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Catholic Voice
  February 8, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Faith and devotion in the Philippines

Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

I just returned from attending the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. It was my first time participating in such a worldwide congress, and my first visit to the Philippines.

I was appointed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, to represent the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in the week-long event, honoring the gift of the Eucharist.

I am proud that our Oakland pilgrimage, with 96 parishioners and 14 priests, was the largest overseas delegation. The trip was beneficial both in appreciating the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as an appreciation of the gift of the Philippine people to the Catholic Church.

The Philippines is the largest Catholic country in Asia, as well as the third largest Catholic country in the whole Church (after Brazil and Mexico). Everywhere we went, the Filipino people were friendly, kind and gracious.

Even though the country is poor by economic and material standards, it is rich in what really matters: humanity! Everyone we met: from the smiling young waitress to the tattooed taxi driver, was genuinely happy, generous and helpful. In a word, they were "loving." Loving people come from loving families.

The two gifts the Filipino people give to the whole world are Family, and Faith. I watched as a teenager gently accompanied his elderly uncle through the hotel buffet line, carrying his plates and cups all without being asked. I watch how the many Filipino immigrants here in the USA send money back home to support an extended family (often at great sacrifice). I've celebrated Masses on Merchant Marine and cruise ships and seen how Filipino fathers go to sea for 11 months of the year in order to support their families back home.

Read about Cebu
Follow Rev. Alexander Castillo's blog and photos from the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu at bit.ly/1S11erG or on facebook.com/TheCatholicVoice
Strong families make for a strong society. We in the USA can benefit from the example of Filipino family life.

The second gift is Faith. The Catholic Faith. In addition to the large congress Masses, attended by thousands of pilgrims, our Oakland delegation was privileged to celebrate our own Mass at the Basilica of Santo Nino which is the "Lourdes, Rome and Jerusalem" of the Philippines all combined into one. The Santo Nino is the statue of the Infant Jesus which Ferdinand Magellan gave as a gift to the Queen of the Philippines on the occasion of her baptism in 1521.

The basilica is a place of pilgrimage, and the annual feast in honor of the Infant Jesus, the Sinulog, is the largest religious gathering in the Philippines, attracting more than 1 million pilgrims each January.

We were privileged to celebrate Mass in a place where, for 400 years, people have come to pour out their hearts to Christ, pray and intercede for themselves and their loved ones, and receive His many mercies. The fact that so many people came is a ringing testament to prayers answered.

The point I am making is that the Filipino people are among the most devout and faithful Catholics in the Church. In my years in the Jesuits, I have traveled extensively throughout the world, and in every place I have found Filipinos, I have found thriving Catholicism. Whether I've been saying Mass below decks on a Merchant Marine ship, or worshiping in an underground Mass in Saudi Arabia, Filipino Catholics have been the backbone of the local parish. I am so proud of the contribution Filipino Catholics make to our Diocese of Oakland.

In preparation for our pilgrimage, the Filipino priests of our diocese formed a choir and performed concerts to raise funds for our journey. These Fathers hosted a wonderful hotel banquet in Cebu featuring Filipino specialties for all 100-plus of us, giving us presents and performing some of their musical numbers. The Archbishop of Saigon and the Vietnamese bishops' delegation were among our guests. I was so proud of our priests who, out of their care and generosity, provided this splendid example of hospitality.

The "Gift of Faith" God has given all of us was reinforced in talks, Masses and devotions of the Eucharistic Congress. The quadrennial gathering, which moves from country to country, is a worldwide public witness to the gift Jesus has given the Church in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

I found the celebrations of the liturgy there particularly moving, aided by extremely well prepared and reverent sacred music. I was so impressed by a choir of university students that I immediately invited them to visit Oakland and sing in our cathedral. (Stay tuned.)

On one evening we were invited to join a local Cebu parish for Mass. More than 1,000 local parishioners showed up to greet the Diocese of Oakland pilgrims.

We were treated to costumed youth dancers who lined up to perform for us as we arrived, and then hosted us to a barbecue roasted pig dinner.

Two of our Oakland delegates, members of the Confraternity of Eucharistic Devotion (CEDDO), gave a moving testimony a "faith sharing" to the whole congregation after Mass. I hope some day we can publish Glenda Dubsky and Romy Cabrera's very edifying accounts of how Jesus Christ and the Holy Eucharist changed their lives.

On the back of my priestly ordination card in 1985 I chose as my scripture "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift" (2 Cor 9:15). Thanks be to God for the inexpressible gift of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Thanks be to God for the gift of witness to the Catholic Faith provided by our loyal Filipino parishioners.

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