Experiencing the Filipino way of being church

By Simone Orendain

CEBU, Philippines — Msgr. Joseph Tan, spokesman for the International Eucharistic Congress, might be getting his wish: Delegates are starting to experience “classic Filipino hospitality.”

Msgr. Alfred Cedric Culmer and youth minister Lemareson Rolle, both of the Nassau Archdiocese in the Bahamas attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Simone Orendain)

Msgr. Alfred Cedric Culmer and youth minister Lemareson Rolle, both of the Nassau Archdiocese in the Bahamas attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Simone Orendain)

Msgr. Alfred Cedric Culmer of the Bahamas’ Nassau Archdiocese had been in town for the congress less than three days, but he said he was so comfortable, “It feels like it’s been a month.”

Msgr. Culmer was struck by the Filipinos’ brand of Catholicism.

“They are deeply religious. You see it in their faith, their simplicity, their generosity,” he said. “It’s like the church of 2,000 years ago, like reading the Acts of the Apostles,” about how the church started. Filipinos say, “‘We’re very happy you’re here,'” he said.

Msgr. Culmer said that after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed much of the region and left more than 7,300 dead or missing, there was talk of moving the eucharistic congress somewhere else. But he says Pope Francis insisted it remain here.

“He said, ‘Absolutely not,'” he said. “This is a time for being church, for being in solidarity, which is what the Eucharist is all about.”

Australian delegate Alan Bowyer was attending a eucharistic congress for the first time. He’s the director of a small Catholic education system and was looking to deepen his awareness of “the Eucharist in mission and evangelization.” It was a phrase that has been coming up regularly during this congress.

Australian delegate Alan Bowyer talks with a group of catechists from the Philippines. At the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Australian delegate Alan Bowyer talks with a group of catechists from the Philippines. At the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Bowyer told CNS his school is one of several widely scattered across the Wagga Wagga Diocese in New South Wales, which he said is geographically the same size as France. “In this day and age, we are really in need of a world view.”

Plus, he said being in a country where just one-third of the population is Catholic is further isolating. He remarked about the contrast to the Philippines, which is 82 percent Catholic.

“It’s quite extraordinary, their level of devotion,” said Bowyer, calling it an “overt devotion to Catholicism.”

He said he noticed this not so much in the clergy but in ordinary people.

“They’re welcoming with extraordinary hospitality. I think that could be an expression of the church here,” he added.

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