First IEC in PH: Cardinal Vidal’s First Communion, too

Paterno Esmaquel II
First IEC in PH: Cardinal Vidal’s First Communion, too
The Philippines hosts the International Eucharistic Congress nearly 8 decades after the event was first held here in 1937

MANILA, Philippines – Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal comes full circle as Cebu City, Philippines, hosts the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) from January 24 to 31.

Vidal, 84, witnessed the first time the Philippines hosted the IEC. That was the 33rd IEC held in Manila, Philippines, in 1937 – the first IEC in Asia.

Then 6 years old, Vidal received his First Holy Communion when the IEC first happened in the Philippines.

Nearly 8 decades later, Vidal is set to preside over a Mass where around 5,000 children will receive their First Communion during the 51st IEC in Cebu City, according to SunStar.

“It is the participation and the reception of the communion that is precisely the center of the congress,” Vidal explained in an episode of the show Power to Unite.

Vidal recalled how special his First Communion was. Catholics believe they receive the real body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion during the Mass.

For one, in 1937, he became curious when his elders told him to dress up in a white, long-sleeved shirt and to wear white shoes as well. 

Hindi naman ako ikakasal a,” the 6-year-old boy from Mogpog, Marinduque, said. (But I’m not getting married.)

Vidal was also surprised when he saw the Pope’s representative, the papal legate, passing by in a red long cape rarely used in modern ceremonies.

Aba sabi ko, kakaibang pari ito a, ang suot ay pula. At hindi lang ganoon. Para palang reyna ‘yan, kasi ‘yung cappa magna ay 24 feet. Hindi ko naman naintindihan ‘yon,” Vidal recalled.

(I told myself, wow, this is a different priest, wearing red. And not just that. He’s like a queen, because the cappa magna was 24 feet. I didn’t understand that.)

‘We are not alone’

Vidal – archbishop of Cebu from 1982 to 2010, and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines from 1986 to 1987 – understands much more than the 6-year-old who had his First Communion in 1937.

Vidal said he looks forward to the 51st IEC because it will train the spotlight again on the Eucharist, or the Mass, as well as the priesthood.

More than this, he said the IEC will show that the Catholic Church is not only local but also international.

He said, “Hindi tayo nag-iisa.” (We are not alone.)

The IEC gathers the biggest names in the Catholic Church, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, as they discuss the Mass as well as its “social dimension.” (READ: Cardinal Tagle: Gift of self can overcome hatred)

In previous IECs, for instance, Tagle slammed modern evils such as  denying workers the right wages “for the god of profit.” (READ: IEC: The event that helped make Tagle a ‘papabile’)

Other IEC speakers include New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan, former Dominican head and now Vatican consultor Fr Timothy Radcliffe, and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, said to be “the most followed Catholic leader on social media” next to the Pope.

The first IEC was held in Lille, France, in 1881, and has been one of the biggest events of the Catholic Church since then. –

Follow Rappler’s special coverage of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress. Read other stories by clicking this link.

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at