LIVERPOOL – Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster asked God for forgiveness for the actions of his fellow bishops on Saturday during the largest ecclesial event in England in nearly a decade.
Nichols, who heads the bishops’ conference for England and Wales, acknowledged the failings of “my fellow bishops” – which he said “are there for all to see” – during the second day of the Adoremus Eucharistic Congress taking place in Liverpool.
“We come before [Jesus] knowing our failings, sensing anger in many hearts, knowing the face of evil in our midst,” the cardinal said.
“As bishops we are bound to each other, as one of this college of bishops I come before the Lord with little to offer, only to ask for a share in his new life. I come as a beggar seeking forgiveness, laying the load of the hurt, damage, and mistrust we have caused at the foot of the cross,” he continued.
The Eucharistic Congress has not been dominated by the issue of clerical sexual abuse, as was last month’s World Meeting of Families in Ireland, and the focus of the talks has been on the Catholic heritage of England and Wales and the rejuvenation of the Church in Britain.
The British government has established an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which has investigated allegations of abuse in Catholic institutions, with the cooperation of Church authorities, but it has not led to the same heated reaction as similar findings in Ireland’s abuse commissions, the royal commission in Australia, or the recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.
Katie Prejean McGrady – an American Catholic author and podcaster who was the keynote speaker at the Adoremus youth event – later said on Twitter that many people had been asking her “How’s the American Church doing with all this?”
“I’ve been honest. Told them it’s been a rough few weeks. Lots of questions. Fewer answers. Broken hearts,” she said.
“A kind old priest, with the best Irish brogue ever, said ‘My dear, the Church this side of the world is praying for ya all, and Lord knows we all just need to come together and love that Jesus a bit more.’ I found comfort in that,” she tweeted.
The keynote speaker of the event was Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron.
“The Church which is going through a painful time, and during these periods it is so important that we return to the fundamentals, and that means above all Christ in the Eucharist,” he said.
The American bishop spoke about the “rising tide of secularism” in the world today, “especially among the young.”
“You walk outside the door of any church in the Western world and you are in mission country,” Barron said.
In his message to the Congress, Pope Francis called on participants to “follow the Lord in service to the poor.”
“May each of you hear afresh the summons of the Lord to share this saving joy in practical concern for the material and spiritual needs of the poorest of our brothers and sisters,” the pontiff said, adding that “the life of Christian discipleship brings with it unique challenges and calls for great selflessness especially in humble service to those most in need.”
Francis also remembered the countless English and Welsh saints and martyrs, many of whom died for their devotion to the Eucharist.
He said their suffering “speaks not so much of human cruelty as of the serenity and strength given by God’s grace in the face of trials.”
“They are rightly to be venerated and the Church in England and Wales must never lose sight of their precious memory. Remaining faithful to that spiritual legacy requires more than an act of remembrance,” Francis said.
“We must continue to bear witness to the same Lord and the same precious gift of the Eucharist today, for past glories are always a beginning and not an end. The Lord is calling you still to go out and bear witness. I pray that through a greater participation in the sacrificial gift of Jesus in the form of bread and wine you may all be sustained in faith and renewed in joyful missionary discipleship,” the pope continued.
The Eucharistic Congress was scheduled to end on Sunday with a Mass at Liverpool’s Cathedral and a Eucharistic Procession.
“There is not one iota of triumphalism or pride in our steps. In many ways ours is a penitential procession for we are focused on Jesus whom we have crucified,” Nichols said on Saturday.
“Yet we walk with a humble joy for he takes our failure, cruelty and deceit and overcomes it all with his love and mercy. He is our salvation and it is our humble joy to let his face be seen, his face of tender compassion and hope for our broken world.”