Catholic Throwback Thursday: Remembering the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia
(Photo: Richard Taylor)
Do you remember where you were during this first week in August in 1976?
Thirty-eight years ago I was among the throngs of Catholics from around the world present in Philadelphia for one of the largest spiritual gatherings in the history of our nation. And the 41st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), coincidentally, took place from August 1-8, 1976 during our nation's bicentennial year in the historic city of Brotherly Love.
What is an International Eucharistic Congress (IEC)?
1. First held in 1881 in the French city of Lille, these Eucharistic Congresses are gatherings of clergy, religious, and the faithful in order to promote devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
2. The first IEC to take place in the United States was the 28th International Eucharistic Congress which was held in Chicago from June 20–24, 1926. Hosted by Cardinal George Mundelein, the Archbishop of Chicago, the closing Mass was held on the campus of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary.
3. Usually held every four years, the most recent IEC took place in Dublin, Ireland from June 10–17, 2012. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The congress theme was taken from “Lumen Gentium:” The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another."
The official IEC website from Dublin includes enough great resources to make you feel as if you attended firsthand. Check it out.
4. Watch Pope Benedict XVI speak via satellite to those gathered in Dublin to announce the location of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress to be held in 2016 in Cebu, Philippines.
Enjoy hearing the cheers from the Filipino community and watching their ethnic Alleluia dance in response to the Holy Father's announcement.
5. This 2016 Cebu, Philippines Eucharistic Congress, with the theme "Christ in You: Our Hope of Glory,” has opened an official website which is updated regularly for those who plan to attend as well as those of us who are interested in keeping up to date on the developments.
6. Fun fact: Did you ever hear of the Aboriginal Mass at the 1973 IEC?
"Love one another as I have loved you." Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan served as the papal legate, representing His Holiness Pope Paul VI there in Melbourne in his last official act before retiring as Archbishop of Baltimore.
Notably, he presided over the Australian Aboriginal Liturgy on the afternoon of February 24 which was attended by almost 30,000 people. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Australia recall that this was "one of the most memorable occasions of the Congress... Aboriginal singers and dancers from north and west of Australia took an active part in a celebration which broke new ground in the Church's liturgical renewal.”
Cardinal Shehan wore vestments made at the Bathurst Island Mission off the northern Australian coast for this Mass which featured 100 aborigines in full war paint and native dress performing an interpretative dance of the Last Supper in lieu of the first scripture reading.
Cardinal Shehan presiding at the Aboriginal Mass on February 24, 1973:
(Photo: MDHC Archdiocese of Melbourne)
Remembering the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia:
Cardinal John Krol, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, hosted over a million pilgrims in 1976 to this international celebration of the Blessed Sacrament. The central overarching theme was "Jesus, the Bread of Life" with "The Eucharist and the Hungers of the Human Family" providing the eight daily sub-themes which were the focus of the talks, workshops, exhibits, concerts, daily Masses with top-notch homilies, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Seminars addressed a huge variety of topics and audiences, including family life, world hunger, social justice, women, the charismatic renewal, youth, the experience of Black Catholics, religious life, and an ecumenical symposium.
The eight daily sub-themes were:
August 1: The Hunger for God;
August 2: The Hunger for Bread;
August 3: The Hunger for Freedom and Justice;
August 4: The Hunger for the Spirit;
August 5: The Hunger for Truth;
August 6: The Hunger for Understanding;
August 7: The Hunger for Peace;
August 8: The Hunger for Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Princess Grace of Monaco and her family attended the Opening Mass for the International Eucharistic Congress at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on the morning of August 1. This Mass was concelebrated by almost 200 bishops from around the world.
That first evening included a candle-lit procession down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which ended with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Mother Teresa joined the procession on August 1. Hers was not yet a household name, as this small nun from Calcutta had just started to receive acclaim for her work with the poorest of the poor.
(Photo: Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center/Robert and Theresa Halvey Collection)
The entire event was a whirlwind of uplifting spiritual festivities attended by Catholics from all over the world, along with a "who's who" of Catholic celebrities. I was thrilled and exhilarated to be in the same room as Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Cardinal Leo Suenens, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and Jesuit Father-General Pedro Arrupe, SJ.
Looking back, there was no special security. I walked past Mother Teresa a number of times that week, once as she made her way through the crowd to get to the restroom. World-famous cardinals and archbishops were surrounded in conversation by lay Catholics everywhere.
Princess Grace of Monaco, the former Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, chats with Cardinal Krol before the start of the Family Life Symposium on August 2.
“To share the same basic feelings and beliefs, to have had a similar Christian background and training is of great importance in family life... In my situation, marrying a man from a different country, different language and different cultures... it would have been extremely difficult without the strong basic bond of our religion."
-- Princess Grace of Monaco
Dom Hélder Câmara was a featured speaker on the panel for "The Hunger for Freedom and Justice," sharing the stage with Mother Teresa and Vatican secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Benelli. He spoke of "the great scandal of the century . . . We are trying to reach other planets, leaving our own planet with over two-thirds of humanity in misery and hunger."
"Like my dear brother, Martin Luther King, I have a dream… When one person dreams alone, it is only a dream. When we dream together, it is the beginning of reality."
-- Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil
Catholic Relief Services launched the first "Operation Rice Bowl" just before the 1976 IEC and it netted $5 million that first year.
“God picked a woman to be able to show his love and compassion for the world.”
-- Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Listen to Mother Teresa speak from this session here (5 minutes)
(Photo: John Murello)
Another highlight among the panel discussions was hearing Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day share the stage and speak on “Women and the Eucharist.” Read Mother Teresa’s full speech here.
Reunited at the "Catholic Worker" newspaper office at Maryhouse, New York City in 1979, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day are here with Eileen Egan who shared the stage with them back in 1976.
(Photo: Bill Barrett/Marquette University Archives)
One of the most riveting homilies I heard that week was delivered by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who spoke on “Mary, Tabernacle of the Lord.” Read his inspiring homily here.
"Everyone, make the Holy Hour, and you will discover as you leave the divine Presence that if you move among people in the world, they will say of you as the maid said of Peter, “You have been with Christ.” And then at the end of a lifetime spent in adoration of the Lord, and in love of the Blessed Mother, of the Blessed Sacrament, when you come before the Lord do you know what He will say to you? He will say, “I heard my Mother speak of you.”
--Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on Eucharistic Adoration
Future pope and saint:
Also in attendance was the relatively-unknown Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who attended the Congress along with 21 other Polish bishops and archbishops, before continuing a tour of Polish parishes and communities throughout the country. Stops included Baltimore, Buffalo, and Chicago.
Cardinal Wojtyla (center) and the entourage of bishops from Poland visited the Polish Museum of America in Chicago on August 21, two weeks after the IEC concluded.
(Photo: Polish Museum of America)
Pope Saint John Paul II attended every International Eucharistic Congress from the 1973 event in Melbourne (40th) when he was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla until his death in 2005.
Mother Teresa overlooking the large exhibit hall from the upper level: Exhibits included displays and handouts from religious, ethnic, and educational groups, religious communities and Catholic colleges, as well as a huge display of liturgical art.
(Photo: Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center)
On display in the lobby of the Philadelphia Civic Center was the bronze statue “Jesus Breaking Bread.” Commissioned for this IEC, the six foot tall sculpture was made by Walter Erlebacher (1933–1991). After the conclusion of the eight day event, it was moved near the sidewalk outside the Cathedral (now Basilica) of Saints Peter and Paul at Logan Square, 18th and Race Streets.
(Photo: Museum without Walls)
“It is fitting that you gather here in the City of Brotherly Love, where 200 years ago my country declared its national independence with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence.”
– President Gerald R. Ford addressing the congregation prior to the Closing Mass at JFK Stadium on August 8, 1976
“Statio Orbis” (“Assembly of the World”)
(Photo: Religion News Service/ John Lei)
The Statio Orbis (closing Mass) was held at JFK Stadium and attended by President Gerald R. Ford who addressed the capacity crowd. The main celebrant was Cardinal James Robert Knox, papal legate and former Archbishop of Melbourne (1967–1974), who was serving at that time as the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (1974–1983).
President Ford addressed those gathered before the liturgy began. You can read the complete text of his remarks here.
Pope Paul VI also addressed the congregation, speaking via satellite from Rome to conclude the 41st International Eucharistic Congress. Read his short reflection here.
It was difficult and even disappointing to attempt to capture the right moments to share this incredible spiritual event with you. The technology of photography has changed so drastically in the past four decades. The best IEC photographs from both the religious press and the White House look old, dark, and grainy by today's standards.
Our grandchildren will be surely be able to look back with clarity on anything that has happened in their lifetimes due to the advances made over the years. May they preserve their digital storage well!!
The official hymn of the 41st International Eucharistic Congress:
"Gift of Finest Wheat" with music by Robert Kreutz (tune name: Bicentennial) and lyrics by Omer Westendorf.
Enjoy this version conducted by Richard Proulx with the Cathedral Singers:
8/7/2014 9:52:18 AM
By Patti Murphy Dohn