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Interview With Cardinal Josef Tomko

ROME, OCT. 5, 2004 (Zenit) - The Catholic Church is about to begin a year of reflection and deeper awareness of the Eucharist, "mystery of the faith."

The Year of the Eucharist, convoked by John Paul II, will begin next Sunday with the International Eucharistic Congress, in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Year will close in October 2005 with a Synod of Bishops.

For a perspective on these initiatives, we interviewed Cardinal Josef Tomko, retired prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.

Q: What is the meaning of the events organized for the Year of the Eucharist?

Cardinal Tomko: The Eucharist is the main theme of the three events and mobilizes the entire Catholic Church for a year around the "mystery of the faith," which is the Eucharist.

It is one of the fundamental truths of the faith and the Church. So true it is that the Second Vatican Council defined the Eucharist as "source and summit of the whole of Christian life" and also "source and summit of all evangelization."

The meaning and purpose of the three unitary initiatives is more profound understanding and reinforcement of faith in God incarnate in Jesus Christ. Only someone who believes in the divinity of Christ can believe in the Eucharist. Whoever reinforces their faith in the Eucharist -- presence, sacrifice, and memorial of Jesus Christ -- deepens their faith in the divinity of Christ and his incarnation.

Therefore, the Eucharist is the central focus of the faith, a perspective that certain areas of the West, which find themselves under the pressure of a "silent apostasy," are in special need.

Moreover, since its origin, the Eucharist also has a social aspect, which in the early Church was manifested in the forms of agape and the sharing of goods, but it is present in various forms also today, because the Eucharist creates fraternity, solidarity, communion, an atmosphere of peace, reconciliation, justice and love.

The developed world is suffering from a marked decadence, a demographic winter, an anti-life culture, eugenic temptations and secularization.

Q: How can reflection on the Eucharist give answers to the needs of humanity and counteract the widespread nihilism?

Cardinal Tomko: Before speaking of the negative aspects of some "civilizations," which are not very civil in many aspects, I wish to point out some positive contributions related to the Eucharist, especially in young Churches. The joyful African celebrations are, in fact, also rich events of fraternity and solidarity that unite tribes and ethnic groups.

Moreover, they are not lacking in depth of perception of the Eucharist as sacrifice, given that they have ritual sacrifice. The Eucharistic liturgy is also the place of enculturation, as for example the Indian rite of "arathi" after the consecration, the sacred dances of adoration, etc.

In regard to the decadence of certain "cultures" or even "civilizations" -- especially in the area of the fundamental values of human life and love -- suffice it to recall that the Eucharist is the "bread of life" and gift of Jesus Christ "for the life of the world," source in which human love is purified and elevated.

The Man-God is adored in the Eucharist, but at the same time the sense of man's dignity and fraternity is enhanced. And what can we say about the great dignity and joy with which so many poor people approach the Eucharist, where divisions of class, race and wealth disappear?

This is also witnessed in International Congresses, where local families offer hospitality to the participants who come from other countries or continents. In such Eucharistic celebrations a new humanity and a new civilization -- that of love -- grows visibly.

A certain secularized, politically correct culture has weakened the practice of the sacraments, especially in regard to confession before receiving the Eucharist. Although it is true that when confessionals are open, people queue to go to confession, it is true that the practice of self-absolution is widespread.

Q: What is your opinion about this?

Cardinal Tomko: Today also St. Paul's severe warning is certainly valid: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" [1 Corinthians 11:27-29].

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies: "Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion."

Q: There has been an outcry over the position taken by some American bishops not to give Communion to public personalities who, although calling themselves Catholic, publicly support laws and initiatives in favor of abortion, homosexual marriages, etc. What is your position?

Cardinal Tomko: Without wishing to allude to any particular event, I think that the texts quoted above are very authoritative and very useful.

Q: The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church and of the lives of Christians. But the sacrifice of Christ is valid for the whole of humanity. What arguments would you use to explain to believers who do not practice, to the faithful of other religions, and to nonbelievers, the reasons of our faith?

Cardinal Tomko: Faith is a gift of God. Reasoning on the Eucharist already in Jesus' time seemed a "hard saying." It requires at least good will and not to be rejected a priori. But it is also extremely gratifying, profound and beautiful reasoning.

It reveals the immense love of God and of Jesus Christ for humanity. If one understands that the Eucharist is the gift of God to humanity and "for the life of the world," for believers and nonbelievers, it makes one intuit the greatness of God's heart.

Moreover, the Eucharist reveals the mystery of Jesus Christ who wished to enter into intimate communion with the one who receives him and become "bread" for our nourishment, but also offer himself in a sacrifice that represents in a bloodless manner the unique bloody sacrifice of the cross for the whole of humanity.

When one reads the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Cenacle a few hours before the redeeming death of Christ on the cross, the truth on the Eucharist seems as simple as a ray of light that penetrates glass on one side and comes out on the other with a prism formed by various colors.

It is the greatest gift of Jesus, who "loved his own to the end."

Obviously, with a nonbeliever I would start with the fundamental reasoning of God, of Jesus Christ, for example, through an approach to the evangelical account of the resurrection.

With an agnostic who ignores and avoids all reasoning on God, one must clear the terrain of explicit or implicit self-sufficient and self-saving pride, of a certain modern nihilist humanism, and show him the values of the Eucharist for the greatness that man has in the eyes of God.

Precisely this agnosticism that is widespread in the West today needs the "supplement of the soul" that gives the meaning of life and of the beauty of God against the void, the egoism that destroys the other but also oneself, against the lack of perspective and existential hope.

I think that the testimony of believers in the Eucharistic Congresses, in our celebrations, in the silent adoration of our churches are also arguments for those today who do not believe enough in the Eucharist.

Such testimony also helps the believer: "Faith is reinforced by giving it," John Paul II once wrote.

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Eucharist, Sacraments, Church, Tomko, Mass

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