The World

Monsignor Espinoza MateusWe want to renew Eucharistic life in Ecuador".

On the occasion of the next International Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Quito in September of this year, we interviewed Monsignor Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus. Born in Guayaquil, he was ordained a priest in 1988 and is currently Archbishop of Quito and Primate of Ecuador.

Juan Carlos Vasconez-February 8, 2024-Reading time: 7 minutes

Monsignor Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus ©OSV

2024 has a very special tinge for the Catholic faithful in Ecuador: Quito will host the 2024 World 53rd International Eucharistic Congress. On this occasion, Omnes interviewed the Primate of Ecuador, a country whose reasons for being chosen as host include the 150th anniversary of the consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which made it the first country to perform this consecration.

What was the reason that led the Pope to choose Quito as the site for the International Eucharistic Congress (CEI)?

-The Bishops of Ecuador, in a plenary assembly in 2014, ratified the request, made a few years earlier, to ask to host the International Eucharistic Congress in 2024 on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Historically, Ecuador was the first country in the world to consecrate itself to the Heart of Jesus. The Holy Father took into account this very particular celebration and clearly manifested it last March 20, 2021 when he communicated to the whole world that Ecuador and Quito, in particular, would be the site of the 53rd International Eucharistic Congress.

In addition, the Holy Father was able to clearly express his desire for this great event of the Church: "In this ecclesial meeting, the fruitfulness of the Eucharist for evangelization and the renewal of faith in the Latin American continent will be manifested". It is important to remember that after twenty years, Latin America returns to be the venue, since the city of Guadalajara was the venue of the 48th International Eucharistic Congress. As we say, the Congress once again has a "Latin American face".

What benefits do you anticipate in the diocese itself as a result of this designation as the seat of the IEC? In what specific aspects is this decision expected to have a positive impact?

-The great benefit is undoubtedly a pastoral benefit. I believe, as the Cardinal of Quebec, His Eminence Gérald Lacroix, told me in Budapest, the great wealth that the congress leaves is the way of preparation in the archdiocese. And we are working intensely on it, not only in Quito, but at the level of the whole country. We want to renew the Eucharistic life in our country. We also want, I could say, to correct errors that occur in the Eucharistic celebrations, we seek to deepen the great love for the Eucharist and renew as a country and as an Ecuadorian family our Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

How have you managed to coordinate the preparation in Quito, and what advice would you give to other countries facing similar challenges?

-The organizational issue is complex; it is not an easy task. First I will refer to the strictly operational aspects and then go into pastoral details.

From the first moment we learned of the designation of Quito as the venue of the International Eucharistic Congress, we began to form the various committees, I proceeded to appoint a general secretary of the congress in the person of Juan Carlos Garzon, a priest of the Archdiocese of Quito, we communicated with the International Eucharistic Pontifical Committee, and here I must greatly appreciate the support and joint work we have been doing with Corrado Maggioni and Vittore Boccardi, with whom we have had meetings both in Rome and in Quito. I would also like to emphasize that we have been working together with the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador. I am aware that Quito is the venue but I am convinced that it is the Church of Ecuador that is responsible for the congress. We have had meetings both with the highest authorities of the country and the city, as well as with various public institutions to work together for the success of the congress.

On the pastoral side, I could point out many aspects. Triptychs and diptychs have been prepared to communicate what a Eucharistic Congress is. Several subsidies have been elaborated, among them I can point out the catechesis How to live the Eucharist, of which one hundred thousand copies have already been sold, and the Eucharist, heart of the Church. Both booklets contain the Eucharistic catecheses of Pope Francis, what has been done is to give it a methodology of reflection. In Quito, this year in the catechesis of Christian initiation we are working on the first booklet of Eucharistic catechesis.

An interesting work has been the elaboration of a booklet with nine Eucharistic adoration celebrations especially for young people, which we have entitled Face to face.

There is the Basic Document of the Congress with the theme Fraternity to heal the world. The road to arrive at the Base Document was long, a Theological Commission was formed and worked hard. The work was sent to Rome, corrections were made, it was re-structured. In short, a whole work, I could say "handmade", until arriving at a Document that has a "Latin American touch" that seeks to be a contribution for the universal Church. Two booklets have been published, one with only the complete text of the Document and the other with the Document, as well as a celebration of Eucharistic adoration and nine study guides to understand the text. This process of entering into the Basic Document will be the path of the year 2024.

Other elements that have helped would be: the logo of the congress, the congress prayer, already translated into several languages, including Shuar and Quichua. And I highlight the hymn contest. Now, the hymn is practically sung in the two hundred parishes of the archdiocese.

I cannot fail to mention the work we have been doing with the IEC 2024 National Commission. This commission is made up of delegates from the twenty-six ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the country and is chaired by Bishop Maximiliano Ordóñez, auxiliary bishop of Quito. Maximiliano Ordóñez, auxiliary bishop of Quito. With them, we disseminated the congress and they are responsible for replicating all the work, in addition to having various pastoral initiatives in their own jurisdictions.

Finally, the symbol of the congress, a large gospel book, helps us to evangelize. It is the Word of God that summons us, gathers us around the Eucharistic table and invites us to build fraternity. The symbol is already traveling through the ecclesiastical jurisdictions of Ecuador.

Who are the main drivers in your diocese and what are the most effective tools you use to ensure the transmission of the message?

-It is a joint mission. I do not say that it is a work, I go further, I speak of a mission because we are in a great evangelizing mission around the Eucharistic Congress, the same that involves first of all the bishops. In the case of Quito, the three auxiliary bishops and myself as archbishop. It also involves priests, religious men and women, catechists, to whom we have given the responsibility of being "Eucharistic missionaries", and it also involves the lay movements, which have assumed this task with great enthusiasm.

I can highlight several initiatives in the jurisdictions. In Quito, the "Eucharistic Year" was convoked, which is open to many pastoral initiatives that are underway. In the archdiocese of Guayaquil, the archbishop, Luis Cabrera, has just opened the "Year of the Sacred Heart of Jesus", because we must not forget the main reason for the congress, although everything is centered on the Eucharist.

And in the Archdiocese of Cuenca, Marcos Perez Caicedo has planned the organization of a symposium entitled "Mary and the Eucharist" for the month of May. Cuenca is a city with a unique Marian tinge. Initiatives arise, but you ask me how we achieve a "uniformity". I would answer rather that we are looking for a "unity", respecting the pastoral creativity in the ecclesiastical jurisdictions, in the parishes, movements and other members. There is coordination, from the General Secretariat and from the IEC 2024 Local Committee. The IEC 2024 National Commission is working to achieve this unity, guidelines are given, materials are elaborated and yes, I must not deny it, mistakes are being corrected.

What has been the role of the laity in the organization?

-It is a joint work. We are all involved, as I said before: bishops, priests, religious and lay people. Both in the Local Committee and in the commissions of the congress, the laity have a leading role. We can say that we "weave" a work network and we do it with great responsibility, with a deep sense of Church and with a pastoral vision.

What achievements or fruits can be highlighted so far in the archdiocese as a result of this designation as the seat of the IEC?

-I dare to say that the main fruit at the moment is that the Eucharistic Congress is already being lived in our archdiocese. We have been saying it for a year, the congress in Quito will not be in 2024, the Congress for our archdiocese is an "already", we must live it, and the preparation for it helps us to live, celebrate, sing, pray and deepen the Eucharist in the heart of each faithful and each parish.

What arguments would you consider most convincing to encourage people to travel to Quito and participate in this event?

Pope Francis, in a private audience with the Council of the Presidency of the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference, of which I am vice-president, told me that he wanted an "austere but fruitful" Eucharistic Congress. I base myself on these words to say that the main argument would be that we want to live a "fruitful" Congress, which will help us to reflect, celebrate and deepen in our lives as Christians, the centrality of the Eucharist and to assume the commitment of a "fraternity to heal the world".

Every Eucharistic Congress has its structure or its dynamics, to be more exact. In the symposium we want to propose a more real and pastoral vision, we want to start from a reflection of fraternity from seven different points of view: politics, indigenous world, economy, philosophy, education and others.

One thing I must emphasize is that from the beginning we have not wanted, and it will not be, a "clericalized" congress. And, as Cardinal Mario Grech told us, "the Eucharistic Congress is the Vigil of the Synod". Let us remember that it will take place a month or so before the installation of the second session of the Synod of Synodality. For this reason, we want the catechesis of the five days to be given by representatives of the People of God: a religious, a lay person, a priest, a Cardinal and a bishop who has a relationship with the Amazon reality. In addition, we are looking for lay people, religious men and women, priests, indigenous people, for the different testimonies that will be given in the Congress.

What experiences might those attending this special occasion at the new IEC headquarters expect to experience?

-I would tell them that they can expect a great welcome, an atmosphere of joy, the richness of the experience of a people who love God, live the Eucharist and manifest their faith, who ask for a blessing, a characteristic sign of our people. You can expect cultural diversity and a unique folklore, and something that no one else has, Quito is "The Middle of the World", the congress takes place at latitude zero of the world, and from here, for the whole world, we want to open our hands and our hearts. We are waiting for you!

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