Eucharistic Congress will show what faith can do
The International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Cebu early next year is yet another occasion for the Philippines to show to the world “what faith does to a people,” according to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
While Pope Francis won’t be around, the Philippines expects a crowd of 1 million, including delegates from several other countries, to turn up for the concluding Mass of the 51st IEC in Cebu City, which will run from Jan. 24 to 31.
The weeklong event will bring together internationally known evangelists, authors and scholars to talk about the Eucharist.
“Of course, the magnitude of the Pope’s visit cannot be matched because everywhere the Pope goes, it’s a Catholic event. But still the International Eucharistic Congress is a blessing for us, for the Philippines to witness again to the world what faith does to a people,” Tagle told media executives and journalists at the Manila Hotel recently.
Hope and meaning
Tagle expressed the hope that the congress will be the Philippines’ “modest contribution” as a nation and people to the global search “for hope and meaning in life.”
Carrying the theme “Christ in you, our Hope of Glory,” the gathering seeks to heighten awareness of the central role played by the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Church.
“Our people really need hope. Our people really need something, someone to live for. The future is always uncertain, but people with hope know that the story will have a good ending,” Tagle said.
“And it’s not wishful thinking; it’s based on reality. And for Christians, for Catholics, that reality is Jesus Christ. In the Eucharist, he is present. There’s a pledge of presence. You will never be alone,” he added.
Pope Francis, who took the Philippines by storm when he visited in January to commiserate with the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), has tapped Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Burma to represent him at the event.
Some 6 million attended the Pope’s final Mass at Rizal Park in Manila. Francis hailed the Philippines as the “foremost Catholic country” in Asia whose citizens have a vocation to be “missionaries of faith” in the region.
The country of 74.2 million Catholics first hosted the IEC in 1937, a few years before World War II broke out. It hosts the event next year with the rest of the world riven by religious conflict, terrorism and a refugee crisis.
Drawing from his experience as president of Caritas Internationalis, Tagle said people elsewhere in the world were reaching out to one another amid misery.
“From afar, you can smell the suffering,” Tagle said, recalling his visit to a refugee camp in a Greek village near the border with Macedonia recently. “You can see and smell the consequences of violence, of fear.”
As president of Caritas Internationalis, Tagle oversees the relief efforts of Catholic aid agencies for the tens of thousands of refugees crossing into Europe from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
But amid the sea of bedraggled men, women and children camped out at the small Idomeni village, Tagle chanced upon a backpacking Australian couple and their baby who made a detour to the camp to do volunteer work.
They were born in the Philippines, but grew up in Australia, Tagle said.
“They said: ‘We heard about this camp. We heard of the refugees’ situation, and so we decided to cut short our tour. And we came here to serve.’ Right then and there, I wanted to shout, ‘We’re Filipinos.’ And that gives hope to people walking, walking, walking to uncertainty,” he said. “In that place of suffering, you can still see signs of God’s presence.”
And it’s in this spirit that Filipinos are hosting the IEC in Cebu, the “cradle of Christianity” in the country, Tagle said.
“That is what the International Eucharistic Congress wants to practice. The presence of Christ who has transformed hearts, people who want to show compassion and solidarity, and in the process, light up candles of hope even in places called hell,” he said.
For all Filipinos
And while the event is “very Catholic,” Tagle expressed the hope that all Filipinos will sign up for it.
The congress will open with a Mass by Cardinal Bo at Plaza Independencia on Jan. 24. This will be followed by a series of catechetical sessions, celebration of the Word, prayer gatherings, and plenary assemblies during the week to promote a deeper understanding of the Eucharist.