‘FEED KIDS FIRST’
Banquet for the ‘poorest’ at IEC Village; bishops hold assembly in Cebu
Before the largest international gathering of Catholic faithful opens in Cebu City, street children will be the special guests.
At 10 a.m. today following Holy Mass, about 1,000 boys and girls from urban poor families, along with their parents, will sit down and be served a meal fit for a village fiesta — lechon (roast pig), spaghetti, rice, chopsuey (mixed vegetables), cake and juice.
“We hope to give a hearty meal and goodie bags to 1,000 poor people living in dumpsites and poor areas in Cebu,” said Barbara Dowding of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada which is sponsoring the banquet with the Cebu Archdiocese.
Plated meals will be served by volunteers from the Couples for Christ in Cebu. They have special aprons ready and look forward to their task in the “Table of Hope”, said Brother Victor Abarquez.
The feeding will take place in a covered court of the Pope John XXIII seminary, one of three seminaries in Mabolo, Cebu whose grounds will serve as the “IEC Village” for over 12,000 delegates attending the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.
“This is the opening salvo of the IEC, particularly its social dimension. Without it the Mass become an empty ritual,” said Cebu’s Fr. Carmelo Diola, head of the IEC solidarity and communion committee.
The festive meal will be held after a 10 a.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver.
The religious congress, held once every four years, is an international gathering that focuses on the central role of the Eucharist — in Catholic doctrine, the real presence of Christ in the sacred host offered at Mass – as the “source and summit of the Church’s life”.
In church teaching, the Eucharistic celebration is referred to as a “sacred banquet” and a “sacrificial meal”.
Diola said the “Table of Hope” aims to make the IEC “meaningful to the poor and to give the poor a diginified participation” in the congres.”
He said the poor should not feel that they are outcasts, but part of the community.
Child beggars are a common sight in busy traffic interersections of Cebu City, including the street outside the IEC venue, where minors often approach passengers in jeepneys and cars to beg for coins.
However, half the length of busy John Paul II Avenue (from Tesda to Leona’s bakeshop) will be closed to all traffic during the congress on Jan. 24 to 31.
The narrow four-lane road will have to accommodate 100 buses to ferry delegates staying in hotels, parishes and homes of host families to and from the IEC Pavilion, the main venue of the conference.
The families invited to today’s Table of Hope were selected beforehand and given tickets.
Fr. Diola explained that Metro Cebu parishes conducted a survey to identify the “poorest of the poor” in their areas.
Another set of 500 street children will receive First Communion next Saturday, Jan. 30.
“Poor people are all around us. We cannot deny that. The spirit of the IEC is to acknowledge that they are there. And as the prayer of the 51st IEC says we should ‘walk humbly with the poor and the marginalized,’” said Diola.
Organizers said the IEC aims to promote an awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Catholic Church.
In earlier discussions, IEC Cebu organizers expressed concern about the presence of street dwellers and beggars in the city, asking what could be done for them.
Fr. Diola said he considered it “shortsighted and superficial” for the local government to round up street dwellers and send them back to their home provinces, or keep them temporarily out of sight to avoid “disturbing” guests in the IEC.
He said the government should collaborate with the Church for “organized charity work” to find lasting solutions to the problem of poverty.
Diola is executive director of Dilaab Foundation Inc. which has reached out to street children by catechizing and sending some of them to school, including facilitating the first communioh of about 50 street kids.
About 12,000 delegates from 71 countries are expected to arrive over the weekend in Cebu City for the international gathering.
Registered local delegates yesterday filled the lobby of Pope John XXIII seminary. They lined up to collect their ID badges and conference kits. Most of them were church workers, priests, nuns and elderly Catholics. Foreign delegates are expected to arrive today.
Each delegate had a security band attached to his or her right wrist, with instructions not to remove it throughout the duration of the congress. The wristband ensures them access in the IEC Pavilion and other events.
“Let us pray for the success of the IEC,” said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma after Mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral yesterday morning.
ALL BISHOPS HERE
Most of the 131 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines are in Cebu for a three-day assembly that ends on Sunday, which coincides with the opening Mass of the IEC.
The CBCP’s agenda will include reflections on the forthcoming May 2016 elections.
While bishops and priests will not endorse any candidate, Palma said they can come out with guidelines to help voters select good leaders.
“I think there will be reiterations or renewed efforts to make people aware about the importance of the electoral process. Definitely, no names of candidates will be mentioned,” said Palma, a former CBCP presdient.
Close to a hundred bishops and two of the country’s four cardinals yesterday attended Mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral before the start of the 112th Plenary Assembly.
This is the the first time the CBCP holds its plenary assembly outside Luzon since the collegial body was established in 1945.
Most members will stay on to attend the IEC which opens tomorrow with a Mass at Plaza Independencia.
The CBCP currently has 131 member-bishops, including 37 who are retired.
Present during the Mass yesterday were Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and CBCP President Socrates Villegas.
“The Holy Father will surely follow the happenings of the congress, keeping his heart on the mystery of the Eucharist,” said Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, papal nuncio to the Philippines, during the Mass.
Pope Francis, he said, described the IEC as an “occasion to rediscover the faith and the wellspring of grace.”
Papal legate Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar will arrive in Cebu tomorrow in time for the 4 p.m. opening Mass at Plaza Independencia.
He will bless the new Eucharistic Garden of Thanksgiving at the Archbishops’ Residence compound on Monday.
He will also visit the village of Pasil in Cebu City and the Cebu provincial jail. Since Bo is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, he is also expected to visit the congregation’s local community in Cebu.
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