Armagh, I met a 90 year old man who proudly told me that he had been at the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and that he hoped, with the help of God, to be at next year’s as well.  I know that hope is shared by tens of thousands of people throughout Ireland.

Since 2008 much preparation has already taken place for the Congress and this has concentrated on catechesis on the Eucharist for parishes and encouraging volunteers to support the many activities of the Congress.  This year a National Eucharistic Congress will take place to coincide with Feast of Corpus Christi on the last weekend of June.

This National Eucharistic Congress will involve workshops and liturgies and will be celebrated in Knock and in all 26 dioceses on the island.   As part of this Congress, in June this year, we are holding an International Conference on prayer in Armagh.  It is entitled Spiritfest and will have many speakers from abroad.  Bishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare and Rev Ruth Patterson, of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, will give it an ecumenical dimension. This National Eucharistic Congress will mark the beginning of the final year of preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress in 2012.  

Today is about putting the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland “on the map”.  I especially wish to acknowledge the valuable involvement of the media in this task.  Please continue to take an interest in this important Church initiative.

In a few moments we will hear the story of the Congress Bell and I look forward to hearing the wonderful Eucharistic Congress hymn “Though We Are Many” sung by the choir from the Holy Child Secondary School, Killiney.  In Armagh too a special hymn has been composed for Spiritfest.

Finally, this morning I ask that the faithful pray to the Holy Spirit to lead us all to a greater appreciation of the presence of Jesus in our midst, for love of us, in the gift of the Eucharist.                            Thank you