THE mass took place inside Plaza Independencia, but the crowd at the opening of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Cebu City stretched up to hundreds of meters away.
Close to 350,000 people were estimated to have participated, though some of them, due to the large crowd, were able to stay only near D. Jakosalem St. beside the Basilica del Sto. Niño, around half a kilometer away from the altar.
Not all of them were on time for the 4 p.m. mass presided by the papal representative, Charles Maung Cardinal Bo of Myanmar.
In his homily, the papal legate encouraged everyone to help the poor, “remove the youth from oppression” and share food with the hungry.
“Pope Francis loves you very much. Ang atong Santo Padre gihigugma kamo’ng tanan. Kayo’ng lahat ay mahal na mahal ng Santo Padre,” Cardinal Bo said, which the crowd met with applause.
He commended Filipinos for showing resilience and faith in the face of natural disasters, and challenged all the faithful not only to revere the Eucharist, but to make others feel the love of God.
“In a world that kills children in the womb, in a world that spends more on arms than on food, in a world that continues to have millions of poor, the Eucharist is a major challenge to all of humanity. Can we feel the presence of God in our brothers and sisters?” Cardinal Bo said.
He quoted a report from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund that every, day 20,000 children or more than 7 million in a year, starve to death.
He called this a “silent genocide, the biggest terrorism in the world.”
“Adoration alone makes us a devotee. But being a devotee is one of the easiest things—debosyon ni Santo Niño, debosyon ni Jesus Nazareno. It is good, but not enough. Christ is calling us to be His disciples. To carry His cross. The mass of a devotee ends in an hour. But the mass of disciples is unending,” he said.
After the mass, organizers said that every aspect of the event, from the pre-program to the celebration itself, proceeded without any problem.
Rev. Jonathan Rubin, assistant media liaison officer for the IEC, thanked the local police for thoroughly conducting security checks.
For today, Rubin said that the organizers will focus on the congress proper at the IEC in Barangay Mabolo.
After the morning session, participants will be brought to the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel in Lahug for three afternoon sessions.
For today’s activities at the IEC Pavilion, the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) will close Pope John Paul Ave. (Juan Luna Ave.) to all vehicles from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The area that will be closed is from the corner of TESDA to the corner of Cardinal Rosales Ave.
Minimal traffic congestion was experienced on the roads near Plaza Independencia during yesterday’s mass.
Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) department head Atty. Rafael Yap said traffic on M.J. Cuenco Ave. and S. Osmeña Blvd. was manageable.
According to Yap, buses that transported IEC delegates started to converge on these areas during the latter part of the mass to fetch the participants.
After dropping off the IEC participants and delegates at Plaza Independencia, the buses went back to the Cebu International Convention Center, which served as their depot.
For the IEC opening yesterday, CCTO closed the roads surrounding the Plaza Independencia as early as 2 p.m.
The crowd surpassed expectations.
At 3 p.m., Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director and Ad Hoc Task Group IEC Cebu Commander Manuel Gaerlan estimated the visible crowd at around 25,000 only.
“It was still very hot, so most of the people were still seeking shade somewhere else. When the sun was about to set, all of a sudden the crowd got bigger,” Gaerlan shared.
Chief Insp. David Señor, community relations chief of the Cebu City Police Office, then estimated the crowd at 150,000.
Gaerlan, however, saw there were more people in areas several meters from the plaza and the roads surrounding it.
Others near the basilica and nearby streets watched the live feed from wide-screen monitors with loudspeakers that were placed in strategic areas.
Counting four people for every square meter of space, Gaerlan said that by 6:45 p.m., the crowd had grown to about 350,000.
“I had it confirmed and true enough, our estimate is there are 350,000 attendees,” he said in a press conference after the mass.
Although some people needed medical attention due to slight bruises they suffered while walking with the crowd, Gaerlan said there was no major untoward incident during the event.
Not a single participant or delegate reported any theft or missing children to the nearby Waterfront Police Station.
Chief Insp. Jose Gesto, chief of the Waterfront police, declared there was “zero crime rate” in his police station’s area of responsibility throughout the day.
In next Sunday’s closing ceremony in the South Road Properties, Gaerlan is expecting at least one million people to join. More security and emergency officers will be deployed by then.
Gaerlan said he will also suggest opening the x-ray machines and walk-through metal detectors earlier for the closing mass.
Yesterday, some of the participants arrived even before the x-ray machines and metal detectors started operating at 1 p.m.