EIGHT-YEAR-OLD PAUL Carlo Fortuna of Mandaue city was excited when he woke up yesterday.
“Makakaon na gyud ko ani og lami. (Finally, I can eat delicious food),” he said.
Fortuna, who was left by his parents two years ago, usually has a meal of rice flavored with salt and soy sauce, the normal fare in the home of his aunt who takes care of him and his five siblings.
“Wala man gud mi kuwarta mao nga panagsa ra kaayo ko makatilaw og lami. (We don’t have enough money so I seldom eat delicious food),” he told Cebu Daily News.
Fortuna, a resident of barangay Subangdaku, was among some 1,000 indigent children and some parents who were treated to a festive lunch by the Archdioceses of Cebu and Vancouver in
Canada yesterday at the “Table of Hope”, a preliminary activity of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) that formally opens today.
Wearing rubber slippers, short pants, and a blue T-shirt provided by the barangay, Fortuna shared the same table with 10-year-old Daniel Cabrera, the boy whose photo of him studying under a streetlight outside a McDonalds outlet went viral last year.
The “Table of Hope” was organized to show the church’s solidarity with the poor and give the poor “dignified participation” in the event.
The children and a few parents sat in 340 tables at the covered court of St. John XXIII Seminary in barangay Mabolo, Cebu City. About 40 volunteers of the Couples for Christ in Cebu, wearing special aprons that said “Love More”, served plated meals.
Each plastic tray box had two cups of rice, two pieces of fried chicken, humba (braised pork), lechon (roasted pig), cup cakes, a softdrink and water.
Sinulog music and hymns in honor of the Sto. Niño de Cebu were played on audio speakers during the lunch which followed a Mass.
The guests went home with “goodie” bags which contained one kilo of rice, assorted canned goods, a toothbrush, tooth paste, towel, and water.
Present during the activity were Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver, Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg in Canada, Fr. Carmelo Diola of the IEC Solidarity and Communion committee, and about 20 priests from Cebu and Canada.
“This is a very beautiful event,” said Archbishop Miller in an interview.
“We know that Jesus loves the poor more than anybody else. How can we do otherwise? The best way to celebrate the Eucharistic congress is to have that great gift of people whom the Lord wants us to continue to take care of,” he said.
Miller presided over a Mass at the start of the event. In his homily, he called people to imitate Jesus in serving the poor.
“Jesus gave poor people His time because seeing the multitudes, he was moved with pity and compassion for them,” he said.
Priests and some lay delegates from Canada and the Philippines sat and ate with the poor during the activity.
They interacted with children and their parents in English while eating. Although not fluent in speaking the language, the locals tried their best to respond through a few English words and hand gestures.
Daniel Cabrera, who became famous after he was photographed while studying outside a fastfood chain, said he too felt very happy when told about the food they were about to eat.
“Gigutom na ko. (I feel hungry),” he told CDN with a smile.
Cabrera said he’s studying very hard to achieve his dream of becoming a policeman.
Fr. Diola, who organized the event, said he was lost for words at seeing poor people happy.
“Dili mapalit ang akong kalipay. (My joy couldn’t be bought). Let’s enjoy the moment,” he told reporters after the Mass.
Diola said he and the archdiocese of Vancouver dreamnt of reaching out to the poor as part of the celebrations for the IEC.
“This is not feeding. We are having a meal. And there’s a difference between the two. The IEC is not just an event but also a journey. What we have now is the result of people, groups, and even countries coming together,” he said.
After the congress, Diola said he will do his best to perpetuate what has been started and for the Church to continue reaching out to the poor, not just by providing food, but also teaching them the basics of the Christian faith.
Diola said they want poor people to feel they are not outcasts and that they part of the community.
He explained that the parishes earlier conducted a survey to identify the “poorest of the poor” in their respective areas.
Most of the children who took part in yesterday’s activity, he said, come from the streets of Metro Cebu.
Another set of street kids will receive first communion on Jan. 30, the seventh day of the IEC.
The IEC which takes place every four years aims to promote an awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Catholic Church, to draw attention to the social dimension of the sacrament, and to help improve understanding about the liturgy.