CEBU, the “cradle of faith” of the country, has been chosen by the Vatican to host a large gathering of the Catholic world in 2016.

The Pope made the announcement during the liturgy on the final day of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

“I would like to invite you to join me in praying for God’s blessing upon the next International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place in 2016 in the city of Cebu,” Pope Benedict XVI said at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin.

The International Eucharistic Congress is a celebration of faith and an assembly of pilgrims, devotees, lay people, and Church leaders held every four years. The recent congress was hosted by Ireland, with the theme, “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another.”

Fr. Miguel Garcia, executive secretary of the Episcopal Committee on Eucharistic Congresses, explained the role of the congresses in the Catholic Church.

“An International Eucharistic Congress aims to promote an awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Catholic Church, to improve our understanding and celebration of the Liturgy, and to draw attention to the social dimension of the Eucharist,” Garcia said in an e-mail to the Varsitarian.

Garcia added that the gathering is an opportunity for Filipinos to express their gratitude to God and be reminded of their mission to evangelize.

“We benefited from the foreign missionaries who planted the seed of faith [in the country]. This time, it is our turn to share what we have received and be missionaries and evangelizers.”

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Although the congress started in 1881 in Lille, France, the four-year gap was observed only since 1981.

“Since 1981, the Congress was held every four years, except in 2000 [when it was held after three years in observance of Jubilee Year],” Garcia said. “Perhaps, to see the practical side of this event, four years is enough time to prepare for this international gathering of the hosting country.”

Fr. Dave Clay, assistant executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission of Family and Life, said Cebu is considered “the cradle of faith” because it is where Catholicism started in the Philippines.

The Philippines first hosted an International Eucharistic Congress on Feb. 3 to 7, 1937 at Luneta Park in Manila, with the theme, “The Eucharistic Apostolate in the Mission.”

According to the Vatican’s documents on International Eucharistic Congresses, re-evangelization was the central program of the 33rd congress held in the Philippines in 1937.

The document stated that in preparation for past congress, diocesan and parish congresses were held, with lay catechists as participants.

It was during the reign of Pope Pius XI when eucharistic congresses became international, creating a “missionary dimension.”

Preparations for the next Congress

Garcia gave an idea of what could happen in the 2016 congress, but said preparations have yet to be discussed.

“As of now, there are no concrete plans, no topic, [and no] theme yet. The place of the congress and how long will it take are not clear yet. [Probably,] we will celebrate [the next congress] in the Filipino way,” Garcia said.

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In an interview with the Philippine Star, Msgr. Esteban Binghay, episcopal vicar of Metro Cebu South, said the South Road Properties (SRP) is the most viable area for the 2016 congress.

Binghay added that the SRP, which can accommodate one million people, is also being eyed as the venue of the Thanksgiving Day Mass for the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod on Nov. 30.

The conference usually includes a plenary catechesis on the Eucharist, testimonies of personal experience of the Eucharist, small conferences, and workshops, Garcia said.

“Aside from these faith-enhancing talks, other activities are held like the Eucharistic procession, continuous Eucharist adoration, pilgrim walk, youth and kids’ events, cultural presentations, [and] Visita Iglesia,” he said.

One daily activity is the celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

“There is also an opportunity to celebrate other rites aside from the Latin Rite. Hopefully this will deepen the understanding of the Eucharist and deepen the appreciation of it in our lives. Likewise, it is hoped that this will facilitate the living-out of the Eucharist we celebrate in our daily lives,” Garcia said.

Echoing Garcia, Clay said the importance of the Holy Eucharist and Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament is essential.

“Eucharist is the center of everything. Many have lost interest [in attending the Mass], so it’s a chance to renew their faith. I think it renewed the faith of the Irish,” he said.

Recent congress in Ireland

The Philippines had the most number of delegates in the recent eucharistic congress in Ireland. The delegation was headed by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

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Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle was one of the speakers in the event, and he discussed the “Communion in the Word through Mary.”

“Unfortunately the world is as divided as ever. Why is communion not achieved in spite of the exchange of words? Because Jesus is not the Word they share and receive,” Tagle said in his talk. “The Blessed Virgin Mary experienced communion in the Word in an utterly unique way. As a listener to and the bearer of the Word made flesh, she is the model and teacher for the Church.”

The Pope noted that the recent congress occurred simultaneously with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

“Christianity was no longer nourished by the joyful encounter with Jesus Christ: it has become merely a matter of habit. The work of the Council was really meant to overcome this form of Christianity and to rediscover the faith as a deep personal friendship with the goodness of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic Congress has a similar aim,” Pope Benedict XVI said.

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