THE afternoon heat bit into the skin of her hands, but 72-year-old Gerlita Mondares continued touching her rosary, one bead at a time, while waiting in line to enter Plaza Independencia.
At 2:47 p.m., Mondares was already on her second rosary prayer for the day, with her grandson tailing her in the line for non-IEC delegates trying their luck to get closer to the altar.
She crossed the sea between Cebu and her home in Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental just to have a month-long penitence, starting with the novena masses of the Fiesta Señor to the activities of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC).
Her only petition is the healing of her 52-year-old son Jeric, who is undergoing dialysis in a hospital in Ozamis for a kidney ailment.
She didn’t mind the long walk to the plaza yesterday, as vehicles were barred from entering the roads near the venue. “Aw, hike lang, para sakripisyo gyud ni (I’m hiking, it’s part of the sacrifice),” she said, smiling.
Several prominent personalities joined the crowd at the opening mass yesterday afternoon. Among them were Vice President Jejomar
Binay, his son suspended Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, suspended Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama, Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, Acting Vice Mayor Nestor Archival, and former congressman Pablo Garcia.
They and the top bishops who gathered for the event were joined by a throng that stretched outside the public park. People said they couldn’t miss joining a once-in-a-lifetime event, or the chance to create memories with their children and offer prayers for their loved ones.
Mondares, for her part, would have wanted to be a delegate, but when she inquired at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Ozamis City, she realized she could not afford to join as a delegate.
It did not stop her from attending the activities of the IEC, though.
“Wala man ko’y money, dili kaabot og P13,000, maong ingon ani na lang ko (I didn’t have enough for the P13,000 package, so I just boarded a vessel and came here on my own),” she said.
Mondares has been living with relatives in Barangay Labangon since she arrived in the first week of January.
When she goes home on Feb. 1, a day after the closing mass of the IEC at the South Road Properties, Mondares hopes that Jeric will be feeling better.
If Jeric doesn’t feel better, Mondares said it will be enough for her that the IEC celebration here will end without any untoward incident.
She urged other Catholics to join as well, like how around 3.2 million people joined last week’s Sinulog festivities.
“Lawas na man gyud ni ni Kristo, ang Eukaristiya, ato gyu’ng hugot nga pag-ampo, luwason gyod ta Niya kon unsa man ang mga katalagman (We’re celebrating the Body of Christ, the Eucharist, so we should all offer our prayers, that He may protect us from disasters),” she told Sun.Star Cebu.
Two hours before the 4 p.m. mass started, Francisco Alaba, 74, sat in a corner of Plaza Independencia, in the shade of a coconut tree, and sang the official song of the 51st IEC.
He attended by himself.
His wife had volunteered to work in the office of the IEC secretariat at the IEC Pavilion. His two daughters were not with him because Joyce Marie, 41, is due to give birth any day now, while Cherry Mae, 44, works as a nurse abroad.
Alaba said he wants to join all the activities of IEC.
“I want to become a saint. This is the summit of all sacraments,” he said. “That (becoming a saint) is the main purpose why God made us. He wants us to be like Him and enjoy eternal happiness.”
Alaba was a seminarian from 1960 to 1963 in Cagayan de Oro.
While he was enrolled in the seminary, her mother died. Three years into his studies, he needed to stop and take care of his father, who was sick.
He later enrolled in college and took an education course. Before he could return to the seminary years later, he met a teacher from Cebu, who eventually became his wife.
Alaba continued to stay active in church, to pray every morning, night and at 3 p.m. He attended the National Eucharistic Congress in New Zealand, two years ago.
He was a lay minister in the church in their barangay. But he had to stop because pain in his knees interfered with his duties.
Alaba, who went on to finish law in the University of San Jose Recoletos, served as the supervising officer and regional resident ombudsman of the Parole and Probation Administration 7. As part of his work, he recommended who among the detainees qualified for probation. He gave prisoners lectures on spiritual matters.
“An individual can be holy by his deeds. It’s a sacrifice. To live as a Christian is a sacrifice,” he said.
Although she had to travel miles, Hana Francarova, 43, traveled from the Czech Republic to attend the 51st IEC.
During the opening mass of the IEC, Francarova brought with her yesterday a statue of the Little Infant Jesus of Prague.
“I came as a delegate together with the bishops from our country. It is the first time that I came to Cebu. It’s just amazing...
Jesus gave me this visit as present. I really appreciate being here and I feel that love which comes within the people, the church,” she said.
Francarova, a member of the board of trustees of the World Apostolate of Fatima, said she attended the IEC to renew her faith and hope in God.
AS early as noon yesterday, Leticia Galang waited outside the Plaza Independencia to hear the opening mass.
The 50-year-old woman from Barangay Tungkop, Minglanilla said she was willing to soak up the afternoon sun just to attend the mass.
It was her first IEC, and it could be her last, she said.
The last time that an IEC was held in the country was in Manila in 1937.
“Kausa ra gyud ta makaabot ug IEC nga dinhi mismo sa atong tugkaran mahitabo. Bisag wala pa ang Santo Papa, nalipay ko nga sa Cebu gihapon nahitabo ning IEC (We will experience the IEC being held in Cebu only once. So even if Pope Francis did not make it, I’m grateful that they chose to hold it here),” Galang added.
George Sarthou also went to the Plaza Independencia with his family. Sarthou, from Barangay Kinasang-an Pardo in Cebu City, said that while the opening mass was just like any ordinary mass, to be a part of the IEC was a different matter.
“The last time I experienced something like this was during the visit of Pope John Paul II in Cebu. I also want my children to feel what I felt during my experience that time, when I was still young like them,” he added.
After the opening mass, several foreign delegates said they were impressed by how the Cebuanos expressed their faith.
Fr. Vojtech Nepsinsky, a priest from Slovakia, said that he has attended seven IECs before Cebu, but it was only in Cebu that he saw how fervent the Catholics are when it comes to their faith.
‘A joyful people’
“Even though this is just the first evening, I’m surprised that they are a joyful people when it comes to the faith,” Nepsinsky said.
In a press conference at the IEC Pavilion yesterday, Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara said that the IEC is a fitting occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on the importance of the Eucharist.
Vergara, chair of the 51st IEC’s communication department, said that aside from the usual activities during the congress, they are also awaiting confirmation of Pope Francis’s plan to issue a statement during the congress in Cebu.
As the various activities of the 51st IEC proceed today, organizers assured that people from other faiths are not excluded from the congress.
Vergara told reporters in a press conference yesterday morning that discussions on the Church’s dialogue with other religions will be tackled during the congress.