It would be easy to reduce the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC2016), held in Cebu Philippines from 24 – 31 January, to a series of statistics.
Attendance figures such as 350,000 at the opening Mass at Plaza Independencia, 1.5 million people participating in the Eucharistic Procession, 5,000 First Communicants including over 400 street kids, 1000 additional police, 3 platoons of the Regional Public Safety Battalion, 12,000 registered delegates plus volunteers, exhibitors, food providers, ushers, transport and so on.
For the 50 plus delegates from Australia privileged to attend this Congress, the impact on our lives has been immediate and we hope long lasting too. As we have immersed ourselves in the various talks, Eucharistic and cultural celebrations, we have been awestruck at the public expressions of the Catholic faith.
This fact was on display when delegates visited Cebu city parishes for Mass, a parish dinner and cultural show hosted by the parish community.
On 27 January, the Armidale delegation, which included delegates from Armidale, Lismore, Broken Bay and Bathurst Diocese were hosted by the Cathedral Parish. As Bishop of Armidale, I was the celebrant with Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore and visiting priests concelebrating. During the homily, I noted how warm the Filipino welcome was and how struck we were by two things:
- The Filipino joyful and public expressions of faith and love of God
- Their love of neighbour, particularly of the stranger and foreigner with hospitality, warmth, smiles, and eagerness to help.
I jokingly said that Australians expect a homily of no longer than ten minutes and the Filipinos normally expect at least 40 minutes, so I would try to keep all happy by going somewhere in between!
In Cebu there has been wall to wall coverage and publicity of the event. Television, newspapers, shopping centres, street signs all made the event highly visible. It is astounding in contrast that the event has been virtually invisible outside Cebu – there has been little coverage of it in the general or Catholic media. For those not able to attend the event this lack of reporting has meant they have not been able to share the catechesis.
With over 16 keynote speakers of international repute, the Congress catechesis was of outstanding quality. A small taste of this catechesis was in talks given by Cardinals Bo and Tagle.
Cardinal Bo reminded us that Jesus instituted the Eucharist in a safe confined space in the upper room and then went outside and lay down his life on the street. This is a good reminder for us who celebrate the Eucharist in the safety and beauty of our churches that we too must go forth from the Eucharist and lay down our lives in the streets and anywhere that we can be of service.
Cardinal Tagle challenged us to develop cultural intelligence to counter individualism and the throwaway culture. He told us that the Eucharist is the antidote to both these cultural trends. The Eucharist gathers people around the table, just like the family gathers (or should gather each night) around the family table for a meal. As in a family, where this meal time is an important renewal of the family and its life, the Eucharistic table is where the people gather and renew as a Church community.
The Eucharist is also the antidote to the throwaway culture. On the night that Jesus instituted the Eucharist the world was conspiring to throw him away. But instead he lay down his life for others. We too, said Cardinal Tagle, need to lay our life down for others, to take the focus off ourselves.
At the closing Mass, when Budapest Hungary was announced as the next host of IEC in 2020, Pope Francis (via video) exhorted the delegates to respond to the experience by being missionary disciples. As Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu expressed it “the Mass of the disciple is unending, we move from communion to mission”.