CEBU CITY, Philippines—Church leaders speaking in a forum in connection with the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) opening here on Sunday urged Catholics on Friday to go beyond the scandal of sex abuse and internal conflicts over doctrine and practice and focus on evangelization.
“We have to be careful that we do not become overly absorbed in the domestic life of the Church, but constantly face the world, address our place in it and our responsibility to it,” said Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, head of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation of Canada.
Speaking on the third day of the IEC Theological Symposium at the Cebu Doctors University, Rosica told some 1,400 delegates from around the world that the sex scandal could be an opportunity for conversion and renewed commitment to evangelization.
Chance to repent
“Think of the horrific sex abuse crisis that has plagued the world Church,” he said. “As awful and destructive (it may be) for the Church, it could also be an opportunity for the Church to repent on its clericalism and its lack of transparency,” Rosica said.
“It could be a time for renewed commitment to put the protection of the vulnerable ahead of fear and embarrassment for the Church and its leaders.”
Father Rosica joined the call of Pope Francis against “internal wars” in the Church, which he said impeded evangelization.
“The Church’s internal wars—the tendency to form elites to impose certain ideas and even engage in persecutions which appear as veritable witch-hunts—are all counterwitness to evangelization,” the priest from the Congregation of Saint Basil pointed out.
A biblical scholar who trained at the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique of the French Dominicans in Jerusalem, Rosica said that Christ in the Gospel of Luke had even warned that scandals would plague the Church.
“The Church has been dysfunctional from the very beginning,” he said. “We are a sinful people in need of conversion—let’s admit we’re sinners and get on with evangelization.”
Maryknoll Fr. James Kroger agreed. “We must face the challenges of new evangelization,” he said. “The field (of evangelization) is the world. (We have to work in a) complicated, many-dimensional world.”
The extraordinary candor of the plenary speakers in the symposium may rub off on the congress proper itself , which will be beld on Jan. 24 to 31 at the newly built IEC Pavilion on the seminary grounds of the Archdiocese of Cebu.
Msgr. Guillermo Gorre of the Archdiocese of Cebu said the symposium’s plenary lectures and workshop results would certainly be incorporated in the congress’ discussions, especially since many of the lecturers there would also be giving talks in the IEC.
Some 13,000 delegates coming from 71 countries have so far registered for the congress.
The IEC has been held since the 19th century and is some form of a giant spiritual retreat or a “Catholic Olympics of the soul,” in which participants hold extensive conferences, workshop discussions and prayer assemblies on the “Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist,” that is, the Holy Mass, the chief form of congregational prayer in the Catholic Church that memorializes the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But since the IEC this year is being held in fiesta-prone Cebu, which celebrated the feast of Santo Niño only last week and which has extended the festival for the IEC, the congress will have a varied fare of activities such as a religious theater festival, a heritage and museum night, and even a workshop on the ministry for the deaf and persons with disability.