51st IEC First Holy Communion

One of the many memorable scenes in the 51st IEC: More than 4,000 children (seen here as the mass of people wearing white) were blessed to receive Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time in a Mass presided by Cardinal Ricardo J. Vidal, DD on January 30. The Cardinal had his first communion during the 33rd IEC in Manila in 1937.


This talk was presented on February 16, 2016 at DBCS Paranaque City, and is the third in a series of four presentations under Talakayan: A theological-pastoral forum organized by DBCS FIN (Salesian Philippine North Province) students of theology for AY 2015-2016.

 

Introduction

As an introduction let me begin with this statement: “People today speak much about the poor, but they do not know or talk to the poor. So, too, we can talk much about the Eucharist and yet not live a Eucharistic life.” (1)

I know that I am the most unworthy person to share and tell you something about the Eucharist, but I remember the consoling words of St. John Climacus, he said, “If some are still dominated by their former habits and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach… for perhaps, after being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practice what they teach.”

A lot of things can be presented, mentioned, and shared about the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) that happened in Cebu, the cradle of Christianity in our country. This wonderful and once-in-a-lifetime event was attended by devout Catholics from different parts of the world, people from different strata of society who love the Eucharistic Lord.

In this reflection paper, allow me to focus on the things that struck me on a very personal level. This presentation will be totally different from previous sessions of Talakayan. It is more of a narrative of a personal and spiritual journey. It includes my personal and spiritual realizations from the moment we arrived until the last day of the Congress. I will specifically share something about the feast of the Sto. Niño; random reflections on the talks during the Pre-Congress (Theological Symposium) and the Congress Proper and its theme; and my thoughts on Don Bosco and the Eucharist. Finally, as a conclusion, I would like to end with my personal resolution on how to live a Eucharistic life as a consecrated person in the world today. After this presentation, I hope that everyone (present in this Talakayan) will also share their own reflections on the IEC.

Part I: On Popular Piety – Feast of the Sto. Niño

Together with my other Salesian confreres, I arrived in Cebu on January 15, 2016 just in time for one of the biggest religious celebrations in the country, the feast of the Sto. Niño de Cebu. Although a little tired because of the delayed flight, we joined the fluvial parade early in the morning, the solemn procession in the afternoon, and the Holy Mass which was presided by Archbishop John F. Du of Palo, Leyte. On January 16, we also attended the 7:00 am Mass at Don Bosco Formation Center in Lawaan, Talisay City, Cebu. It was the same location where we stayed for more than two weeks as we attended the various IEC activities. A zillion thanks to the Salesian community of the Philippine South Province (FIS) for their hospitality and well-arranged accommodations.

First Reflection: Immediately after the Holy Mass there was the traditional Sinulog dance. Its steps and movements conveyed the spiritual journey of life: Two steps forward and one step backward – It reminded us that oftentimes in life, we can understand things more clearly by retrospection, by looking back or moving backward. At the same time, we still have to continue moving forward, in spite of all the unexpected things that happen in life, to appreciate more its beauty and mystery.

Part II: On the IEC Theological Symposium

Before the Congress Proper, there was a Pre-congress, also known as the IEC Theological Symposium. This was held in the auditorium of the Cebu Doctors’ University from January 20-22, as a three-day preparation for the Congress. Every day the participants of the symposium began with praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and ended with the Eucharistic celebration in the afternoon.

There were two plenary speakers per day. On the first day, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. presented the Christian Virtue of Hope and Fr. Francis Maloney, SDB discussed He loved them to the end (John 13:1) – Eucharist in the Gospel of John. On the second day, Fr. Mark Francis, CSV talked about the Liturgy and Inculturation, and Most Reverend Piero Marini, DD presented a talk on the History of Novus Ordo. On the third day, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB talked about Evangelizing a Secular World, and Dr. Josefina Manabat, SLD, the only woman who spoke in the plenary, talked about the Catechesis on the Sunday Eucharist.

Second Reflection: All the plenary sessions were so insightful and well thought of. The speakers were really experts in their respective fields. A lot of statements from the speakers were very striking. The last statement of Fr. Radcliffe particularly stayed with me, “The Church is in fact the great teacher of youth in every country of the world.” As Salesians we devote ourselves to the young, and I felt that my consecration is indeed relevant and significant in the world, where hope is sometimes difficult to perceive.

On the concurrent sessions: All the afternoons of the symposium were devoted to seven concurrent sessions or workshops: The Eucharist: Source and Goal of the Church’s Mission; The Eucharist and Mission in Asia: Integrating Dialogue and Proclamation; The Eucharist in the Church’s Dialogue with Cultures; The Eucharist in the Church’s Dialogue with Religions and Religious Traditions; The Eucharist in the Church’s Dialogue with the Poor and the Marginalized; The Eucharist in the Church’s Dialogue with the Youth; and Mary and the Eucharist in the Contemporary Mission of the Church.

Third Reflection: I attended The Eucharist in the Church’s Dialogue with the Poor and the Marginalized. Although I did not choose this track, I am very glad that I became part of it. It was an eye opener; I saw a lot of the Church’s members, both religious and lay people who were so eager and enthusiastic in showing concern to the poor, to our marginalized brothers and sisters. The testimonies of the speakers affirmed the words of Pope Benedict XVI in the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth: “If you follow the will of God, you will know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you.” (2)

The challenge is for us to give preferential love to the poor, after all, the Church is, indeed, not an income generating organization, but a hope generating organization especially for the poor and marginalized. (3)

Part III: The Congress Proper

The main event was held in the IEC Pavilion inside the compound of the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Cebu. It was especially built for the occasion so that people from all over the world could come and celebrate “this momentous event by witnessing to their faith through sharing of personal and communal, cultural and religious experiences centered on the Eucharist.” (4)

The Opening Mass of the Congress was celebrated in Plaza Independencia and presided by Charles Maung Cardinal Bo, SDB, DD, from the Archdiocese of Yangon, Myanmar who has been appointed by Pope Francis as the Papal Legate. Cardinal Bo urged thousands of pilgrims to use the Eucharist in bringing hope to the poor, pointing to widespread starvation and malnutrition which he described as genocide. He added that “the love of the Eucharist helps us to love the poor.” Mother Teresa once said, “We are called to be contemplatives in the heart of the world: by seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time, and his hand in every happening, and especially, seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor, by praying the work, that is by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, and to Jesus.”

With the Cardinal’s strong and inspiring message, the main event began – eight days of enriching and powerful catechesis, reflections, sharing, and celebration centered on the Eucharist.

Fourth Reflection: On the second day of the Congress, Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, DD, gave his testimony on the persecution of Christians in China. I am inspired by Cardinal Zen’s courage and fortitude in spite of his age; he continuously fights for the truth.

It was also announced in the assembly that there were 73 countries participating in the Congress. This means that every part of the world was represented. But what amazed me was the palpable presence of God’ Spirit in the place, and the pious attitude that the delegates and participants expressed.

Part IV: On the Theme – “Christ In You, Our Hope Of Glory”

The document De Sacra Communione states that the Eucharistic congresses “should be considered a sort of ‘statio,’ that is, sort of pause for prayer in which a community invites the other Churches in either the same region or nation, or in the entire world – to deepen together in the consideration of some aspect of the Eucharistic mystery, showing its public veneration in the bond of charity and unity.” (5) Eucharistic Congresses are signs of faith and charity, and wholly unique manifestations of Eucharistic worship.

Fifth Reflection: Reflecting on the theme, “Christ in you, our hope of glory” (Col 1:27), the Congress aimed to deepen and enrich, strengthen and shed light on the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist, mission, and hope in our present world. It emphasized the Eucharist as source and goal of the Church’s mission. Our Church is a Mother and Teacher, but at the same time a Missionary. Pope Francis reminds us to go to the outskirts of the society, to go to the “peripheries.” (6) We are a community that goes forth to take on the “smell of the sheep.” (7) The Eucharist is culmen et fons (8) (the summit and the source) of spiritual life itself, beyond the many other spiritual approaches.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Mt 28:18-20). The source and summit of this missionary mandate is the Eucharist. “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.” (9)

Part V: Don Bosco and the Eucharist

As a Salesian Family, we had a very special celebration on the last day of the Congress, which fell on the feast day of our Founder, Father and Teacher, Saint John Bosco. We all gathered in Don Bosco Formation Center in Lawaan to celebrate the Holy Mass that was presided by no other than the Papal Legate, Cardinal Bo.

During the homily with all his simplicity and humility, he shared that up until that moment he did not know why the Holy Father chose him to be his representative. Cardinal Bo said that he had his Theology and Practical Training period in the jungle of Myanmar, and that he was not a Theologian, yet the Pope chose him.

Several days before the closing of the IEC he visited the community of Don Bosco Pasil, and he shared his story with them, especially the poor young people. Like Don Bosco, he also lost his father when he was two, and due to the same illness, pneumonia. But the similarities do not end there. His parish priest also took care of him just as Don Bosco found much needed guidance in a kind priest. And the rest is history: He entered a Salesian Seminary, became a priest, a bishop, and was appointed Cardinal by Pope Francis. He told the poor youth not to blame their parents and circumstances, and encouraged them to become great, to be great for others. Aside from the wisdom that he shared, I was struck by his overwhelming sense of gratitude to the Salesian Congregation, to the people who helped him in his life’s journey, but more importantly to God. Indeed, “Everything is grace” (2 Cor 12:19).

Sixth Reflection: I think one of the reasons why Pope Francis chose Cardinal Bo is that he is a great example of someone who is living a Eucharistic life, just like Don Bosco. He is a man of wisdom; one who is grateful, simple, and humble. Grateful living is Eucharistic living.

Conclusion

As I conclude this reflection, I would like to first of all thank the good Lord for granting me this wonderful opportunity, for the people who made it possible for me to attend this grace-filled activity of the Church, especially my family and community.

The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek term for “thanksgiving.” (10) And I believe that grateful living is Eucharistic living. The Eucharist has an essential role in the life of every Christian. It is not just a call for participation but also a call for discipleship, service and mission. We look at the saints as witnesses of Eucharistic life. They showed us that Eucharistic life is a life of service and sacrifice. That in spite of all the enigmatic situations and occasions in life we are continuously hoping and giving thanks. After all, the Eucharist is primarily thanksgiving and a celebration of unconditional love until the end. The Eucharist is always all-embracing, not self-seeking. And its desire is always the beloved. The Eucharist makes us saints, and there can be no sanctity that is not enveloped in Eucharistic life.

Before the event, Archbishop Jose Palma said that “the eight-day congress features various activities that enable not only official delegates but also every Filipino to partake of the spiritual richness of the International Eucharistic Congress.” Indeed, the Congress enabled us to partake in the spiritual richness. It provided the participants with great and wonderful “opportunities for experiencing and understanding the Eucharist as a transforming encounter with the Lord in his word and in his life-giving sacrifice of himself – that we may have life and have it to the full (cf. Jn 10:10).” (11)

St John Paul II in his apostolic letter for the year of the Eucharist said, “The Christian who takes part in the Eucharist learns to become a promotor of communion, peace and solidarity in every situation. More than ever, our troubled world, which began the new Millennium with the specter of terrorism and the tragedy of war, demands that Christians learn to experience the Eucharist as a great school of peace, forming men and women who, at various levels of responsibility in social, cultural and political life, can become promotors of dialogue and communion.” (12)

“People today speak much about the poor, but they do not know or talk to the poor. So, too, we can talk much about the Eucharist and yet not live a Eucharistic life.”

My practical resolution as a consecrated person is “to make every effort to experience the beauty not only of taking part in Holy Mass, but also of spending time in dialogue with the Eucharistic Lord.” (13) I pray that in all our decisions and actions, God may be glorified. Thank you very much.

Notes:

1. I paraphrased Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s statement: “People today speak much about the poor, but they do not know or talk to the poor. So, too, we can talk much about prayer and yet now know how to pray.”
2. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 39.
3. Cf. Charles Maung Bo, SDB, DD, Homily during the Statio Orbis of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu (January 31, 2016).
4. Cf. Jose S. Palma, DD, Letter for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress. An International Eucharistic Congress aims to “promote an awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in life; and mission of the Catholic Church; it aims to help and improve our understanding and celebration of the liturgy; and finally, it aims to draw attention to the social dimension of the Eucharist” (51st International Eucharistic Congress Primer [2016], 1).
5. Roman Ritual De Sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam (1973), 109.
6. Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (November 24, 2013), 20.
7. Ibid., 24.
8. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) (1992), 1324.
9. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963)
10. Cf. CCC, 1328.
11. 51st IEC Program Guide (2016), P16.
12. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine (2004), 27.
13. Ibid., 30.

Br. Ramil V. Maranan, SDB is taking up his third year of studies for the Degree Bachelor in Theology (BTh) in preparation for priesthood.

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