An open-air mass was held in the centre of Mullingar, Co Westmeath this morning followed by a Corpus Christi procession through the streets.

The procession was led by the Mullingar Town Band and the newly formed Cathedral Gospel Choir.

Bishop Michael Smith, who presided at the mass, said the International Eucharistic Congress will welcome thousands of visitors to Ireland this week and said they would find a very different church and country to that of 1932.

Dr Smith told the congregation that those visitors would find a country whose people have experienced the pain of meteoric economic growth turned to dust and a church whose proud history has been tainted by scandal and sin.

However, he said the biggest difference between the IEC’s of 1932 and 2012 is the contribution of the Second Vatican Council, which he said has helped the church to become a more humble community of faith.

Bishop Smith said he hoped that the celebration of the IEC will “growing in faith is central to any meaningful renewal, both in the life of the Church and in the society in which we live.

“If it helps to focus our attention on the wisdom and insights of the Second Vatican Council, it will have put the road to renewal on a sure footing”.

He added: There are many people of faith and hope in our parishes who give daily witness to their trust in God.

“There are priests and religious who give themselves tirelessly to building up the Kingdom of God in their local communities. There are parents who seek to keep the flame of faith alive in their homes.

“There are teachers and schools that are shaping our future generations with values, respect and wisdom. There are countless volunteers involved in so many activities – religious, charitable, sporting and cultural – that enhance the lives of many and enrich their communities.

“They don’t make the headlines but they are a true leaven in society”.