The Eucharist is the source of mercy that spreads beyond the walls of the church
Pál Molnár, the reporter of Gondola interviewed Cardinal Peter Erdő on the ongoing preparations of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.
- Your Eminence, allow me to cite the words of “The Eucharist”, a poem by Mihály Babits as it follows: “Christ, our King, is not dead. Our King is still alive.” This poem rhymes with the motto of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress: “Meet Jesus in Budapest”. How do we know that Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is the place where Jesus will demonstrate that he is alive, in the middle of September 2020.
- We will see when the event takes place. All joking aside, the presence of God in the world is a very profound issue. We believe and confess that He is present all around. We believe and confess that He is a spiritual reality. But how can the spirit be present in the material? The spirit is not bound to any place. He is present everywhere through His acts. This is why it is possible for God to be present in many ways at the same time, in the same place. This is why we say that our churches are the houses of God, and that He is present in the Eucharist in a unique manner. But in the Eucharist He is present together with the glorified Jesus Christ, which questions the boundaries of the material and the spirit. Seeing the diversity of the presence of God, the IEC 2020 must be a very concentrated and inviting event that makes the participants feel that He really is here with us. By the way, it is a very special experience in society – I have almost said the globalized world – when a feeling, a thought or a sentiment wraps around the whole world in a split second. I think the media gained a special experience with it, too. When Pope John Paul II was dying one billion people were watching on TV what was happening in Rome. When he finally gave his soul back to God people all around the world gathered spontaneously to pray. Here in Budapest, several groups gathered in front of the churches and asked to be let in because they wanted to pray in the churches. The waves of goodness and faith are able to spread all over the world. Of course, this can happen to the waves of vengeance and fear as well. So, there is variety of such experiences. However, these kind of collective acts and feelings promises a special experience with the Holy Spirit and His mercy. We believe that we can see the presence of Jesus on this level too that goes beyond our everyday life.
- Divine poems can also help with having some great moments of spiritual power. A book of poems will be published with the support of the president of the Social Committee of the IEC and the President of Hungary, Mr. János Áder. Nowadays it is easier to reach out to people through electronic media, but this book will be published in hard copies. How can it be transmitted to the youth?
- First of all, the role of the books is in a transition now. Historically the book is a means of information storage. If we want to store information, we have to publish books. Though, books have a second meaning. A book has aesthetic value: its calligraphy, the paper and its binding all can add something extra. A book creates a harmonic and unique entity and has an added value in case the information carried is available by other means. The same thing has happened in the history of painting and graphics. Basically, before the invention of photographs, paintings served the purpose of recording but they demonstrated feelings and other lush material substance at the same time. Later, when photography became widespread, painting did not vanish but its role switched from recording to express added value, for example transmitting an impression or hidden thoughts. All in all, I believe something similar is happening to printed books now. Auctions and international book trade experience support this thought. Old books have not lost their values. This edition is a beautiful book. Its price is not too high either regarding its beauties and harmony. It is a pleasure to hold this lovely book. If you open it anywhere you have a rather different feeling than to read the same poem on the internet. I truly believe it can be a really nice present to anybody regardless the age. The selection of poems is unique too. Besides the works of catholic authors there are writings inspired by experiences in other Christian communities or in the laic life but all of them demonstrate solid faith in god. This book speaks in many ways and in many voices making it sure that everybody find his or her own piece in it. And that is the mission of this book.
- More to the point of poems: the public television broadcasts the program “Estéli Zsoltár” (Evening Psalm) which is likely to give a more vivid experience than the printed texts. How can this program add to the preparation of IEC2020?
- Firstly, reciting a poem is an interpretation too. In other words actors interpret the text for themselves and for the audience as well. Sometimes they reveal or add feelings or thoughts that would not be found by simply reading the poem from a book. So, recitation makes communication richer and more colourful. There are some actors who are the masters of this type of interpretation. It may happen that someone in the audience will be touched deeply by the recitation. And to add some more to those who recite... an elderly man once told me he became religious when he had to learn a divine poem by heart at school. Later he recalled and reinterpreted the poem several times and finally he realised that it must have been true. So, the artists themselves may gain spiritual wealth by reciting divine poetry.
- Short films have been made with unknown testifiers. This type of content was excluded from the public media before 1990, but now it can be broadcasted to people. How can this new type of content promote to adjust to IEC2020?
- Repeatedly: if you meet Jesus, if the goal is to meet Him, it is important to share the experience of other people who have already met Him. How did it happen to them? How did they recognise it? How did this meeting change their lives? I think this is a very important part of our programme. Jesus Christ lived in a certain age as a man of a nation in a given era but there is quite a number of everyday situations which he did not experience personally. Though, the experiences of His followers demonstrate His ideal of life in hundreds of ways. These situations are closer to the audience. For that reason it is of utmost importance that the Catholic Church has canonized or beatified quite a lot of martyrs of the twentieth century. It is important because saints also take the bus, wear pullovers, their passports can be refused. All of these situations when He gave the clue how to act and stay faithful are close to our hearts. Maybe these lessons help us to learn how to act in our lives if we want to follow Him.
- The bravery of testifiers was an issue of the world congress the importance of which is that nowadays 8 out of 10 people killed for their religion are Christians. Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Our fellow believers are killed far away from Europe. How can the IEC encourage those people, who face life threatening danger because of their faith?
- First of all, it is a world congress, so people attend it from all over the world and we will have guests to testify about Christian persecution. They will join us from Africa, from the Middle East or from post-soviet countries where they had to see these situations through. Their testimony is important for the world. Publicity encourages the persecuted Christians as persecution is spoken out loud and cannot be hidden. Those who sinfully cooperate in the persecution of Christians shall see that their sins have been revealed.
- In remote areas Christians are targeted by shotguns, while in Europe and in Hungary those who confess to be the followers of Christ are targets for the arrows of irony. How does the IEC empower the Christians of Hungary and Europe?
- In my view, the pure fact of the existence of such a large public event with an enormous audience and that the Congress itself and the faith in God are present in public media empowers believers. Believers are equal citizens, so we have the fundamental right to express our thoughts and beliefs. It is crucial for believers to stand up for themselves and for their faith.
- Another important goal of the Congress is to promote the dialogue between churches and nations. The Congress awaits Protestants and Orthodox believers besides Catholics. What is the relevance of this fact with regard to the Christianity of the world?
- In the first place, the IEC is a Catholic event. As the place of organisation is changing from event to event, the circumstances of the host countries vary widely. In the Philippines, for example on Cebu Island, the main religion is Catholicism. In Hungary, we live together with other Christian communities, which have to be demonstrated in the organisation of the event and the whole year before it, bearing in mind the importance of mutual respect and the appreciation of unity. The scientific preparatory congresses made significant steps forward in this way, and we have a smooth cooperation with the other Christian churches. We are looking for cultural programmes in which we can cooperate next year. Budapest is a colourful city, so people will have the opportunity to pick the best events for themselves. As I see, many are planning right in advance, because they ask if they can come a couple of days before the Congress or stay a couple of days longer. Certainly, they can, the only thing they have to do is to register in time and book the accommodation.
- Three years ago, in the Philippines, when Hungary was granted with the possibility of organising the next IEC, we could see a great example of understanding among nations. You received congratulations from Romanian and Czech participants and they promised to join the Budapest congress. These two nations have historical issues with Hungary. How do you see the role of the congress with regard to the understanding of nations?-
- History brings a permanent change in the relation of different nations. Opposition amongst Catholic bishops is inconceivable in our region. We feel more and more that we are all in the same boat. So we are fellows, we cope with similar pastoral situations and challenges. Our difficulties do not arise from the neighbouring countries or nations, but from the secularised world and the existence or the lack of faith in it. We can cooperate in this field. I guess we managed to reach reconciliation and we can focus on collaboration. For example, I really look forward to taking part in the inauguration of Bishop Aurel Perca as the new archbishop of
Bucharest, on the 11th January 2020. Hungarian bishops received personal invitations to the ceremony, emphasizing that they would be very welcome. So we will be there. Likewise, Prague is a city, where Central- European bishops are pleased to meet from all of the Visegrad countries.
- Recently, you have visited Brasilia, South-Korea, Rome and Madrid to consult on the IEC. The congress awaits participants from a lot of countries, among others from countries in great difficulties, like Nigeria. How significant you think the Budapest IEC will be with a global view?
- By all means, the IEC will have a significant impact. Participants will arrive from every continent, so from Africa, too. Allow me to mention a tiny example: the Conference of South- African Catholic Bishops printed the logo on the cover of its liturgical calendar, which is there in every church as it shows the theme of the mass for each day. It is a sensitive issue, because they are good friends, probably they would like to visit the IEC with a bigger contingency. It is also crucial that the theological texts of the Congress are translated and published in many languages. These issues are widely available, for instance, in religious bookshops, or at the universities in Rome, and everywhere in the world. In addition, the registration has been launched for the Congress, and we have already had quite a lot of registrations. The invitees from Europe, Latin-America, the Middle-East, India and Korea have confirmed their participation, and we are still waiting for answers from China. The archbishop of Rio accepted to perform on the first day of the congress, despite his situation not being so favourable as a group of Brazilian bishops will also be on an ad limina visit to Pope Francis. He asked me to book him a ticket for the Csík Band concert in the afternoon, and he will join the event in Rome the next day. We are in a great situation. I was approached by the legate delegated to the EU in Brussels, the president of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) and the president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the EU (COMECE) who is the president of the International Association for altar boys and girls as well. I told him to bring a lot of altar boys and girls with him, because there will be a meeting taking place for them, too. We have gained very good experiences so far and received a lot of different questions, for example on how to get a visa to visit Hungary for the Congress. We told them to file their applications on time and indicate that they are delegates for the Congress. We have copious amounts of information, and fortunately they are available online. Practically speaking, we are very busy with requests and arranging travel, but the great number of spontaneous inquiries makes me happy.
- The globalism of the IEC is demonstrated by the vestments made by Italian nuns. How does this fact contribute to the joy about the IEC?
- First of all, I proudly declare that all the vestments are completed and have already arrived in Budapest in huge packs of 250 and 500 kilograms. Referring to the style, they look modern, give a reference to the logo of the IEC, but I believe they can be worn after the Congress, too. These investments are important contributions for the Hungarian Catholic Church. The vestments report on the conversation concerning the artistic expression. Here I would like to insert a word on the monstrance, the tender for which had been won by a Hungarian artist. The monstrance has been finished and will be carried in the procession between the Parliament and Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square).
- A great first communion will take place with thousands of young people on the first Sunday of the Congress, in Puskás Arena. Are you delighted about the organisation of this event?
- Yes, I am, but it is not easy. We have received 3500 registrations so far and it is still open. We would like to include participants from abroad. We have a group from Bucharest, too. I just would like to show that this is an attractive possibility for many young people. They do not think of it, that it is useless to take part in a mass event, when it is more convenient to organise the first communion in the local church. Actually, it really is more practical to have the event in the local community, but this event will accompany those children who take part on it through their lives. A first communion party can be thrown afterwards at home to delight the community.
- There will be the closing mass the following Sunday. How does it refer to the 1938 Budapest Eucharistic Congress? Is it mentioned at all?
- Certainly, it is, as the closing mass was celebrated at the same place 80 years ago. The altar was a little higher then, as it can be seen in the photos. It was so high that a special elevator was needed to raise the participants there. We do not plan to build such a huge altar, but it is sure that it will be almost at the same place, somewhere near the middle of the square. We aim to provide as many seats as possible. In 1938, the Városligeti Lake was drained to gain more place. The view was not very good from there, despite the visitors having to pay an entrance fee. Now, those who would like to secure their seats are advised to register in advance and they will get it for free. Those who are late are also welcome, but it is not guaranteed that they will be seated.
- The 1938 IEC created enduring pieces. The hymn written by Béka Bangha, a Jesuit priest is still sung in masses. Do you think the values of IEC 2020 will last for eighty years?
-We cannot see the future, but it is certain that great values are created. A new songbook will be issued. The current songbook “Hosanna” was created in the 1930s to give a compilation of songs which would be well known for the Eucharistic Congress. It worked, as we still use it. Now the bishops decided to revise it. So, an important side effect of the IEC is the renewal of Hungarian religious music. As regards this issue, new masses and songs are composed. We will see which pieces will stand the test of time and will be preferred by either the religious or the non-religious audience, maybe in eighty years.
- The mission cross is done and on its way in the country now. More precisely it was renovated as its creator died years ago. How much is this cross heart-warming for the Hungarian Catholics?
- This cross is unique, because the ornaments embrace the relics of Hungarian saints. During its construction the question came back from time to time: who are the Hungarian saints. For example, if a martyr bishop died in Ukraine or Czechoslovakia and her native language was not Hungarian but he had attended the Central Seminar in Budapest – then is he a Hungarian saint or not? Or somebody, who created a community with his testimony, definitely must be part of our community. Or for example, there is Anton Durcorovic, the bishop of Jászvásár diocese, who died in prison and was beatified as a martyr. The relics of these people are on the cross together with the ancient saints such as Bishop Gellért. This cross demonstrates our spiritual identity and binds us together with the neighbouring nations. Maybe, this is the reason why the cross is repeatedly taken to the neighbouring countries – to Zagreb, Slovakia and the Vojvodina region in Serbia as well as the Transcarpathia region in Ukraine and Romania. And where the cross goes an exhibition on the lives of these saints accompanies it.
This is a substantial message because it teaches us about these saints and about Christian testimony of today.
- Your colleagues travel around the country and speak about the Congress as part of the preparation. One of them speaks to 700 students in a parochial school, in Eger. It seems that the preparation itself is evangelisation. Do you think this will last for long?
- We hope so. It is not an individual case as perpetual adoration or longer Eucharistic adoration has been introduced in several places. Trainings have been launched on Eucharistic adoration, literally speaking on how to pray before the Eucharist. We aim to renew parochial life. For this reason we have translated two books from English. One of them is “Rebuilt – the Story of Catholic Parish”. This is a very important book as it points out that the parish is not a provider but the centre of the mission. Its aim is to invite the surrounding world into the faith. If this is our aim, then our life and activities have to be rebuilt accordingly. We started a training program for priests on this issue and convened the leaders or the representative bodies of the parishes. We added a series of duties which cannot be completed by next fall, however, we started a renewal process and it is also the result of the Congress.
- Target group is a trendy expression today. Is there a target group of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress or it is organised for everybody?
- Basically, it is organised for everybody, as we go public with it. But it is obvious that it is more important for the Catholic community, and especially the Catholic communities of Hungary and of Budapest. I hope that all the participants and visitors can draw a lifetime inspiration, encouragement and faith for both their communities and their personal religious life.
- Why do you in person feel optimistic about the IEC?
- In particular for the same reason as it is stated by the motto of the Congress: “All my springs are in you”. I firmly believe that Christ and the Eucharist are sources of mercy that go beyond the walls of churches but spread all over the world. The power of mercy is also able to transform human relationships, and we are instruments for it. This is the most beautiful mission I know.
Photo by Vörös Szabolcs