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International Eucharistic Congress 2012,
RDS and Croke Park, Dublin

Daily Blog............................

23/6/12
I have to compliment RTE's Nationwide team for an excellent review of the Congress on Monday of last week. If you wanted a video souvenir of the event you couldn't do much better. Mary Kennedy and Anne Cassin presented a warm retrospective that featured many elements people might have missed in the news coverage. Fr Robert McCabe did well explaining the work of the military chaplaincy, not too widely known up to now I'd say. We got a look at the "Through the Eyes of the Apostles" exhibit in the company of John Waters, a better coverage of the Eucharistic Procession than was on the News, and lots of positive contribution from pilgrims. It will be available for another two weeks on the RTE Player. Click here.

17/6/12
What a day in Croke Park for the closing ceremonies of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. Spectacular and moving at the same time. I was frozen in the Hogan stand as the evening went on but who cares, the music was just out of this world. The one-hour concert that preceded the Mass was a great showcase. I'm not a great fan of "Panis Angelicus" and I think John McCormack's version has been way over-exposed lately (one of my son says he's allergic to it) , but it got freshened up bigtime today when sung by Celine Byrne, Fr Marino Nguekam and Jacek Wislocki. Liam Lawton sang "The Could's Veil" from the centre of the arena and that was special. Fuaimlaoi, with their conductor and composer Ronan McDonagh, impressed with their distinctive blend of traditional Irish and liturgical. The Three Tenors Ireland did well on "You Raise Me Up" though that one is also overexposed. The Priests excelled on "King of Kings" while the Monastervan Gospel Choir livened things up and added a contemporary flavour. I was delighted to see St Mary's School Choir from the School for the Deaf again (had been absorbed by their performance at the Emmanuel concerts), though as they were signing to slow songs their vibrancy didn't come through so strongly.
Needless to say with such talent on board the music for the Mass was exceptional. Again the Congress theme "Though We Are Many", by Bernard Sexton, was sung with appropriate gusto, while the Ó Riada music never looses its freshness - "Ag Críost an Síol" figured strongly and linked into the Gospel reading about sowing seeds. And what about that striking Responsorial Psalm so beautifully sung by Karen O'Donovan of Fuaimlaoi!

16/6/12
Last day at IEC2012 in the RDS so it was time to catch up on a few things that had been longfingered.
If art can be created with plants the Rosary Garden in the Poor Clares St Damian's, next door to Simmonscourt fits the bill. That was a most unusual creation which led into the small chapel for Eucharistic Adoration. I visited the Army Chaplaincy camp in the Simmonscourt area and that was quite impressive. There was a liitle tent chapel, and lots of interesting posters. I think my pupils would love to see some of this. Boys and armies!
Over at the Youth Space I came across a session of what seemed to be Christian Disco Dancing! The workshop was called "Street Dance - The Move of Faith". and people were certainly having a ball.
Late evening I finally got in to see the Exhibition "Through the Eyes of the Apostles", a recreation of the village of Capurnaum in the time of Jesus. That was impressive - I especially liked the lakeshore setting where the projected video of the lake on a huge screen made you feel like you were there. Hopefully this exhibition will surface again.

15/6/12
More rich experiences of music and drama at the International Eucharistic Congress today. I started the day with my monthly slot on Spirit Radio - did it in studio this time as I was already in Ballsbridge area. I spoke about the arts events at the Eucharistic Congress, pretty much a short version of what I've been writing here.
I got back over to Congress in time for the play Servant at the Supper a one-woman show by Eleanor Glenn, a retired school principal from Canada. It was an imaginative idea - the fictional character was the daughter of the man who owned the Upper Room, scene of the Last Supper. Everything that followed is seen through her eyes - the Apostles return to the same Upper Room after the Crucifixion, Jesus appears there after Resurrection, the dramatic events of Pentecost happen there. This unity of place works well, and Glenn has a great voice and great command of the stage. The chalice and bread were central symbols the whole time and she frequently drew attention to them. The servant is looking back years later, but I would like her to have captured better some of the puzzlement and angst as the younger girl tried to make sense of it all. The script is very close to Scripture, which has its advantages, but more exploration would have helped - like T.S. Eliot does in Journey of the Magi or Song For Simeon. Also I thought there was too much of a sudden jump from Last Supper to Crucifixion, and to the Ascension. One song/chant for the Resurrection didn't work for me. Glen did well to cope with the fact another workshop was going on behind the curtain and every word from that talk could be heard - a real Pro!

There was the usual variety in the main arena at lunchtime. St Ultan's Orchestra from Cherry Orchard was wonderful, and they even had a mini gospel choir within the group. Elation Ministries rocked the crowd from the second stage - they seemed to have their own fan club in the front row. I believe they've been playing a blinder in the Youth Space all week. I loved their light rock version of Our Lady of Knock, though I'd say it wasn't to everyone's liking! They were followed, in striking contrast, by the Brook Singers, a male voice singing group specialising in Welsh hymns. Later the burst into song in the food tent!

In the evening I went to see Danielle Rose, a singer-songwriter from USA, at Haddington Road Church. Her songs were really beautiful, her voice really attractive and her finger picking guitar matched the songs perfectly. Many of the songs were about Our Lady, not surprising as the event was organised by Family Rosary International who promote the work of Fr Patrick Peyton, the famous Irish Rosary Priest. She engaged the audience with her patter between songs, which was in turn intense, deeply spiritual and even giddy at times. It was more a prayer event than a concert - she said "Amen" at the end of every song. One of my favourite songs was "I'll See You in the Eucharist", which I've definitely heard before but can't remember where or when. It's recurring refrain of "do not be afraid" was haunting. Towards the end she sang acapella, which really highlighted the quality of her voice, on "Crown of Thorns" and a fine version of "Hail Holy Queen". A pleasant surprise on the night was the "Rosary Room" - a small oratory off the main church featuring a multimedia presentation of the Rosary - with four screens showing meaningful imagery and meditative music in the background. For more info: www.familyrosary.org

I finished the night over in the Youth Space in the Simmonscourt area of the RDS. I arrived for the end of a Focolare presentation on the life of the young Chiara Luce Badano, beatified in 2010, and patron of the Youth Space, which finished with some lively singing from a group of Focolare singers and musicians. Finally, in music and prayer a Young Carmelite group led a very quiet and dignified service of Night Prayer.

14/6/12
The most impressive music I heard today at the Eucharistic Congress was at the main Mass of the day - the Mass was mostly in Irish, and the music also had a very Irish flavour, with many of Sean Ó Riada's pieces which never date, along with some fine harp and fiddle music. The choir was in excellent form and the soloists sang exceptionally well. During Communion time the Congress hymn, "Though We Are Many", written by Bernard Sexton, was sung better than I've ever heard it. The congregation near me joined enthusiastically in the singing, especially on that distinctive arrangement of "O Sacrament Most Holy" combined with "I Am the Bread of Life". After the Mass the Vard Sisters sang a beautiful "Ave Maria" and the Liam Lawton song "Send Me an Angel".
Visual art has been prominent at the Congress - there's a striking Icon behind the main altar (pic above left), and the smaller Icons of the Congress form part of many of the ceremonies, accompanying the Congress Bell. These are by iconographers Colette Clarke, Phillip Brennan and Richard Sinclair. For more information on these click here.

13/6/12
I think numbers are increasing at the Congress - very busy this morning. Got there early for workshop on "Poets of the Eucharist" but it was full! All was not lost as I found space at the workshop on Faith and Film presented by Fr Peter Hannon SJ. It didn't focus specifically on religious films but looked at broader human and philosophical concerns. In particular he spoke of the idea of following your dreams, and the tension between that and meeting expectations. He used clips from Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams and Cinema Paradiso to illustrate his points. The idea of the dream, he said, was common to both faith and film. The dream within us always manages to surface even when we ignore or neglect it, and even when harsh realities seem to smother it. Three stories were important - our own, those told to us by others (incl. in film) and the Gospel story. On missionary work in Zambia years ago he found his RE classes failing to link with the students and after that began to start with their own story, something real and personal for them, and then moved into the gospel story. All in all an interesting and thought provoking workshop, though I would like to have seen more clips, and have had time for questions.

Finally had a good look around the exhibition hall today - plenty of resources and ideas for RE teachers! The Ennis Gospel Choir was giving an informal concert in the centre of the hall, and they were certainly drawing a crowd with their lively and familiar songs, like Shackles (by Mary, Mary) and the Beatles' Let It Be. I was very impressed by the artwork of Fintan Tracey - especially the Eucharistic art - check out his stand on the balcony, where you can also find Liam Lawton's stand, and one for Dana's music.

12/6/12
Another fine day at IEC, though the weather did threaten, and out came the free ponchos! Lunchtime is a good time to be in Main Arena for music fans. First group I saw today was Kisi - God's Singing Children, a group from Austria whose music ministry is extending to other European Countries. They danced and sang through a lively set of gospel songs. On the other stage Ian Callanan directed a wonderful choir, who sang songs about today's Congress theme of family. There was a beautiful song which would be most suitable for weddings - not sure of the name but the chorus went "Make of our hearts one heart". To the tune of Loch Lomond they sang a fine pilgrim song which I think was called "Love is the Boat for the Journey".
The music for Mass that afternoon saw Fr Liam Lawton directing choirs from Kildare and Leighlin, Ossory & Ferns and Waterford & Lismore. It must have been quite a challenge as there was a choir on each side of the main altar area, but it worked well.
I called over to the Youth Space later in the evening for a concert - a great idea to have events there going on until late. The Gardiner Street Gospel Choir was in fine form, accompanied by an effective six piece band, with lead piano a standout - their styles included foot tappin' gospel, reggae, and slow soulful songs. Highlight for me was their performance of the song "Hands" by Texas singer Jewel.

11/6/12
First day at the International Eucharistic Congress today. Very impressive, carnival atmosphere, sunshine, good music, meeting friends and acquaintances around every corner. And it sure is multicultural with so many pilgrims from abroad, and members of religious orders wearing habits I'd never seen before, adding to the colour palette.


I was impressed by the multicultural Discovery Gospel Choir who sang in the lunchtime warmup in the main arena - vibrant singing, tasty instrumental backup and colourful outfits.


I attended a talk given by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the morning. He was speaking about the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, and he was strong on the idea of faith interacting with culture, which is central to what Faitharts is about. He quoted what Pope Benedict said to him on a visit to Rome: "Where are the points of contact between the Church and those areas where the future of Irish culture are being formed?. The full speech is well worth reading - click here.



There were many events tonight but I opted for a play The Trial in the RDS Concert Hall (it's on again at 7 pm Tuesday night). It was written by Glen Gannon, who played the Jesus figure "heysus", directed by Frank Allen and musical director was Ken Touhy. I wasn't sure what is was going to be about, but not surprisingly it was a passion play, covering the period from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, but in a future setting - 2033, and Troika soldiers are ruling Ireland with a heavy hand! It was good to see such imagination at work. And it was a musical, in that songs were interspersed with the drama.
The songs were good and the singing by the female leads was excellent. However there were problems. To start with the play was way too long - including the break it lasted two and three quarter hours. Some of the songs could be trimmed, and both the Garden of Gethsemane and Trial scenes needed to be much shorter. Given the title I think it would have been best to focus entirely on the trial scene - the play would have had a tighter focus, and lots of issues around justice could have been teased out. There was a difficulty with tone - for example the first part was for the most part very serious. Then the second part opened with the trial scene and at times it descended into pantomime, with references to Nama, brown envelopes and a "whip around", and then Pilate and his assistant acting like a comedy team - jarring. Later there were a few false finishes, like the ensemble singing of a melodic Our Father. I thought there were too many songs, and most sounded too alike. I can remember only one uptempo number as the crowd argued over whether "heysus" or Barabbas should be released, and that scene worked well.
I thought the Jesus/heysus (Why not Jésus?) parallel didn't work as well as it should have, and sometimes the mixture of modern and Biblical didn't gel. Considering it was a Eucharistic Congress I thought the modern equivalent of the words of consecration were weak - something along the lines of this wine is the colour of blood and this bread is the colour of flesh.
I don't like to be negative about something that was sincere and well produced, but I do think the play needs a considerable amount of revision.