Sunday, 17 January 2016

Eucharistic Congresses in the Philippines

The LI International Eucharistic Congress will be celebrated from 24 to 31 January 2016 in Cebu (for details, read here), or as it was commonly called in bygone times, la ciudad del Santísimo Nombre del Niño Jesús. Its theme, as is common nowadays, is Christ in you, our hope of glory from Col. 1, 27. This will be the second International Eucharistic Congress celebrated in the Philippines. The first was in 1937.

Let us look at the history of Eucharistic Congresses in the Philippines.

First National Eucharistic Congress of the Philippines, 1929
The First National Eucharistic Congress of the Philippines was celebrated from 11 to 15 December 1929, at the instigation of the then archbishop of Manila, the Most Reverend Michael James O’Doherty. In preparation for this Congress, parishes throughout the archipelago celebrated jornadas eucarísticas, which are local Eucharistic tridua or novenas, general Communions (frequent Communion still meant receiving Communion once or twice a month), and solemn processions.

The apostolic delegate to this Congress was the Most Reverend Guglielmo Piani. Conventions were systematically scheduled throughout the whole duration of the Congress, ending each with a Pontifical Mass with sermon (priests in those times were not in the habit of delivering sermons every Mass). Conferences were proctored separately for men, women, children, young men, and young women. There was even a conference for tagalophones, in which D. Gerardo Máximo, the priest who would pen the lyrics of the official hymn of the second National Congress, became one of its many luminaries.

Some of the moving discourses and eloquent speeches delivered by participants of the conference for the youth can be read here and here.

XXXIII International Eucharistic Congress, 1937
This was the first International Eucharistic Congress held in the Philippines. It was celebrated from 3 to 7 February 1937 in Manila, or as it was commonly called in bygone times, la insigne, muy noble, y siempre leal ciudad de Manila. As was done in the National Congress of 1929, parish Eucharistic tridua or novenas were held, culminating to a much larger celebration celebrated at the diocesan level. This aimed at spiritually preparing the Filipino people for the International Congress. 

The papal legate a latere was His Eminence Dennis Joseph Cardinal Dougherty, who had previously been bishop of Nueva Segovia, and, afterwards, bishop of Jaro. From this International Congress sprang the two landmark Filipino hymns to the Blessed Sacrament, Gloria a Jesús (read here), and the Sacred Heart, No más amor que el tuyo (read here). Read a further treatment of the hymns here.

One of the minor highlights of this event was the harassment Catholics received from avowed Freemasons. Apparently, in a story pivoting on mafia-esque intimidation that one would think it happened in Sicily and not in Tondo, Freemasons forbade Catholics in Tondo from decorating their homes for the Congress, threatening to burn the district should anyone dared so. One family braved the threat and soon Tondo was in flames. Only the decorated house survived the conflagration. Read the story here.

Second National Eucharistic Congress, 1956
This was the first Eucharistic Congress held in the country after World War II, instigated by the bishops of the archipelago headed by the then archbishop of Cebu, the Most Reverend (later His Eminence) Julio Rosales. It was celebrated from 28 November to 2 December 1956. The focus of the entire Congress was the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and one could consider its theme to be the words written by the Episcopal Commission in capital letters in its pastoral letter announcing the Congress: A better world through the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.

The papal legate a latere was His Eminence Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman. One of the notable characters of this Congress was its official hymn. In the past two Congresses, the hymns were in Spanish. In this Congress, the hymn was in Filipino. One of the highlights of this Congress was the series of Consecrations pronounced by the first family. On 29 November 1956, the first lady, Luz Magsaysay, consecrated all Filipino families to the Sacred Heart. On 2 December 1956, the president himself, Ramón Magsaysay, consecrated the Philippines to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an act that drew criticism from places echoing with the voices of heretics and schismatics. A picture of the momentous event can be seen here.

Third National Eucharistic Congress, 1965
This was the first Eucharistic Congress held in the Philippines after the reforms of Vatican II. It was celebrated from 28 April to 2 May in Cebu, on the occasion of the IV Centenary of the Christianisation of the Philippines.

The papal legate a latere was His Eminence Ildebrando Cardinal Antoniutti. The Congress was a monumental event in Cebu. It was not the quadricentennial anniversary of the Christianisation of the Philippines, but also the quadricentennial anniversary of the finding of the image of the Holy Child of Cebu (read here). One 28 April 1965, the papal legate crowned the image of the Holy Child of Cebu; and on 2 May 1965, Pope Paul VI raised the church of the Holy Child into the status of a minor basilica.

We have been unable to ascertain what the official hymn of this Congress was. Fortunately, we were able to secure a copy of the ordinaries sung during the Congress, probably one of the first settings in Cebuano. Below we give the full Kyrie, and a fragment of the Gloria.

Fifty years after the Third National Eucharistic Congress, Cebu once again hosts a Congress, this time an International Eucharistic Congress. Among the many milestones commemorated in this event are, in addition to the sesquincentennial anniversaries mentioned above, the semicentennial anniversaries of the coronation of the mage of the Holy Child and the elevation of the minor basilica of the Holy Child.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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