IEC---TWThe International Eucharistic Congress

[VIEW: Photos of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress]

The International Eucharistic Congress is a large gathering where Roman Catholics convene for several days in open-air masses, processions, and theological symposiums. The gathered lay people and clergy bear witness to, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, the “Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”[1] There have been 50 Congresses held in different locations all over the world. The first was held in France in 1881. The last International Eucharistic Congress held in the Philippines was in 1937, in Manila. The 51st Congress will be held in Cebu this year.

I. Manila as Host to the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress, 1937.

The Philippines hosted the International Eucharistic Congress for the first time, from February 3–7, 1937, during the Commonwealth Period, under the pontificate of Pope Pius XI. The Congress then was in its 33rd year and it was the first time the congress was held in Asia. Approximately 1.5 million people attended, many from different parts of the world. The designation of Manila as the seat of the International Eucharistic Congress was a prestigious event that attracted the attention of the then approximately 300 million Catholics all over the world. When it chose Manila as host, the Permanent Committee of the International Eucharistic Congresses—which organizes the Congress—had to reject numerous hosting petitions.[2] It was a highly anticipated event as “for the first time… [the Philippines] will see real cardinals in person and many will actually receive Holy Communion from them.”[3]

1
The Pontifical Mass at the conclusion of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress on February 7, 1937, held in Rizal Park. This was also the same site where Pope John Paul II held a mass during his first papal visit to the country in 1981. Courtesy of philippineromancatholic.blogspot.com

The event took two years of preparation. The construction of the Tower of Ivory in Luneta began in December of 1936;[4] it was to house the Altar of Altars where the Eucharist would be displayed. It was described as “symbolic of the Blessed Mother… she who stood by her Son’s Cross and stood upright, too, under the heavy burden of her sorrows—a tower huge but graceful and transcendent in its august simplicity.”[5] The ivory tower cost around P50,000.00 to build.[6]

2
A scanned copy of the Official Program of the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress. Courtesy of Lopez Museum and Library.

Plans for the main assembly grounds in Luneta were also laid out. They included the construction of the Religious Art Exposition, where “church relics, church gems, ornate bits such as we crane our necks for, in order to have a glimpse of them as they hung in mid-air inside the churches, and a wealth of art rarities in the Far East.”[7] Around ten luxury liners would bring pilgrims to Manila and serve as floating hotels.

3
Throngs of people attended the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress Mass on February 7, 1937 at Rizal Park. Courtesy of Dennis Raymond.

At the time, a special Papal Legate,[8] the legatus a latere—translated from Latin, literally meaning “a representative from the pope’s side”—was sent to represent Pope Pius XI in the Congress.[9] The legate, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty,[10] was delegated with full plenipotentiary powers. The Cardinal was accorded the special honor of residing in Malacañan Palace for the duration of the Congress.

On February 7, 1937, at the conclusion of the Congress, the Papal Legate led the celebration of the Pontifical Mass, assisted by other cardinals, archbishops, and bishops. Dressed in chasubles and robes of their respective offices, it was a solemn event and a “grand pageantry of religious revival in this part of the world.”[11]

4
His Eminence Dennis Cardinal Dougherty and his escorts with First Lady Aurora A. Quezon during his brief stay in Malacañan Palace. Seated is Mrs. Quezon, the Papal Legate, Mons. O’Hara. Standing: Chamberlain Fitzpatrick, Lo Ha Pong, Papal knight Mons. McCormick, Mons. C. Bruno, Fr. Burgio, Papal Knight Marella. The Herald, February 8, 1937. (Photo from the Histogravure of President Manuel L. Quezon)

II. Cebu as Host to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, 2016

The country will host the 51st International Eucharistic Congress on January 24–31, 2016, in Cebu.[12] The theme, “Christ In You, Our Hope of Glory,” is taken from the passage, Colossians 1:27.[13] Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced in June of 2012 that Cebu would host the event.[14] The formal launching of the preparations began on November 24, 2013, with the announcement of Most Reverend Jose S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu. The preparations coincided with the Feast of Christ the King, in solidarity with the victims of calamities that befel the provinces of Leyte, Samar, and Bohol.[15]

The upcoming International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu will include 16 keynote addresses by international speakers, and a solemn Eucharistic procession, adoration, and benediction. Workshops, film screenings, concerts, and stage plays will also be held. The main venue will be at the IEC Pavilion at Pope John Paul II Avenue, Mabolo, Cebu City.

For more information, visit the official website of the IEC here.

III. Theme Song

The theme song of the International Eucharistic Congress in 1937 was the hymn “No Mas Amor Que El Tu Yo (There is No Greater Love Than Yours), which won the first place in a contest of hymns. The hymn, written in Spanish, spoke of the devotion of the Filipino people towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For the upcoming Congress this 2016, the song “Christ in Us, the Hope of Glory,” composed by Jay-Arr Felisilda Librando, a 34 year old theology seminarian from Cebu City, won the first place, out of 20 entries, in the Congress’ theme song composition contest held in October 2013.

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[1] Monsignor William P. Fay, “The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, accessed on January 4, 2015, link.

[2] “XXXIII International Eucharistic Congress: Its Social Benefits Will Prove Immeasurable,” Philippine Magazine, December 1936, p. 632.

[3] “To Convert Manila into a World Altar: The Country’s Catholic Millions Prepare Daily for Grand Pageantry of Religious Revival Fifty Weeks from Today,” The Sunday Tribune Magazine, February 23, 1936, p. 11.

[4] ___, “Preparing for the Host: Eucharistic Congress in San Nicolas Cebu and in Bacolod, Occ. Negros; Eucharistic Monument in Luneta,” The Sunday Tribune Magazine, January 3, 1937, p. 11.

[5] Paciencia Torre-Guzman, “A 50,000 Ball Of Fire,” The Sunday Tribune Magazine, July 12, 1936, p. 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] A Papal Legate is the Pope’s personal representative to nations, states, unions and international organizations is the Papal Legate. The Papal Legate is personally appointed by the Pope to engage nations and other ecclesiastical unions in matters of diplomacy and church polity. It has several ranks.

[9] “Legatus a Latere”, Encyclopedia Britannica, retrieved on 8 January 2015 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/334921/legatus-a-latere

[10] Julio Rosales, “Eucharistic Congresses in the Philippines,” Philippine Studies vol. 4, no. 4 (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University, 1956), p. 553–564.

[11] “To Convert Manila into a World Altar: The Country’s Catholic Millions Prepare Daily for Grand Pageantry of Religious Revival Fifty Weeks from Today,” The Sunday Tribune Magazine, February 23, 1936, p. 11.

[12] “51st International Eucharistic Congress”, 51st International Eucharistic Congress Website, accessed on January 8, 2015, link.

[13] “The Theme of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress is ‘Christ In You, Our Hope of Glory,’” 51st International Eucharistic Congress Website, accessed on January 4, 2015, link.

[14] “About IEC 2016,” 51st International Eucharistic Congress Website, accessed on January 4, 2015, link.

[15] “The Launching of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines,” 51st International Eucharistic Congress Website, accessed on January 4, 2015, link.