The following address was given by His Eminence, Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte, who is Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. He served as Special Envoy of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the Eucharistic Congress held in St. Louis, Missouri on June 15-16, 2001.
In 1940, 1 was twelve years old and an altar boy in our parish Church in Belgium. That was the year that the armies of Nazi Germany invaded Belgium and pushed back the Belgian Army. British Divisions came to our help, but by the 23rd of May, on Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Holy Eucharist, German tanks were at the border of my village.
On the other side of the Church, Belgian and British Divisions had taken their positions in trenches. They were going to fight the Germans to prevent them from having easy access to the English Channel; this would allow the British Army time to evacuate and return to England instead of being taken prisoner. In the morning, a group of Belgian soldiers and engineers told us that they were going to blow up our Church because it stood too close to the river. It would have offered a perfect platform for the German soldiers to shoot into the trenches where the Belgian and the British soldiers were ready to fight.
They stuffed the tower of our Church with two thousand kilograms of dynamite. The pastor was not home because he was visiting refugees. The assistant pastor was not home because he was visiting the sick. The sacristan grabbed me to help save what we could from the Church. He took me to the Tabernacle, opened it, and gave me the ciborium with the Hosts, and said, "And now you run with it to the Sisters' convent." I had barely reached the Sisters' convent when behind me the Church disappeared. I will never forget that moment. It was the first time in my life that I was allowed to carry the Holy Eucharist. And that moment came back to me the day I was ordained a Priest in 1952, the day I was ordained a Bishop by Pope John Paul 11 in 1984 and the day I was made a Cardinal. In fact, at that moment this remembrance came a little bit late because when the Holy Father told me about making me a Cardinal, it was unusual. We were in the midst of a Synod of Bishops' meeting, so every morning I would go down to the entrance of the hall to greet the Holy Father when he arrived. That Thursday morning, the Holy Father got out of the car and he said, "Good Morning, Cardinal" and I thought he was talking to someone behind me. So I didn't react; but then he pulled me by my sleeve and said, "Don't you understand?" I said, "Holy Father, does it seem to mean what I think it is meaning?" "Yes, Cardinal," he said, and that is how I knew I would be made a Cardinal.
I have been able to accompany the Holy Father on several of his travels. Everywhere the Holy Father finds time to go a chapel, kneel in front of the tabernacle or prostrate himself on the steps leading to the tabernacle and stay there in prayer for fifteen minutes or a half hour because, to him, this is important in life.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, the tradition of a Eucharistic procession was reinstated by the Holy Father; it had been suspended for several hundred years. So the first Corpus Christi feast of his Pontificate, he conducted the procession of the Blessed Sacrament from St. John Lateran Church through the streets of Rome to the Church of St. Mary Major.
On Christmas the Holy Father insisted on having over St. Peter's grave a Nativity scene and a Christmas tree. Before, it didn't exist. In all these centuries since the Nativity scene was promoted by St. Francis of Assisi, never had there been a Nativity scene on St. Peter's grave. But this Pope said, "I want it there."
The Pope also demanded that the Stations of the Cross be publicly exposed in St. Peter's Square. So, if people found the Basilica closed, they could still say devotions to the suffering Christ.
All of these things made it immediately clear what was important to the Holy Father. In his Pontificate, the emphasis would be put on Jesus Christ. And not on the Jesus Christ that some people invent in their minds, not on the Jesus Christ that some call a great Prophet, not on the Christ that some present as a great social worker, or as a revolutionary who went against the occupying troops of the Romans, but as Jesus Christ presented Himself: the Son of God and the Holy Redeemer of mankind. And that is the reason why our Holy Father has insisted so much on the Holy Eucharist because there Christ is present. God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who became man so that He could shed his blood on the cross to save humanity is present in the Holy Eucharist today.
We need to give devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, to have faith in the Blessed Sacrament and we want to do it the way the Church wants us to do it; not by inventing Christ or a new Church; not by inventing an explanation of the Holy Eucharist that looks acceptable nowadays, but by accepting what the Church has taught for two thousand years. And the Church says that in the species of bread and wine, Christ's body and blood is present. And don't tell me that this is so natural that we all believe it. Indeed there are some who struggle with this idea and say, "How it is possible?" It is not possible to explain it in a rational way; Christ has told us and we believe and this is the only attitude that we can have when we stand or kneel in front of the Holy Eucharist.
Last year I was traveling on the by-ways of the State of Wisconsin. I came close to a little town and I saw a gothic Church in red brick. My reaction was that it must be a Catholic Church. It was such a big Church in such a small town and I was intrigued and decided to take a look. On the outside there was a stone saying "Built in 1846." The stained-glass windows all had names of Irish and German families, the people who built the Church. When I walked into the Church, it was like somebody hit me over the head. The Church was empty. No crucifix, no tabernacle, no statue, no altar; just a rickety picnic table instead of an altar, no kneelers, only seats like those in a movie theater, and I thought I had made a mistake and had entered a Protestant Church. I went to a coffee shop, and a lady behind the counter saw my Roman collar and came immediately to me and said, "And did you see what our parish priest did to destroy our belief in the Holy Eucharist?" This story is not to condemn that parish priest, but I think he could have nourished the faith of his people in the Holy Eucharist.
Too many of our Churches have hidden away the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle reminds people whenever they enter the Church that the Lord Jesus is there present in the Eucharist. They can kneel down in adoration and pray and spend time with the Lord and share with Him their concerns and bring to Him the sufferings and the problems of other people and know that He will hear them because He is present there.
It is not that we are lacking documents or pronouncements by the Holy Father and by the Bishops about the reality of the Holy Eucharist. But we need to be reminded regularly and constantly about this great mystery: the Lord Jesus who walked the earth in Palestine two thousand years ago is still with us.
It is beautiful to see how the Holy Eucharist is so much a part of our Catholic faith. I would dare to say that the Holy Eucharist defines our Catholic identity.
While I am traveling around the world, so many times I am a witness to this wholesomeness of our Catholic identity that is centered on the Holy Eucharist. Last year the telephone rang in my residence in Rome and there was a voice that all of you know; the voice said, "Cardinal, you are going to Siberia," and I said, "Holy Father, what have I done?" The Holy Father told me that I had to be in Siberia to dedicate the new Catholic Cathedral.
I thought I would find there a group of Catholics a very small group probably all old people, the Church of babushkas, so I was prepared for that. When I arrived at the Cathedral and saw the beautiful building standing on top of a hill overlooking that whole Communist area, it was so impressive. The next day we started the ceremonies of the celebration with a Marian Congress for the people of Siberia. There were 400 Catechists present, all young people. All these young people had received the seeds of their faith from their grandmothers and their mothers. They received the devotion to the Blessed Mother and they received a reverence for the Mass and the Eucharist. The Catholics in Western Siberia had been sent there in exile under Communism and now their descendants are there. The prisoners were sent to work in the gold mines or in the stone quarries of Siberia or to build the cities. Many thousands died in the gulags of Siberia; many of those who survived didn't have any family to go back to or didn't know any other trade or business and so they stayed. Under Communism, they were always afraid to manifest their faith, and they kept it quiet and they didn't talk much about it except in their families. It is only recently possible that some priests began traveling to Siberia.
The priests started building little Churches, they celebrated the Mass and they preserved the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle. And that became the point from which the Catholic faith spread out again in those areas of the diocese. The last time I saw the Bishop, he told me that he is quite sure that he has found close to one million Catholics. Many are still afraid and they don't have the support of a parish, a place where they can come together and reinforce each other. They are afraid that the situation might still change today or tomorrow. They fear that Communism might still come back, and that the persecution of the faith may again prevail.
I made another journey to the Republic of Mongolia. There had been no Catholics there since 1250. Missionaries were at the borders in China and Manchuria, but they were never allowed in Mongolia. In 1992, the Communist Regime of Mongolia collapsed, and they elected a new President who favored democracy; the President of the country went to Rome to see the Holy Father and he asked for three things. He said, "Please, Holy Father, give my country diplomatic recognition; send us an Ambassador so that we are recognized as a country; and send us missionaries." These requests were from a government that for 70 years had been ruthlessly Communist, every phase of their Buddhist religion had been eliminated thoroughly and cruelly. In a country of two and one-half million people, the government had killed 60,000 Buddhists Monks. All the temples, even the smallest ones in the mountains, which consisted of a heap of stones, were destroyed. Nothing of their religion remained. I visited the ruins of a Buddhist monastery, where in one night the police of that state killed 2,000 monks.
Miraculously, a group of missionaries were sent into Mongolia by the Holy Father to begin spreading the Gospel. For the first year, they learned the Mongolian language, and they prayed in front of the tabernacle. Eventually, some of the young people came to the missionaries and said, "I want to hear more about Jesus Christ and I want to come and pray in your temple and sit in front of the tabernacle." And they did not yet know what it all meant and slowly they grew in our Catholic faith. Last year, I was able to greet all of the Catholics of Mongolia all 98 of them. It was so beautiful to celebrate Mass for this small group of Mongols who had been baptized and to see their enthusiasm and especially their reverence for the Holy Eucharist.
The Holy Eucharist is a perpetual miracle and it is a miracle that happens everyday under our eyes; it is Jesus Christ Himself who is present among us, who works among us, and who takes care of us. We should form a firm conviction that from now on we will be faithful adorers of the Holy Eucharist. Wouldn't it be a waste to let Christ be present and leave Him alone? We need to insist on the importance of the Holy Eucharist for our own Catholic identity. If we lose our love of the Eucharist, then we become like so many others; and in the end we won't know anymore who we are. It is the Eucharist that defines us, it is the Holy Eucharist that makes us Catholic, it is devotion to the Holy Eucharist that puts us in the right relationship with God.
You know what I find so terrible when I find a Church without kneelers the younger generations will never learn what it means to adore God. If you want to live in a true relationship with God, you have to go down on your knees for God. We have to go through the gesture of kneeling and of remaining on our knees in front of the tabernacle to express our adoration of God, our adoration of Christ who is God among us. We need the symbols of the procession of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Father was right to insist that Rome could not be the capital of Catholicism if there were no Eucharistic procession.
In a certain way, we have walked through a desert in the last ten to twenty years because through the misinterpretations of some of the teachings of the Vatican Council, some people thought they were doing a service to the community by eliminating benediction, by eliminating perpetual adoration, by eliminating processions of the Holy Eucharist. More and more, we see a return to perpetual adoration, to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Everywhere people are rediscovering that the devotion to the Holy Eucharist is our source and summit in our life as faithful Catholics.
Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
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