Eucharistic Congresses: A Laywoman's Gift to the Church

L'Osservatore Romano Honors Forgotten Champion

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ROME, SEPT. 13, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As Benedict XVI closed Italy's 25th National Eucharistic Congress on Sunday, and Dublin is in the thick of preparations for the 50th International Congress next June, the Church is as focused as ever on the fruits of these events.

What many might not know is that the faithful have a French laywoman to thank for conceiving and implementing the concept of Eucharistic congresses.

Lucetta Scaraffia wrote last week in L'Osservatore Romano that Eucharistic congresses are attributable to "the foresight of a woman."

She explained that the first Eucharistic congress was held in France in 1881.

"Few people know that it was a woman who conceived of these congresses," Scaraffia observed.

French laywoman Emilie-Marie Tamisier was "one of the many laywomen who dedicated their life to defending the Church in years when anti-Catholic polemics were particularly acerbic," Scaraffia explained. "Tamisier, who had had a special devotion to the Eucharist since childhood, had the foresight to organize activities for a religious reawakening in a context rapidly becoming secularized, and focused them on Eucharistic worship."

The project occurred to Tamisier when she was praying at the church where St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had her visions of the Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart "both propose a sacred center by which to orientate one's faith in a world that is ever more fragmented among the thousands of stimuli, proposals and ideologies that are tending to cloud the search for the truth," Scaraffia reflected.

3 heroines

The L'Osservatore Romano author suggested that Tamisier wanted the first congress to be linked to a third woman-champion of the Eucharist: St. Juliana of Mont-Cornillon, who promoted the feast of Corpus Christi. Tamisier proposed Juliana's birthplace as the site of the congress, but for political reasons, it was held in France.

"It is probable, if in an implicit manner, that Tamisier was intending to stress that three times the proposal of new devotions, new feasts and new ways of encountering Jesus had come from a woman, who had been able to imagine what model of religiousness could rekindle faith in times of crisis," Scaraffia proposed.

In fact, congresses were typical of the 19th century, described by Archbishop Davide Riccardi of Turin (1833-1897) as one of the "special customs" of the age.

"In no other period have so many been convoked in so many forms and with such different aims. Scientific congresses, literary congresses, economic congresses, political congresses, social congresses, congresses of every kind," he explained.

Hence, Tamisier saw Eucharistic congresses as a "modern way of involving great numbers of people, of refocusing the attention of a vast public on the religious culture and on its proposals of solutions to the problems of the time," Scaraffia suggested.

The visionary eventually succeeded in involving Pope Leo XIII in her project.

In fact, Scaraffia explained, she dedicated "her whole life to promoting what she saw as a new and effective method of restoring the Church to the center of public attention. Her work was tenacious and skillful but hidden -- her name was never officially recognized -- and is consequently largely forgotten. As the work of women in the Church has often been."