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Mission must include the wisdom of a vision for the future

CEBU (SE): The 51st Eucharistic Congress formally opened in Cebu, The Philippines, on January 24 with an outdoor Mass celebrated by the special envoy from Pope Francis, Charles Maung Cardinal Bo, from Yangon in the Union of Myanmar, at the Plaza Independencia.

In introducing the congress, Cardinal Bo said that holding it in Asia is significant, as the continent is home to a confluence of major religions and a part of the world that has not embraced secularism.

He said that he also believes that the spiritual fervour witnessed at the community level is an effective way of witnessing to the faith in the world. He said, “The event will be an occasion to work in three directions—dialogue with religions, with culture and the poor.”

Saying that Asia remains a common task for the Church, he described the challenge as seeing what God is saying through these realities.

“The celebration of the congress in The Philippines, the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia, is a major challenge to strengthen the missionary perspective. The theme revolves around the hope that joins the task of the gift from God of young people and commitment to the ranks of the poor of the continent,” he said.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparrampil, from India, sees an important social dimension in the congress as well. He says that at the massive prayer gatherings of Asia, which draw bigger crowds than sporting or even most political events, the rich and the poor stand alongside each other as equals.

He added that gathering around the mystery of the Eucharist is also a strong dynamic, as silent worship is what Asians value most in religion.

The archbishop of Guwahati called it an expression of real inculturation of religion in Asia, which he described as a happy encounter between two sets of human experiences, stressing that inculturation is not a cosmetic process of putting on makeup, but the life-giving touch of Christ.

He says that this has a profound impact on the social dimension of society as well, pointing out that the famed Indian liberationist, Mahatma Gandhi, began the more serious part of his political career in an ashram with regular habits of prayer.

He told AsiaNews, “When taught non-violence from a prayer context, it appealed to the nation. With the tools of non-violence sharpened, he could go ahead more confidently into his struggle for his country’s independence.”

The archbishop drew attention to Jesus’ command to his disciples when faced with the hungry crowd, “You yourselves give them something to eat.”

But he explained that this is not just a matter of distributing food and drink, medicine and blankets, but must include the encouragement and support of the contextualised wisdom of a vision for the future, or a reassurance that the dreams of the people are not impossible to fulfill.

“Our evangelisation only becomes convincing when people see that we know how to look beyond the horizon—that we are people of faith,” he pointed out.

Archbishop Menamparrampil described the purpose of the congress as a recharging of energies for another round of generous service, saying that the best missionaries are those who can relate with cultures and heritage, bring inward-looking communities out of their shells and deal with the angered or the vengeful radical with respect and sensitivity—not those who condemn or speak from the high moral ground.

But Archbishop Menamparrampil insists that the wonderful thing about the Eucharist is that it brings people together and in our modern highly secularised, market-driven, value-neutral world, it is the gathering that can inspire people to help each other.

Archbishop José Palma, from the host archdiocese of Cebu, said preparation for the congress was done in tandem with recovering from two major disasters, the earthquake in Bohol and the typhoon that lashed its shores.

He said that he believes that the choice of Cebu, the biggest diocese in The Philippines, was an expression of the support of the international community and he welcomes people to come and touch the faith and hope of the Philippine people, in which he believes they are extremely rich.

Gathering under the theme, Christ, in you our hope and glory, the congress organisers say that the word hope is central, as it reflects the importance of young people in the Church, as they are the ones that give it hope, together with the incredible human resources represented by the cultures of different peoples.

The congress seeks to recognise what they have created with their intelligence and their hands, the treasures of their wisdom and their centuries-old traditions, their concrete way of being human.

The Cross of Magellan has been chosen as the symbol of the gathering, as it was under his inspiration that Christianity first arrived in The Philippines and, significantly, the wife of the raja of Mactan in Cebu is revered as the first person to be baptised in 1521.

The Cross of Magellan symbolises the call to mission to the Gentiles and as the Church realises the mission methods of the past are in need of purification, the cross is seen as being a call to purification today.

Running until January 31, the congress offers a rich variety of catechesis, education through drama, art and a wide variety of presentations on Philippine culture and God’s revelation expressed through its customs and traditions.

Attractions include a heritage tour of the old district of Cebu and a coral festival put on by the Cebu Metropolitan Choir. There was a musical drama on the life of the second Filipino to be canonised as a saint, Pedro Calungsod.

The Philippines has two saints and significantly both are lay missionaries.

Parables of Today was a popular feature, as well as Memoirs of Faith and a presentation of the faith of the southern Philippines, in addition to the devotion to the boy Jesus in the figure of the Sto. Niño, which also tells the story of the faith coming to the predominately Muslim shores of Cebu.

A colourful parade of fiesta folk dances was an enjoyable way to contact the faith and wisdom of Philippine rural life and the development of the stories that have been told to pass on the values of faith in an oral-aura culture, which can inspire people of any background.

The former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, gave a testimony from his own life experience on January 23 and Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang, from Macau, was scheduled to lead morning prayer on January 27.

A series of speakers addressed the topics of faith in a secular society, ministry amidst poverty, interreligious dialogue and the power of the Eucharist in Church life.

The archbishop of Manila, Luis Cardinal Tagle, spoke of the congress as a means of finding our way in difficult times and expressed the hope that a peaceful gathering would in itself be a sign of hope in the broken and violent society of The Philippines and the world.


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