Significance of IEC 2016
The Year 2016 begins with a remarkable milestone for the Philippines. On 24-31 January, the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) will take place in Cebu with the entire Church in the Philippines playing host to local and international delegates. People from all over the world will come and celebrate this momentous event by witnessing to ones’ faith through the sharing of personal and communal, cultural and religious experiences centered around the Eucharist.
This is the second privileged opportunity for us to host such a great event – the first one being in 1937 In Manila. As we embark with joyful enthusiasm on a spiritual journey towards March 2021, the 500th year of Christianity in the Philippines, this is one providential occasion for Cebu, the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines.
For most Filipinos this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. His Eminence, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop-Emeritus of Cebu, is one of those privileged individuals who received First Communion in the 1937 IEC. He is scheduled to preside at the Mass of the First Communion during the IEC.
Theme: “Christ in You, Our Hope of Glory” (Col. 1:27)
Reflecting on the theme, “Christ in you, our hope in glory” (Col. 1:27), the IEC aims to deepen and enrich, strengthen and shed light on the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist, mission, and hope in our present world.
In the Eucharist the sacred Body of Christ is broken and shared; so too, this gathering enables participants to understand more deeply and to respond more effectively to the mission of bringing the Eucharistic Presence of Christ to the whole world. In so doing, we enter into communion (“one with”) of love with the Risen Lord and with one another.
The eight-day congress features various activities that would enable not only official delegates but also every Filipino of good will to partake of the spiritual and cultural richness of the IEC. Transformed by such encounter, they, in turn, become a leaven transforming the world, starting with themselves, their families, and their circles of influence.
Underlying this pattern of being transformed and being sent to transform is the Last Supper. Here Christ institutes the Eucharist and also washes the feet of his disciples. Only those whose feet are washed have a “share” in Jesus and they, in turn, must “wash one another’s feet” (John 13:8,14).
“Christ In You…”
The starting point of IEC 2016 is “mystery”, which is God’s eternal plan to save now manifested in and through Christ in all its fullness and for all of creation! God gradually reveals this mystery by first speaking through creation and through the prophets. Finally, “In giving us his Son, his only and definitive Word, God spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word, and he has no more to say” (Saint John of the Cross).
Jesus selected men and women to continue his saving and redeeming presence through space and time until he comes again in glory. It is by the breath of the Holy Spirit (John 19:30 and 20:22) and that they reveal Jesus’ glory to the world. The Church is Christ’s sacrament of salvation.
This “mystery” of God’s abiding and saving presence in the world is proclaimed unceasingly through the Church, missionary by its very nature. Pope Francis reminds us to go to the “peripheries” (EG 20). We are a community that “goes forth” to take on the “smell of the sheep” (EG 24).
The source and high point of this missionary mandate is the Eucharist. “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). St. John Paul II adds, “The celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the most effective missionary act that the ecclesial community can perform in world history.” Each specific rite in the Mass, from the Introductory Rites, to the Liturgy of the Word, Presentation of the Gifts, The Eucharistic Prayer, Communion, and Dismissal embodies this call to mission.
Christ in us impels us to share our faith with others. Divine love overflows!
This missionary mandate is undertaken in the spirit and process of dialogue reflecting both the very nature of the Triune God and the loving dialogue of salvation initiated by God with humanity.
This mission in dialogue is always in view of the proclamation of the good news even as we are ready to exchange information, share explanation, and ask questions of our dialogue partners. This requires a “spirituality of communion…to ‘make room’” for others (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43). While appied first to dialogue within the Church and between Christian denominations, this spirituality is needed for the Church’s four-fold dialogue in Asia with peoples and cultures, religions and religious traditions, the poor, and the youth.
Our dialogue with people’s and cultures seeks a “faith that is inculturated and culture that is evangelized.” This challenge is particularly true in Asia where two-thirds of the world’s population live amidst a “mosaic of many cultures.” This calls for a “deep insertion of local churches in the surrounding cultures.” This is a two-way street. The Asian genius for prayer can enrich the Church’s prayer tradition even as a truly Asian Church emerges. In addition, the “evangelizing power” of popular piety should be appreciated and some of its elements channeled into the Church’s liturgical life. Finally, the Eucharist as meal and sacrifice finds resonance in some deeply-held Asian values.
The world’s major religions originate from Asia and our dialogue with them recognizes that they “enshrine spiritual, ethical, and human values” expressing the presence of God’s word and the creative work of the Holy Spirit. We should be open to whatever is truly human in them and “find authentic ways of living and expressing” our Christian faith amidst believers of other religions. Most of all, this dialogue consists in a leavening life-witness of Christian love and unity flowing into a non-triumphalistic sharing to others of Christ our hope of glory.
A vast number of people in Asia are poor amidst rich natural resources because they have no access to them. Dialogue with the poor translates into a preferential, though not exclusive, option for those in the peripheries in terms of the “Church’s attention, services, and resources.” This option necessitates that Church leaders adopt a simple lifestyle, that we engage in works of development and promote a “disposition of solidarity” in a world marked by indifference to others, and that we be a prophetic voice for the poor. Such solidarity begins with identifying “who and where these poor are and what kind of poverty they (are) suffering from” and goes beyond a dole-out mentality to transforming structures in partnership with the poor. The Church’s engagement, however, is not ideological but an imitation of Jesus’ self-sacrificing love recalled and made present in the Eucharist, and flowing into good works for others.
Finally, our dialogue with the youth takes on compelling significance since 60 percent of the world’s young people are in Asia. The youth are not just the future but already the present of the Church. They are energetic change agents who are also vulnerable in a rapidly-changing world. Dialogue with youth translates into a pastoral care that sensitively accompanies the youth in their human and spiritual development. Youth formation should make Catholic youth dialogue partners with young people of other faiths. They are subjects, not mere objects, of development. The Eucharist offers young people a spiritual response to their quest for meaning in life as well as nurture virtue. It is also “the most perfect and intimate form of communication between God and man.” Youthful aspirations find fulfillment in the Eucharist.
Towards a Mature Faith
The 51st International Eucharistic Congress brings the whole world to Cebu and the Philippines.
While we fervently thank God for our journey of faith that began in Cebu, we bring with us a challenge from St. Paul who, proclaiming Christ as our hope of glory, directs his actions so to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). I ask for prayers for our journey towards Christian maturity.
May the Virgin Mary Mother of the Eucharist, whose whole life exemplified a living dialogue with God, accompany us in this journey.
+Jose S. Palma, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu