Filipineses


Self-discovery in Cebu

The tanim-bala scare that had magnified into an obsessive search for the most secure luggage and body wallet for my sister and me, chewed up a third of our travel budget to Cebu last January. Add to that, one with extra space for safe-food packages and emergency pills for allergies, especially from anything ingested. 

How comforting to find out that we didn’t have monopoly of such irrationality—at YVR, our fellow pilgrims also streamed in, pushing gigantic versions of our ultra-streamlined unbreakable medium-sized luggage. All nodding acquaintances of each other at Holy Rosary Cathedral or in our parishes, we high-fived that early evening, flushed with anticipation to attend the 51st (and second in the Philippines) International Eucharistic Congress; except for a few who had gone to the spiritual event held every four years, most of us would be first-timers.

Asked by my sister what to expect in a congress, I hesitated to share what I recall of the few I had attended—possibly ho-hum stretches of talks and plenary sessions. But from the hefty kit handed to us on our arrival, the schedule had seemed daunting instead, with chanted prayers, Holy Masses, catechesis, and witnessing. We had taken on the identity of “delegates” by then, with an ID bracelet to be worn even in sleep, also a laminated tag with our name and country in bold font.

None of my imaginings humored me from hereon: Not the danger-laced daily trek through hot and dusty streets to get to the proceedings—a cop-escorted luxury coach fetched us from and took us back to the hotel; or the staid picture I had of the John Paul II Pavilion—the open-walled congress site, with cloth panels for a ceiling turned out cheery, even roaring and jubilant. In it, swarmed 15,000 delegates daily, possibly more, as well as hundreds of religious, mostly Filipinos, including the Papal Legate Charles Cardinal Bo, bishops, archbishops and cardinals from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, singing, praising, and applauding.

And soon we relaxed into just being ourselves, focusing cameras, clicking for selfies, crisscrossing aisles to find washrooms, and at lunch on Styrofoam boxes, picnicking, swapping food and life stories, and, yes, texting—all amid impassioned catechesis and homilies, which always extolled the Filipinos’ unabashed “love for the Eucharist.” We had formed a family by Day Two, with our seatmates on both sides, marking in the vastness our space but lost our fellow Vancouverites since.

From Day One, we whirled non-stop with events like visits to the city’s churches, a barrio fiesta, and on to the last three days, which ended physically grueling. Take these: a five-kilometer sunset-to-evening procession of the Eucharist that ballooned to an estimated million, which though, with fat candles, not a strand of hair got singed. Next, a concelebrated Holy Mass on a seething afternoon that sent us up the topmost bleacher seats of the Cebu City Sports Complex, which former Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal officiated for 5,000 first communicants, himself one such at the 1937 congress in Manila.

The concluding rites at Statio Orbis (Stations of the World) way out next door to the humungous SM Seaside, in five of the 25 hectares, where a template of the San Pedro Calungsod Shrine’s altar served the occasion, again got inundated by another estimated 1 million Cebuanos, among whom my sister and I managed to squeeze in, shaded by tall umbrella-bearing women. On only two occasions, two fainted from the heat; all seemed drunk with an inexplicable sense of simply flocking together in response to Christ’s “convocare” for supper, as Luis Cardinal Tagle described it.

The congress would be, for my sister, a burst of self-discovery: herself moaning in grief with every TFC news of disaster, crime, abuse and neglect, causing endless poverty, she finally realized why we, Filipinos, indeed, survive—we do possess an incredible gift, nay, blessing of incorrigible joy, apparently inimitably ours.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, April 3, 2016

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