Young people hold a Vatican flag during the closing Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin's Croke Park June 17. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, was the main celebrant. (CNS photo/John Mc Elroy)

DUBLIN (CNS) — Irish Catholics’ deep desire to strengthen their faith must form the basis of a radical new evangelization, said Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Addressing an estimated 80,000 pilgrims at the closing Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, Archbishop Martin said that “in these eight days the Eucharist has awakened in our hearts something which went way beyond our plans and expectations.” He said high interest in catechetical sessions “tells us just how much thirst there is in our Catholic community to deepen the understanding of our faith,” he said.

To sustained applause, Archbishop Martin said, “Tomorrow we must start our catechesis anew to prolong the fruits of this eucharistic congress through a dynamic of new evangelization.”

Pope Benedict XVI, who addressed the event via a pre-recorded video message, also paid tribute to Ireland’s long history of faith. He also announced that the next International Eucharistic Congress — in 2016 — will be held in Cebu, Philippines.

Dublin’s Croke Park — which usually plays host to traditional Irish sports like Gaelic football and hurling — was transformed into a large open-air cathedral, with pilgrims filling the stadium and pitch area for the Mass celebrated by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the pope’s representative to the congress and the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. From early morning the sound of traditional and contemporary liturgical music echoed across the city as pilgrims carrying their national flags arrived on foot from their host parishes across the city.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny were among the congregation as well as Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. Leaders of other Christian faiths also attended.

Nearly 180 pilgrims present at the Mass also had participated in the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress, the last time the event was held in Ireland. The master of ceremonies, Joe Duffy, said the veterans — including two 99-year-olds — had been offered seats on the field; however, they declined and climbed to the top of the stadium to get a better view.

In his message, Pope Benedict said that “Ireland has been shaped by the Mass at the deepest level for centuries and, by its power and grace, generations of monks, martyrs and missionaries have heroically lived the faith at home and spread the good news of God’s love and forgiveness well beyond your shores.

“You are the heirs to a church that has been a mighty force for good in the world, and which has given a profound and enduring love of Christ and his blessed mother to many, many others,” he said to cheers from the congregation.

Referring to Ireland’s clerical abuse crisis, Pope Benedict said, “Thankfulness and joy at such a great history of faith and love have recently been shaken in an appalling way by the revelation of sins committed by priests and consecrated persons against people entrusted to their care.

“How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of penance have offended in this way?” he asked. “It remains a mystery. Yet evidently, their Christianity was no longer nourished by joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: It had become merely a matter of habit.”

The pope said the Second Vatican Council “was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ.”

The pope said real liturgical renewal still needs work.

“In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life,” he said.

Cardinal Ouellet told worshippers that “faith is the most precious gift we have received with baptism.

“Let’s not keep it private and fearful,” he said. “Let it grow as a splendid tree through sharing everywhere.”

Before Mass started the pilgrims were treated to a celebration of traditional Irish music and testimony. The names of every parish in Ireland were emblazoned on ads throughout the stadium, and pilgrims waved flags and banners as the Mass got under way.

By Michael Kelly Catholic News Service