When the 51st International Eucharistic Congress was held in Cebu City on January 24 – 31, 2016, one of the Congress’ highlights was the Children’s Mass during which more than 4,000 children from all over the Philippines received the Sacrament of Holy Communion for the first time. The event took place on January 30, 2016 at the Cebu City Sports Complex and no less than Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Vidal and Archbishop Jose S. Palma were in attendance to administer the sacrament to the children, aside from the countless priests, deacons and lay ministers.

Very much aware of the significance of the event to the children and to celebrate the 51st IEC’s first anniversary, Archbishop Palma came up with the idea of reuniting the First Communicants. The logistics of organizing the event were then delegated to the Solidarity and Communion Committee (SCC), who were more than equal to the task.

So, on February 26, 2017, a little over 400 children and several adults clad in white shirts emblazoned with “Tables of Hope, A Year After” at the back,  gathered at the Pope John XXIII Seminary where registration began promptly at 9 a.m. Among the special guests were Deacon Umberto Silensi from Italy; Dilaab Foundation, Inc. president Ms. Marlinda Angbetic Tan; Dilaab vice president ret. Gen. Samson Tucay; and Dilaab staff and volunteers. Rev. Fr. Carmelo O. Diola then conducted a Mass Absolution to the children as he could not individually attend to their confessions.

At 10 a.m., the Holy Mass started with Fr. Diola as the officiating priest. The choir from Our Lady of Consolation Laray Parish was there to lend their voices to the service and lead the assembly in the singing of the hymns.

During the Homily, Fr. Diola asked the children what their favorite bird was. Most of the children answered “pati” or pigeon and from there, he segued into the pigeon’s cousin, the dove, and what it symbolized ̶  Peace and Hope. He expounded at length on the theme of Hope, and regaled the children with true-to-life stories of a former street child and a mineral water vendor. The former used to loiter around Cebu City’s pier area and was probably destined to a bleak future but his life was turned around when he was adopted by a policeman. By God’s grace and by applying himself diligently to his studies, this same child, Fr. Diola told his attentive audience, is now a law enforcer  and has repaid the goodness shown to him by his adoptive father in helping street children.

The other shining example of Hope that he held up to the children was the story of “Dudoy” a mineral water vendor who plied his trade under all kinds of weather near SM City Cebu. This cheerful young man harbored the dream of becoming a teacher but, since his parents could not afford to send him to college, he embarked on this enterprise to earn money for his tuition. But Dudoy was no ordinary water vendor; his eye-catching get-up, wit and mincing dance steps entertained PUJ passengers and passers-by and which, more often than not, inveigled them to buy his wares. Dudoy is now a teacher, having graduated from the University of Cebu with a degree in BS Education.

In summation, Fr. Diola told the children that there is no limit to what they can achieve if they work hard towards their goal and pray just as hard to the Almighty Father for guidance and strength.

After the Mass, guests proceeded to the Minore Study Hall for the program which began when the two volunteers from the Our Lady of Consolation Laray Parish who acted as the event’s hosts, introduced the guests and participants. To liven things up, the parlor game “Bring Me…” was played. The energy expended on the game whetted everyone’s appetites which were sated with the distribution of packed lunches, and because no gathering is complete unless this delicacy is on the dining table, five lechons (roasted pigs) thoughtfully provided by Mr. Tony Ynoc, Ms. Zeny Larrazabal, Bishop Dennis Villarojo and Ms. Marilou Chiongbian were served. 

Other sponsors for the children’s luncheon were: IPI, Nature’s Spring and Golden Prince Hotel.

When everyone had their fill, it was time to continue with the event’s activities. The Hope of Mandaue group composed of 10 boys wowed  guests and fellow 51st IEC First Communicants with a hip-hop dance presentation. Then, the awarding ceremony for the winners of the coloring contest followed. The materials had been distributed a week before to children interested in joining the competition.

After the beaming winners had their pictures taken for posterity and were back in their respective seats, it was the Dilaab Youth’s turn to display their moves with an R&B-Hip-hop dance mix. Then, the Dilaab Kids took over the stage with a Zumba-based dance presentation which snapped the audience to attention and kept them from dozing off. Last, but not the least, were the LaBang Subangdaku drug surrenderees, or the LaBangers, dancing to the tune “Chiquitita.” This last group was an entry to the PNP initiative “Surrenderers Got Talent” and had taken fourth place.

As the program drew to a close, everyone was enjoined to participate in a community interpretative rendition of the 51st IEC’s theme song, “Christ In Us, Our Hope Of Glory.”

When the last notes of the song had faded away, Fr. Eli Suico came up on the stage for the closing remarks. After he had thanked the guests, mentioning Fr. Diola and everyone involved in making the reunion possible, he then addressed the 51st IEC First Communicants, telling them that the reunion was organized to remind them of the extraordinary circumstances under which they were privileged to receive the Body of Christ; that the 51st IEC was only the second time the Philippines had hosted the event (the first being in 1937). And out of those 1937 First Communicants, a future prince of the Church, Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Vidal, was produced. Fr. Eli further expressed the hope that the current crop of Communicants would yield not just one servant-leader but a veritable army. 

While it is entirely possible that from their ranks one of them would heed the Holy Spirit’s call and become a priest or religious, we have to take into account that most of the children present at the reunion are enrolled in the public school system and, as such, do not have Christian Life Formation in their curriculum. Parents thus play a major role in the spiritual growth of their children. With them rests the responsibility of nurturing their children and imparting the Catholic Church’s teachings if they want them to mature into God-fearing citizens worthy of being called Christians. And as the parents will surely need outside help if they feel overwhelmed, this is where Dilaab Foundation, Inc. and other church-based organizations can lend their support, for it will take not only the family but the whole community to raise the future warriors of our Mother Church.

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