Over 200,000 join rare procession of Blessed Sacrament
At dusk, a sea of candlelight illumined the length of Osmeña Boulevard where a glittering cross was brought in procession with the presence of Jesus Christ in a consecrated host.
At least 200,000 people joined the two-kilometer prayer walk from the Capitol building where Mass was held outside its front steps to Plaza Independencia on the sixth day of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC).
“So often we take the Eucharist for granted when it should be the center of our lives,” said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland in his homily.
The notion of Jesus Christ appearing in Cebu City – not just statues of saints – may be strange even for Catholics to grasp but this was the core belief behind yesterday’s procession of the Blessed Sacrament down the longest street of the city.
A sense of the sacred was evoked by solemn hymns and chants in Latin, English and later on, foreign languages.
At the plaza, everyone fell on their knees when the consecrated host — a large circular wafer made of wheat – was exposed amid clouds of incense.
IEC Secretary General Bishop Dennis Villorojo, who earlier said the event would be a “spectacle to behold”, explained the rare exposure.
The event would be the equivalent of Jesus Christ himself walking the streets of Cebu city, the center of adoration of its people, he said.
“It means we hail Him. We accept him as King of the City,” he told reporters.
People young and old, including IEC delegates from different parts of the Philippines and over 70 other countries, accompanied a float on which the Eucharist was mounted in a custom-made four-foot-high monstrance.
They uttered prayers and sang Eucharistic hymns which were aired on loud speakers installed along the route.
People who waited by the roadside looked with silent awe and adoration at the chrome-and-gold monstrance shaped like cross with the Eucharist in the center.
From the center, 51 gold rays extended outward representing the 51 eucharistic congresses held around the world.
Cebu is hosting the congress for the first time. The last time the EIC was held in the Philippines was 79 years ago in Luneta Park in Manila.
People who waited by the roadside also paid homage by waving their hands. Others held up lighted candles and battery-operated lights.
The monstrance was nested on a bed of red roses, with violet orchids, white liliums, and foliage covering the float.
Seated behind it on red cushions were Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Archbishop Piero Marini of the Vatican, and Yangon, Myanmar Archbishop Charles Maung Cardinal Bo who is representing Pope Francis in the 51st IEC.
The carriage also carried sculptures of the facade of the five major churches in Cebu: Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Shrine of St. Joseph, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Rule, and the Archdiocesan Shrine of San Pedro Calungsod.
The three-hour procession, which reached the Plaza Independencia towards 8 p.m., remained peaceful and orderly.
A human cordon composed of the Knights of Columbus, lay ministers, the Pedro Calungsod Choir, army soldiers, and student cadets kept people from crowding the flloat.
But unlike the annual procession of the Sto. Nino de Cebu every January, people were content to stay on the roadside and did not push their way to get nearer.
Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak estimated the number of partiicpants in yesterday’s solemn procession at at over 200,000.
The procession slowed down near the Basilica del Sto. Nino where low hanging cables almost caused an accident.
Lay ministers used two long poles to push up the sagging wires while a marshall climbed the float to push away a cable.
At the Plaza Independence, the Knights of Columbus in their black capes, formed an honor guard on both sides of the walkway to welcome the Blessed Sacrament.
As the sacred host was carried to a flower-decked altar, the congregation sang Pange Lingua (of the Glorious Body Telling), an ancient Latin hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.
The faithful also chanted the chaplet of the Divine Mercy and recited the “Divine Praises.”
During Mass earlier in front of the Capitol dome, Archbishop Martin of Dublin talked about the Eucharist – the actual presence of God in body and blood – as the “source and summit of the Catholic faith.”
He cited the exampl of the late Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who was persecuted and spent 13 years imprisoned on a ship.
The cardinal, who managed to get small quantities of wine and host, would celebrate Mass in the dark with drops of wine in his hand.
Antoher bishop, Basimir Maydanski of Poland was taken to the Nazi’s Dachau concentration camp. But the bishop and other priests found a way to secretly hold Mass using vestments made from rags, and smuggled pieces of host and wine.
“The Eucharist is at the heart of being a Christian. There is no Church without the Eucharist,” he said.
The last IEC held in 2012 was in Dublin
Present during the Mass were Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III, his father and former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale and several other government officials.
Seven cardinals, and several bishops and priests from different countries concelebrated with Martin.
Dave Tumulak of the Cebu City Disaster Office said the procession, which had organizers worrying about security, was orderly from the start at 5:10 p.m. till it ended about 8 p.m.
When the procession reached the corner of Osmena Boulevard and Plaridel Street near Luym Building, its tail was still at the Fuente Osmena circle.The entire street has a distance of 1.8 kilometers and width of about 20 meters.
Tumulak said they computed the crowd size with a density of 5 persons per square meter and added 45,000 as the estimated crowd staying on the sidewalk.
He estimated a total crowd of 233,400 but this did not yet include the people who converged at the Plaza ahead of the procession.
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