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On 7-9 September I was privileged to attend the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and Congress in Liverpool, along with some 10,000 other delegates from all over England and Wales.

  After catching a very early train from Chesterfield, I arrived in time for the Friday Adoremus Symposium Day at the ACC Convention Centre, situated by the waterfront on the former King’s Dock.  The welcome and opening prayer was led by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP, followed by the reading of a letter from our Holy Father Pope Francis by the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain.  The atmosphere in the huge arena was incredible and uplifting.  The last time I attended anything comparable in the UK was during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

  During the morning there were three engaging Keynote Presentations: The Scriptural Context (Canon Mervyn Tower); The Eucharist in the life of the Church (Canon David Oakley); Teaching the Eucharist (Sr Margaret Atkins CRSA).  For those of us who found it a challenge to take in so much vital knowledge in one sitting, it was a relief to know that the entire event was being recorded and we would be able to hear it again on the Bishops’ Conference website.  During the afternoon, I attended three pre-selected presentations from a choice of nine: The Ministry of the Eucharist in hospitals and prisons; “A kingdom of justice, love and peace” – The Eucharist and Social Justice; Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion – Ministry and Practice.  These too are available to watch online, along with the other six presentations that afternoon.

  That evening, Mass was available at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.  Being on foot, and needing to find and check in to my hotel, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it, but divine providence intervened when I was offered a lift by a group of pilgrims from Sussex.  It was a joy to end this first day with Holy Mass in such a blessed and transcendent setting.

  On the second day of the conference, I walked through light drizzle along the waterfront and found a seat beside a lovely group from a Leicester parish.  The huge Echo Arena seemed full to capacity for this wonderful Congress Day, and it was a joy to see people of all ages representing their Catholic Faith.  The day included two gripping Keynote Presentations by Bishop Robert Barron, (who I had previously watched in the Catholicism series of DVDs), plus incredible drama, testimony and presentations.  Exposition and Benediction concluded the day with Evening Prayer of Corpus Christi led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.  The sense of reverence and awe was palpable, despite the vast setting and huge numbers present.

  I had planned to retire early that second night, but on browsing through the Parallel Programme brochure in my delegate pack, I noticed that ‘Nightfever’ (a night of prayer and initiative rooted in the Catholic Church) was taking place at the Blessed Sacrament Shrine near to my hotel.  After dinner, I put on my waterproofs and headed back out into the dark city centre, guided by the Satnav on my phone and praying to my Guardian Angel for safekeeping.  Words cannot adequately describe the sense of peace and community within the crowded Blessed Sacrament Chapel that night.  Volunteers outside on the street gently invited passers by – many of whom were revellers enjoying a Saturday night out in Liverpool’s city centre – if they’d like to come in and light a candle.  A constant stream of people passed through the candlelit chapel, many staying to pray for a while or join the queue for confession.  Beautiful acoustic worship music played gently in the background.  The most moving moment for me was when a large group of girls – clearly out celebrating a hen night – filed in and patiently waited to kneel and light a candle in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Some of them even wrote a prayer card and placed it in the box.  Tears of healing seemed to flow for many that night.

  The final Adoremus Pilgrimage Day on Sunday began with Solemn Mass at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.  Due to the large numbers of pilgrims, an earlier Mass had taken place and we queued patiently on the steps in the Sunday morning sunshine whilst waiting for it to finish.  Much prayer, planning and organisation must have taken place for it all to proceed so smoothly.  During Mass, Cardinal Vincent Nichols set the scene and tone for the Eucharistic procession by saying, “there would not be one iota of triumphalism,” but instead, it would be “a penitential act in reparation for the sins of the Church”.  There was sadness as he spoke of being bound to his brother bishops whose failings are exposed for all to see.  But he also called us to hope, saying, “we walk with humble joy for … He lets His face be seen, His face of tender compassion and hope for our broken world”.

  As we gathered outside the Cathedral to begin our procession, the heavens opened and poured down rain.  In no time, we were all soaked, sloshing through deep puddles, trying to sing from sodden pages.  But as we walked behind the Blessed Sacrament through the city streets, singing Sweet Sacrament Divine with tears streaming down our faces, I could sense something lifting.  Our singing became more full-hearted and joyful; we were smiling and greeting the astonished denizens of pubs and cafes.  When we turned the last corner, the sun burst out and right in front of us was the glorious Cathedral, with a stream of white-robed bishops and priests ascending with the Blessed Sacrament.  As we all looked up, we united in prayer, peace and love for Our Lord.  At Benediction a sense of joy began to ripple through us all, especially when the magnificent bells overhead began to peal.  We live in times of pessimism and uncertainty, but it was clear to me that our Catholic community still thrives, and has much to be grateful for and hopeful about.

Content from all three days is available to watch on the Bishops’ conference website www.catholicnews.org.uk.

Further information about Nightfever can be found at www.nightfever.org.