First Communion in Cebu: ‘Jesus with me’

A girl receives Communion during a children's first Communion Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 30. The Mass included about 400 extremely poor children, some living on the streets. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

A girl receives Communion during a children’s first Communion Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 30. The Mass included about 400 extremely poor children, some living on the streets. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

By Simone Orendain

CEBU, Philippines — Row after row of fidgety children, mostly flanked by their parents, filled the track infield of the Cebu Sports Complex. A few children were eating snacks, some were walking quickly with their parents, perhaps to find the nearest bathroom. Others sang hymns, and many chattered away.

The children’s first Communion Mass at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress included about 400 extremely poor children, some of whom live on the streets.

I don’t know what I was thinking when I expected children at the Mass to quiet down and take on some sort of serene quality once they received the Eucharist.

They received Communion alongside their parents, and many did all the kid things that they had been doing beforehand. One girl bypassed the kneeler and the eucharistic minister altogether and was led back into place. Another boy darted back to his row, chomping on the host.

But as I looked around this low-level chaos, I noticed one tiny girl with her hands together in prayer, kneeling on the dry brown grass in her white tights. She was praying intently. Then she crossed herself and sat back on her plastic chair with a very serious, solemn expression on her face.

“They are from Tacloban,” said Jocelyn Ala, a church lector at St. Joseph Parish, sitting behind her. “They survived the typhoon.”

First communicants carry flowers during a children's first Communion Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 30. (CNS photo/Katarzyna Artymiak)

First communicants carry flowers during a children’s first Communion Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, Philippines, Jan. 30. (CNS photo/Katarzyna Artymiak)

Ala, her sister and one other parishioner were taking care of the 10 children who all came to Cebu without their parents. She said the parents could not afford to make the trip. The children traveled to Cebu with the help of Dilaab, a Catholic foundation that seeks to catechize children, especially those from poor backgrounds.

Ala said all of these children’s families were intact after the Typhoon Haiyan ravaged its way across the central Philippines, killing or leaving missing some 7,300 people, mostly from the Tacloban area.

The little girl, 8-year old Joelle Marie Vito, told me she was “happy” after taking Communion because she had “Jesus with me.”

I pointed at her heart and I said, “Where, here?”

She nodded.

So then I asked what she liked about Jesus. She paused, thinking carefully for a good while, undeterred by Ala whispering into her ear.

“He’s smart … and he’s a really hard worker!”

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