Cebu church leaders confirm Pope Francis to skip IEC in 2016

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(File photo)

Cebu (CNN Philippines) — Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma confirmed yesterday (July 14) that Pope Francis is not coming to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Cebu City in 2016.

But local church officials remain enthusiastic over the expected thousands of international delegates converging in Cebu, which is the birthplace of Christianity in the country.

“On our part, it does not lessen our enthusiasm in the final analysis; the IEC is the opportunity to give glory to God. Others are saying if the Pope comes people might come because of the Pope but not because of Jesus,” said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has announced that Pope Francis would not be coming to the country January next year to attend the international event.

Re-elected CBCP President Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said that the Vatican would only be sending a papal legate or a papal envoy.

Palma said it has never happened that a pope visits a country twice within a short period of time.

“It is never done in other places that the Pope will visit a country year after year, knowing that there are many countries inviting the Pope. When the Pope was here there’s no promise (that he would be coming back for the IEC),” he said.

Still, Palma said they are hoping Pope Francis would have a change of heart.

“If he comes it is God’s grace, but it’s almost hoping against hope. If ever it will happen it would be a wonderful surprise. But there is no guarantee and hint at all that he is coming,” the archbishop said.

Villegas said it was reasonable for the Pope to skip the IEC since he was in the country recently.

He also said it would be unfair to other countries if Pope Francis will return to the country for the international event.

“If we insist, we would appear to be selfish because he would have lesser time to visit other countries. It would be a waste of opportunity because people from other countries would not be able to see him,” Villegas said.

Palma remembered the Pope’s visit to the country early this year as a memorable and "significant event."

“It was a sign of him being a shepherd sympathizing with (super typhoon) Yolanda survivors. We saw how compassionate he is,” he said.

The 78-year-old Pope Francis made a five-day apostolic journey and state visit to the Philippines last January 15 to 19. He visited the survivors of typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City, Leyte.

The IEC will be held from January 24 to 31, 2016 and is expected to draw 15,000 pilgrims from all over the world. The country first hosted the IEC in 1937.