God’s Greatest Show on Earth


        The World Cup fever is on! Perhaps not so much in the Philippines being a “basketball country.”  Yet the world’s most popular sport is football. It is played by 250 million players in 200 countries with about 3 billion fans worldwide. And as this “greatest show on earth” takes place in Brazil, the world’s attention stops to watch its outcome of triumph or defeat. Though hosting an international event this big is a nightmare, its returns are just beyond the purse. In this global stage, the event has such a lasting impact to both players and spectators that bring out lessons of team spirit, collective dream and community experience.
         
          When the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines formally announced last week the 51st International Eucharistic Congress which will happen in Cebu from January 24-31, 2016, I had the World Cup as my backdrop. The 51stIEC though, pales in magnitude yet its distinctive aim is for community experience. Thus despite the rains, all four of our Filipino Cardinals (Luis Antonio Tagle, Gaudencio Rosales, Ricardo Vidal and newly ordained Orlando Quevedo) including Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines His Excellency Most Rev. Guiseppe Pinto, D.D joined the Congress Chairman,  Archbishop Jose Palma at the Arzobispado de Manila in Intramuros for the launching. The “all-star” cast is a clear indicator how big and important this event is for the Catholic Church in the Philippines.
          Luis Cardinal Tagle shares a beautiful insight during the pres con on the importance of this affair: “If people are looking forward to the many international events, like the FIFA World Cup and the ASEAN Summit, this time, the IEC 2016 is universal. And if Iglesia means “a people gathered by GOD”, who is trinity and communion, there’s no better way to gather the world by responding to God’s call.”
          Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the conclusion of the previous Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin, Ireland in June 2012 announced the choice of Cebu as the next venue. In a video message, he said: “I would like to invite you to join me in praying for God’s blessings upon the next International Eucharistic Congress, which will take place in 2016 in the city of Cebu! To the people of the Philippines I send warm greetings and an assurance of my closeness in prayer during the period of preparation for this great ecclesial gathering.  I am confident that it will bring lasting spiritual renewal not only to them but to all the participants from across the globe.”
          The choice of Cebu is occasioned by the 500th anniversary of the Christianization of the country in 2021. The first Eucharistic Celebration in the Philippines was on Easter Sunday of March 31, 1521 in an island named Mazaua by eyewitness Antonio Pigafetta, which is believed to be Limasawa. Few days later, they embarked towards Sugbu where Ferdinand Magellan planted the first cross and convinced Cebuano natives to embrace the faith. Rajah Humabon and Hara Humamai were baptized by Fr. Pedro de Valderama who took the names “Carlos” and “Juana” along with 800 of their subjects. Each year, at the Sinulog celebration, the reenactment of the first mass and baptism is made as a renewal of the Christian promise to follow Christ. Hopefully it is not just for a show but a continual challenge to change for the better.
        The Solemnity of Corpus Christi or the Body and Blood of Christ invites us to reflect on the sacrament of the Eucharist. In John’s Gospel Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51). St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem in the 4th century, clarifies this for us in his Jerusalem Catecheses: “it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers in the divine nature.” This communion with Christ, therefore, is a call towards self and social transformation. It is not enough to receive Jesus. We are to become Jesus! Such is the Eucharistic challenge. 
        One of the poignant picture I saw among Pope Francis’ visit to Israel was his unofficial stop at the graffiti-covered separation wall in Bethlehem. With head bowed, he prayed silently. I’m sure he prayed for reconciliation and communion among peoples; when walls will no longer be needed for lasting peace. I realize that in the altars of the world, Jesus unceasingly prays for such reconciliation to happen. His greatest mission is for humanity to be one with God. In the Eucharist, He comes in person. This miracle of his real presence shows us the depth of his love. When we received him we become one Body in Christ. He leads us to a deeper communion with each other. This makes the Eucharist God’s greatest show on earth!

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