Cebu City: All of this week the Catholic Church will be celebrating the 51st International Eucharistic Congress here in Cebu. At least a million Catholics from all over the world are expected to attend. The congress, which began yesterday, is a gathering of clergy, religious and laity to bear witness to the “Real Presence” of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a foremost and foundational article of the Catholic faith.
What the French bishop Gaston de Segur began without any fanfare in Lille, France in 1881 has now traveled around the world, even to places where only a few believe in the Eucharist. It was last held in Dublin, Ireland in 2012, where the 31st IEC was also held in 1932, on the 1,500th anniversary of St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.
A short history
This is the second time the IEC is taking place in the Philippines. In 1937, the 33rd IEC was held in Manila—the first time in Asia. After that, the 38th was held in Mumbai (Bombay), India in 1964, with Blessed Pope Paul VI presiding, and the 44th in Seoul, Korea in 1989, with Saint John Paul II addressing over a million devotees.
Before that, the 29th IEC was held in Sydney in 1920—-the first time in Oceania. It returned to Oceania in the 40th Congress in Melbourne in 1973.
In 1910, the 21st IEC was held in Montreal —-the first time in Canada. It returned to Canada in the 49th Congress in Quebec in 2008. Pope Benedict XVI could not make it, but his message was broadcast live in English and French from the Vatican to the assembly.
Ford at mass
In 1926, the 28th IEC was held in Chicago—-the first time in the United States. It returned to the US in the 41st Congress in Philadelphia in 1976, on the 200th anniversary of US independence. President Gerald Ford attended the solemn High Mass on that occasion, despite the US extreme, sometimes misplaced, concern about the separation of Church and State.
In 1930, the 30th IEC was held in Carthage, Tunisia—-the first time in Africa. It returned to Africa in the 43rd IEC in Nairobi in 1985, with St. John Paul II presiding.
In 1955, the 36th IEC was held in Rio de Janeiro—-the first time in South (and Latin) America. It returned to Latin America in the 32nd IEC in Buenos Aires in 1934, with the future Pope Pius XII (Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli) as papal legate, and in the 39th IEC in Bogota, Colombia in 1968, where Pope Paul VI presided.
Praying for peace
The Congress is normally held in times of peace, to celebrate and pray for peace, among other graces. But the 25th IEC was held in Lourdes, France, on July 22-25, 1914 while the First World War blazed across Europe. In 1922, after the end of the Great War, the 26th IEC was held in Rome with Pope Pius XI celebrating the Mass at St. Peter’s Square before an intensely devout crowd. After the end of the second World War, the 35th IEC was held in Barcelona in 1952, with the theme, “Peace.”
After the end of the Cold War, the 45th IEC was held in Seville in 1993. It was here where St. John Paul II expressed the wish that the perpetual eucharistic adoration become part of the daily life of all parishes and Christian communities throughout the world. This is what we see in every parish church today in the Philippines.
Even governments that are normally indifferent to the Church have gone out of their way to extend support to the IEC. For example in 1907, the German government suspended its 1870 law which forbade processions as a way of accommodating the 18th IEC in German-administered Metz, Lorraine.
Host of the most
France holds the distinction of having hosted the most number of IECs: the first Congress in Lille, 1881; the second in Avignon in 1882; the fifth in Toulouse in 1887; the sixth in Paris in 1888; the ninth in Reims in 1894; the tenth in Parayl-le-Monial in 1897; the 12th in Lourdes in 1889; the13th in Angers in 1901; the 15th in Angouleme in 1904; the 18th in (German-controlled) Metz in 1907; the 25th in Lourdes in 1914, and the 42nd again in Lourdes in 1981.
Belgium has hosted the second biggest number. These include the third IEC in Liege in 1883; the seventh in Antwerp in 1890; the 11th in Bruxelles in 1898; the 14th in Namur in 1902; the 17th in Tournai in 1906. Spain has hosted three: the 22nd IEC in Madrid in 1911; the 35th in Barcelona in 1952; and the 45th in Seville in 1993. Germany has hosted two: the 20th IEC in Cologne in in 1909; and the 37th in Munich in 1960. The US has hosted two—in Chicago and Philadelphia; Canada, two—-Montreal and Quebec; Australia, two—Sydney and Melbourne; Ireland, two—-both in Dublin; and the Philippines, two—-Manila, and now Cebu.
Lourdes and Rome
Aside from Lourdes, Rome is the only other place that has hosted three IECs: the 16th in 1905; the 42nd in 1981;and the 47th in 2000—- the first time ever that the Congress fell on a Jubilee Year. The 51st IEC in Cebu also falls on a Jubilee Year —-the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. It also falls within the last five years of preparing for the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines.
Two saintly popes—Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II —have lent their presence to some of the IECs away from Rome. Paul VI was at the 38th IEC in Bombay in 1964, the first time the IEC was held in a country without a significant Catholic population. He also came to Bogota for the 39th IEC in 1968. St. John Paul II was in Nairobi for the 43rd IEC in 1985; in Seoul for the 44th in 1989; and in Seville for the 45th in 1993. In most IECs, a Papal Legate represented the Pope. One of the best known papal legates was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, at the 32nd IEC in Buenos Aires in 1934; he became Pope Pius XII, after the death of Pope Pius XI, in 1939.
The papal legate in the 51st IEC is Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, a Salesian of Don Bosco religious who has been Archbishop of Yangon since 2003, and Cardinal since Feb. 14, 2015. He is a Member of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Pontifical Council for Culture. He presided at the 4 p.m. opening mass at Plaza Independencia yesterday.
Aside from Cardinals Ricardo Vidal of Cebu, Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, and Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, four cardinals of other nationalities were reported to have come, along with some 60 bishops and archbishops, who have joined the 120 members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, who earlier held their regular plenary meeting in Cebu. At the 34th IEC in Budapest in 1938, 15 cardinals and 330 bishops attended; at the 37th in Munich in 1960, 430 bishops and 28 cardinals attended.
The theme of the Congress—-“Christ in you, our hope of glory”—-is taken from Colossians 1:27, which reads, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This will be the subject of pastoral reflection this morning by Bishop Theodore Macarenhas, of the Society of Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, who is also an official of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
One speaker whom many are waiting to listen to is Bishop Robert Emmet Baron, author, scholar, evangelist and auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. He will be giving catechesis on the celebration of the Paschal Mystery tomorrow morning. Many who have read his books and heard him during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last year are waiting to listen to him again.
Of overriding interest to many is, what real impact will the IEC have on the moral, religious and overall life of the nation? As a predominantly Catholic Christian nation, we go through seasons of religiosity, of particular closeness to God and to our fellowmen, several times during the liturgical year—-Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, etc. And we express no surprise when the authorities tell us that during the visit of St. John Paul II or Pope Francis, not a single crime against person or property was reported anywhere. And that so many penitents had gone to confession. But after the liturgical celebrations are over, we quickly return to our old ways of doing and looking at things.
We need to conduct ourselves seriously as a Christian nation. Despite the secular character of the State, we are morally and anthropologically molded as a people who believe in God, as expressed by the Preamble of our Constitution. We must therefore stand for our Christian identity as a people. We have to live as authentic Christians. We cannot be seasonal nor cafeteria Christians. Nothing allows us to live authentic lives better than living the Eucharist with our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the Eucharist?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the Eucharist as “thanksgiving.” It has
other names: The Last Supper, the Breaking of Bread, the Eucharistic assembly, the memorial, the Holy Sacrifice, the Divine Liturgy, the Sacred Mysteries, the Most Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, the bread of angels, Bread from heaven, Medicine of immorality, Viaticum, Holy Mass.
As sacrament, it is both a sacrifice and a meal. And our Lord is both the sacrifice and the meal. He came to the world as man born of a Virgin in a manger, a place where animals feed (manger), in a little town called Bethlehem, (the House of Bread). In the fullness of time, he gave himself up at the Last Supper to become the eternal food of his Church, which he built upon his rock Peter, and whose ministers he commanded “to do this in memory of me.”
The Eucharist rests solely on his authority, and he gave to the humblest priest a power he did not give even to his Blessed Mother or the angels—the power, by the words of transubstantiation, to turn the species of bread and wine into his own body and blood. No greater words have ever been spoken. And no greater miracle has ever occurred than this, which occurs in every Eucharistic celebration. It is the greatest thing that ever happens in the world.
In Sacramentum Caritatis, (Sacrament of Charity), issued in 2007 following the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the Eucharist as a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated, a mystery to be lived; a ‘mystery of faith’ par excellence: the sum and summary of our faith. The faith of the Church is essentially a eucharistic faith, especially nourished at the table of the Eucharist, says Benedict XVI.
Why did God institute the Eucharist? For the philosopher Peter Kreeft, the Eucharist is the primary motive for the creation of the universe. God made the universe to house the Church, and he made the Church to house the Eucharist, he says. I have come to Cebu hoping to learn more about this, and to pray with all those who have come to experience the Eucharist—indeed, to pray in one’s accustomed silence, and if necessary, as St. Francis of Assisi says, “to use words.”
To continue on Wednesday