Which was bigger — the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November, or last week’s International Eucharistic Congress from January 24 to 31 in Cebu City?
APEC certainly commanded far more attention from global leaders, business, and media than the IEC. And the conference of 21 heads of government across East Asia and the Pacific represented far more people and wealth than the billion-strong Catholics having varying interest in the Congress.
Now, which conference did more good for the Philippines and its place in the world?
Los Angeles Bishop Robert Barron, the Word On Fire preacher who is the most popular religious figure online after Pope Francis, extolled the Philippine Church as the most vibrant in Catholicism, with Filipinos also enlivening other congregations on the planet.
“In God’s often strange providence, He will take a particular church, a particular people, and use them to envigorate and evangelize the Catholic world — you’re playing that role now,” the prelate told Filipinos dominating the 14,000 delegates, plus the worldwide faithful following the IEC online.
Top that, APEC.
The greater of two messages
Moreover, which conference propounded messages and models for thinking and living most beneficial to our nation if adopted by Filipinos, especially our leaders — the geopolitical and economic initiatives and maneuvering in APEC or the exhortations and exemplars of Eucharistic life at the IEC?
Well, before answering, one might ask: What’s a Eucharistic life? Here are pointers from the Congress.
Last Thursday, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle spoke of convocation, the coming together of believers and the poor and powerless so close to our Lord, dissolving divisions and uplifting one another (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78_pgAkJeaE ).
By the same token a day earlier, Bishop Barron cited communion with God and Church, not self-centered individualism, as the Eucharistic way ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX78Of5YKVg ).
The bishop also said liturgical changes after the Second Vatican Council half a century ago diminished a bit the meaning of the Mass as reliving Christ’s Passion and Death. Instead, the Last Supper was commemorated more prominently. Three magisterial Cardinals, Gaudencio Rosales of the Philippines, Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, and Péter Erdő of Hungary, made sure to underscore the Eucharist’s sacrificial core.
While most speakers warmed audiences with exhortations to communion and caring, Cardinal Rosales told the inconvenient truth: “You want the Eucharist? Then take up the Cross.” In his Mass homily last Tuesday, Manila’s Archbishop Emeritus said receiving Christ means following His redemptive act of offering Body and Blood on Calvary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUPpSAaBfaw ).
In his Monday testimonial, Cardinal Zen remembered Chinese martyrs braving prison, torture and death for the faith (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9u3iS45FrCs ). And at the Thursday Mass, Cardinal Erdő, who led the Vatican office producing papers and proceedings in the Synods on the Family, related how Hungarian households carried crosses under godless communism.
When the state told men to renounce religion or lose their jobs, wives and children endured privation if only to look upon husbands and fathers with respect for keeping the faith (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OimeFYkAqN0 ). For over four decades till communism collapsed in Eastern Europe by 1990, Hungarian Catholics daily lived Christ’s sacrifice.
Thankfully, Filipinos don’t have to suffer such persecution. That doesn’t mean Eucharistic living is a picnic. Ponder these tales recounted or encountered in Cebu:
Living the Eucharist every day
Among the Kankanay community in La Union, the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs), laymen who serve at Mass and to ailing or faraway believers unable to go to church, offer perhaps the most direct example of Eucharistic living.
As told by Fr. Luciano Ariel Felloni, an Italian-Argentinian like Pope Francis who served in La Union in some of his 21 years in the country, every Sunday the Kankanay EMHCs trudged down the mountain for five hours to get consecrated hosts from church, then climbed back another five hours to bring the Lord to their fellow parishioners.
With those tireless treks Christ and Church are real and present on the Kankanay hills.
Fr. Felloni also served in the garbage dump neighborhood of Payatas. When he wanted to set up the country’s first and maybe only parish-owned dialysis clinic, the EHMCs took turns doing construction work every week, not just toiling for free, but giving up wages on days off from their jobs to help build the clinic.
The Payatas ministers labored for life-saving treatment and the Bread of Life.
Eucharist people also walked the IEC. Jess, a lay missionary in Mindanao with a successful Cebu business, told of his descent into vice, arrogance and marital discord when he got rich. Then he met my fellow Times columnist Fr. James McTavish and asked the Irish plastic surgeon-turned-priest why the career change. The answer led Jess and his wife to join Fr. James’ lay preachers.
The Eucharist brings in Christ to change our hearts. Or as Bishop Barron put it, we become the Savior we eat.
Our last two tales of Eucharistic living come from Cardinal Tagle. As president of Caritas International, the Catholic charity agency, he visited a refugee camp in Greece for those fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. There he met a Filipino-Australian family among aid volunteers. They cut short their European tour to help.
The Cardinal also praised the unsung and often unseen volunteers and workers who arrived ahead of IEC delegates every morning and left hours after they had gone. These teams prepared lunch packs, cleaned the cavernous plenary hall, arranged seating for thousands, and provided security and medical services.
In both examples we see one often unmentioned quality of our Lord’s Real Presence in consecrated bread and wine: He silently and invisibly works in our souls, our lives, and our world, doing immense good seen only by those with faith.
Now who would we rather have more of in our country and our world, especially in the corridors of power and profit — the paragons of Eucharistic living, or the tough-talking, sweet-smiling, globe-girdling potentates hankering for our vote and our cash?