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‘Doable after all’

Fr. Carmelo O. Diola, SSL

Spaces of Hope

 

IN a video interview earlier this year, Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu noted that the 51st International Eucharistic Congress which was thought at first to be “overhwelming” is, in fact, “very doable.” In about two months the Catholic world would be celebrating the much-awaited 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu from Jan. 24 – 31, 2016.

This is a graced-filled, once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us. As we know, this happens once every four years as Catholics all over the world gather to publicly proclaim the Eucharist as central to their lives. The gathering also rotates among six continents. The probability of the IEC happening again in the Philippines in our lifetime is not high.

In fact, this is only the second time it will be held in the Philippines. The first and only time was in Manila in 1937 when a seven-year old boy named Ricardo Vidal received first communion while a four-year old named Gaudencio Rosales witnessed the event.

This will be held in Asia, the continent where Christianity began; and in Cebu, the cradle of Christianity in the biggest Roman Catholic nation in Asia. It also comes at a time when the Church seems to be returning to its beginnings with all the challenges it faces as a religious body. For Catholics this is a tremendous spiritual boost.

The 51st IEC is an opportunity for delegates and pilgrims to celebrate in Philippine soil and to be reminded of our missionary vocation as a Eucharistic people, particularly in Asia where dialogue with the poor, the youth, and other religions loom large.

 

The congress is open to non-Catholics as well. In our broken world, the act of breaking bread beautifully witnesses to the power of God to bring healing and wholeness to individual lives, families, groups, and the world. It connects us to one another and to those who hunger for God.

***

One of the rooms in the very inspiring St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington D.C. is dedicated to his view of the Eucharist. The room highlights the words, “The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift – however precious – among so many others, but as the gift par excellence – for it is the gift of Himself…” (Eucharist in the Church, no. 11).

There are other international gatherings of Roman Catholics, like the World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families. The latter, recently held in Philadelphia, was attended by Pope Francis himself. The former, to be held in Poland will also have Pope Francis present.

While the absence of Pope Francis for the 51st IEC comes as a disappointment to many who had passionately anticipated his presence, the realization that the Eucharist is “gift par excellence” should boost the spirit of delegates and pilgrims. After all, the Petrine Office is at the humble service of this communion.

Next year’s IEC theme, “Christ in You, Our Hope of Glory” (Colossians 1:27) has a special resonance with the host country whose faith remains joyful, resilient, and event defiant despite its share of natural disasters – an earthquake that shattered many places of worship and the strongest storm ever to make landfall.

A most moving image of this power of the Eucharist is Pope Francis’s breaking of bread with survivors of Superstorm Yolanda last January 2015 in Tacloban, Philippines. There, amid very wet, windy, and trying conditions brought about by another tropical storm that was on signal number 2, he came, oblivious to the dangers and inconveniences. Who can forget the Pope covered with yellow raincoat over his liturgical vestments? Who could’ve remained dry-eyed as he spoke words of mercy and compassion?

***

To join the IEC is to receive very special blessings so as to be a very special blessing to others. The Eucharist is celebrated daily for eight days in a multi-lingual manner ministered by the best choirs and music groups of a people whose jewels are its faith and its music.

Five thousand first communicants include 500 street children. More than a million pilgrims are expected to join a street procession and the Mass of the world, a beautiful opportunity to witness to the social dimension of our Christian faith.

Very beautiful socio-cultural events have also been lined up even as we prepare to

share our warm hospitality as a people. A brief parish-immersion experience is offered while a youth encounter is organized on the afternoon of the fifth day.

Highly sought-after speakers from all over the world will give talks on various dimensions of the Eucharist. An opportunity to visit and interact with faith communities in Tagbilaran and Tacloban is likewise offered to give delegates a taste of the joyful, resilient faith of Filipinos. A delegation from the Diocese of Vancouver, Canada is even preparing to have a “Table of Hope” – a meal – with 500 street and other poor children in Metro Cebu.

Yes, the 51st International Eucharistic Congress is not only doable but its spirit is already happening in our preparations. As Pope Francis says in his video invitation for the IEC, “It is a blessing to break and share bread with people from many nations. In the name of the people of the Philippines whomremain hopeful amidst great trials and sufferings, I invite you to join the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines…”

The joy awaits.

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