Pope Francis today encouraged the Catholics of England and Wales to emulate their martyrs by giving “eloquent and steadfast witness to Christ”.
In a message to about 6,000 delegates at the National Eucharistic Congress and Pilgrimage in Liverpool the Argentine Pontiff urged the faithful to continue to build upon the achievements of their forefathers.
“The history of the Church in your lands is marked in no small part by the central place that countless numbers of saints have given to the sacrifice of the Mass,” said the Pope in a letter read out by Archbishop Edward Adams, the Papal Nuncio.
“These holy men and women, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood, have given eloquent and steadfast witness to Christ in devotion to the Blessed Eucharist,” he said.
The suffering of the English and Welsh martyrs, he continued, speak “not so much of human cruelty as of the serenity and strength given by God’s grace in the face of trials”.
The Pope said: “They are rightly to be venerated and the Church in England and Wales must never lose sight of their precious memory.
“Remaining faithful to that spiritual legacy requires more than an act of remembrance,” the Holy Father added. “We must continue to bear witness to the same Lord and the same precious gift of the Eucharist today for past glories are always a beginning and not an end.
“The Lord is calling you still to go out and bear witness,” Francis said. “I pray that through a greater participation in the sacrificial gift of Jesus in the form of bread and wine you may all be sustained in faith and renewed in joyful missionary discipleship.”
Such witness, he said, would manifest itself particularly in practical concern for the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
The message of Pope Francis came on the second day of the congress, which was being held alongside the River Mersey at the Liverpool Echo Arena.
The event is being attended by Catholics from all over the UK, including most of the English and Welsh bishops.
The congress and pilgrimage will conclude on Sunday with Mass celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols in the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.
This will be followed by a public procession of the Eucharist in the company of leaders of non-Catholic denominations.
In his welcoming remarks on Saturday, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool also paid tribute to the “great heritage” of Reformation-era martyrs from within his own archdiocese, naming Ss John Rigby, Edmund Arrowsmith and John Almond in particular, and placing at their intercession the success of the congress.
The keynote speaker on Saturday was Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, also best-selling religious author and broadcaster, who received a standing ovation from delegates at the end of two long speeches.
Bishop Barron thanked the delegates for their “presence” and their “exuberance”, adding: “It means a lot, I think, for the Church which, as you know, is going through a painful time and during these periods I think it is so important that we return to the fundamentals.
“That means, above all, Christ in the Eucharist,” he said. “It is so wonderful that we are going to celebrate, to speak about and understand more deeply the Eucharist.”
During his first speech, Bishop Barron reminded delegates of their duty to evangelise. “We don’t have to fly over oceans to go to mission territory today,” he said. “You walk outside the door of any church in the Western world and you are in mission country.”
He said the “rising tide of secularism” was driving increasing numbers of people away from religion.
“I see it every day, especially among the young,” said Bishop Barron. “People are losing the sense of God, the sense of the transcendent.
“They need us. Everybody – they need us. We who have been Christified at the Mass are now sent to Christify the world.
“That is Vatican II in a nutshell,” he added. “The idea of Vatican II wasn’t to turn the Church into the world, it was to turn the world into Christ.”
During Eucharistic Adoration at the conclusion of the second day, Cardinal Nichols led the reflections.
He said: “In this Eucharist, this thanksgiving, lies the source of our mission. From this Adoration we run forth, wanting, longing to share with others this great secret outpouring of life and goodness which has been disclosed to us.
“There is no true mission in the Church that does not start here, in prayer, before the Lord.”