January 24-31, 2015 was the longest week in Cebu as they hosted the 51st International Eucharistic Congress. In his message before the event, Pope Francis said that in those days the heart of the Catholic world will fix its gaze to the supreme mystery of the Eucharist to draw from it renewed apostolic and missionary zeal. Almost 15,000 Catholics from over 70 countries were gathered to participate and encountered experiences capable of leading one to deeper understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith.
The Congress week was filled with different talks, catecheses, faith sharing on the Eucharist, cultural nights and liturgical and spiritual activities.
The opening mass was celebrated by His Eminence Charles Maung Cardinal Bo, SDB, DD held at Plaza Independencia. Before the 4 PM mass, performers were setting on fire the already hot afternoon of January 24 as they delighted the participants with their presentations depicting the arrival of Christianity in the country. The songs of welcome and dance moves gave a hint about the excitement and warmth of celebration that awaited everyone.
On the second day, an atmosphere of anticipation and eagerness was evident inside the IEC Pavilion. It was Most Rev. Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, OFM, DD who gave the first talk for the event. His topic, “Christ in you, our Hope of Glory: A Pastoral Reflection on Colossians 1:27” was very significant to the testimony of His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Zen, DD who stressed the hope that the Church in China still upholds in the midst of persecution. The Holy Eucharist was then celebrated by Most Rev. Piere Marini, DD, the president of the pontifical committee on International Eucharistic Congresses. In the afternoon, after the press conference with the speakers, concurrent sessions were held. The speakers included Rev. Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, Rev. Fr. Paul Vu Chi Hy,SSS, Rev. Fr. Francis Moloney, SDB and Amb. Tamara Grdzeldize.
The third day was still as exciting as the day before. One of the most anticipated speakers for the Congress, Bishop Robert Barron, DD was scheduled to have his talk on this day. He left the participants in awe with his reflection on “The Eucharist: Celebration of the Paschal Mystery”. Ms. Marianne Servaas, a convert, gave her testimony. The beautiful words she spoke about Filipinos still resound in my mind: “The way Christ is present in you (Filipinos) is almost touchable. You opened my heart to receive joy in life itself, and more so your joy is related to thankfulness and humility. Please do not lose it … in your joy you are more human. And it is a gift to the world.” The Holy Mass was celebrated by His Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, DD. Like the afternoon schedule of the previous day, concurrent sessions were also held. The speakers included His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, DD, Dr. Josefina Manabat, Rev. Fr. Luciano Ariel Felloni and Rev Msgr. Diego Monroy Ponce.
The fourth day was another memorable day for the participants. The topic, “The Eucharist as Mission, Mission as Dialogue” was discussed by Most Rev. Thomas Menamparampil, SDB, DD. Mr. Paul Ponce, a renowned juggling entertainer, gave the testimony together with his family. Another catechesis was given by His Eminence Peter Cardinal Kodwo Appiah Turkson, DD which was about “The Eucharist and the Care for Creation.” The Parish Encounter was scheduled in the afternoon where 14 parishes welcomed the delegates to celebrate mass with them.
The fifth day was another favorite day of the crowd especially for the Filipinos. It was simply because our very own His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, DD was the speaker for the day. He talked about “The Eucharist and the Dialogue with Cultures.” Later on, a testimony was given by a Japan tsunami survivor, Mr. Kei-ichi Sugawara. The holy mass was celebrated by His Eminence Peter Cardinal Erdo, DD. At 3 PM of this day, a penitencial service was celebrated by Most Rev. Socrates Villegas, DD whose talk was marked by these memorable words, “the pastors and the flock must learn to forgive each other.”
The sixth day came and His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, DD, who celebrated his birthday on this same day, discussed the topic on “The Eucharist: Dialogue with the Poor and the Suffering.” It was Miss Ma. Georgia Cogtas who gave her life testimony. From being a street child who was broken and in need of love, she said she found God and He used good people so that she may find healing. Now she uses her experiences to help other street children as well. After her testimony, another topic was given by His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias, DD which was “The Eucharist in the Church’s Dialogue with Religions.” The mass was scheduled at 4 PM in front of Cebu Capitol Building with Most. Rev Diarmuid Martin, DD as the main celebrant. Later on, nearly two million Catholics attended the procession to Plaza Independencia. With the candles that the devotees were carrying, it was as if innumerable stars found their way along the streets of Cebu.
The seventh day was Saturday. It was a day for Mother Mary. For this reason, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, DD gave a talk on “The Eucharist and Mary.” Ms. Sarindhorn Mativachranon, a Thai entrepreneur, gave her life testimony of great faith in God despite the grim circumstances she had been through. At the 4 PM mass, celebrated by His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, DD held at Cebu City Sports Centre, 5000 kids received for the first time the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the greatest blessings in IEC 2016 was that among those 5000 kids, 500 of them were street children. Sinulog presentations and cultural performances delighted everybody after the mass.
January 31 came, the last day of the 51st IEC. It was the Papal Legate, His Eminence Charles Maung Cardinal Bo who celebrated the concluding mass at 4 PM held at San Pedro Calungsod templete at SRP in Cebu City. It was attended not only by the delegates but by the public as well. It concluded with a video message from Pope Francis who also announced that the venue for the 52nd IEC would be in Budapest, Hungary.
It was indeed a blast in Cebu. For the participants, it seemed that the whole world stopped for a while. Filipinos welcomed international delegates in the best way possible, letting them experience the joy and burning enthusiasm we naturally have in celebrating our faith. The 51st IEC might be over, but as Cardinal Bo puts it, the mass of a disciple never ends. As Christians, wherever we go, whatever we do, we are invited to remember constantly and always that… Christ in us is our hope of glory!
God bless all the IEC participants! God bless our Catholic Family! God bless all the world, no exceptions!