A National Youth Day experience

A National Youth Day experience

SINULOG is the only time during the year that I dance. The opportunity comes to all the priests who concelebrate the Mass that climaxes the Saturday procession. After the Mass, one after the other, priests carry the figure of the Sto. Niño and do the prayer-dance to the shouts of “Pit Senyor”. Prior to each acclamation, a petition is made by a prayer leader through the PA system.

One does not have any control over the sequence of priests dancing. Nor does one dictate the petition. For several years now, I have accepted the petition that falls upon me as a direction from the Lord. This provides material for my yearly discernment.

During the last Sinulog prayer-dance, the petitions were three: “sa ulitawo kini” (“for young men”), “sa dalaga kini” (“for young women”), and “sa huyang kini”) (“for those who are soft”), the last petition evoking some good-humored laughter from pilgrims.

These petitions seemed to coincide with the soft launch two weeks before this year’s Sinulog of the activity center for street children, the “Abtanan sa Kaluoy” (roughly “Oasis of Mercy”) or ASK. My prayers were just centered on the fruitfulness of the coming National Youth Day (NYD) and the thousands of young people it would involve. God apparently wanted more.

About a month before the NYD, our ASK team received a letter from Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu asking that the activity center accommodate some delegates. Eventually, all in all, the pilgrims numbered 200. They came from the local churches of Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Daet, Maasin, Butuan, and Tagum. The youngest delegate was 16-years old while the oldest – a woman truly young at heart – was 61-years old.

This was a joyful opportunity to contribute something concrete to the NYD. It also gave us a chance to get a “taste” of the building ourselves and to test its facilities as we prepared for office operations on the third week of May. Meanwhile, the center’s is scheduled to be fully operational by June.

 

***

 

People were very generous in providing hospitality to the delegates. Through donors, we were able to obtain good-quality sleeping mats and pillows. They also took care of the meals at the center for the guests. About 15 individuals volunteered to stay at the center for the duration of the NYD.

The usual daily routine was a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call, then a limited time at the showers and restrooms, followed by morning prayer using the Liturgy of the Hours, breakfast, and then departure to the IEC pavilion festival site or host parish by 7 a.m. Enthusiasm and youthful energy more than made up for the lack of sleep.

After morning prayer on the second day, we reviewed the highlights of the first day. One man in his 20s stood up and articulated his deep appreciation for the morning prayer. This was his first exposure to it, and it made quite a joyful impression on him. I had given a brief orientation on the prayer, stressing that it was the prayer of the Church and so was “guaranteed” to reach God’s ears and consequently, one is never alone when praying it. The delegates were also taught how to do the profound bow upon mention of the persons of the Triune God.

Yet, I have a sense that one of the things that really attracted the youth to the morning prayers were the traditional liturgical songs which I am blessed to know and to sing by heart. Using a projector connected to tablet, the group was learning the singable songs as we went along and soon confident, resounding voices praised God in unison. Only God knows how He was touching them from within.

Friday, the third day, gave delegates a chance to have a parish exposure. The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral featured our “Sakyanan sa Kaluoy” (“Vehicle of Mercy”). About 40 delegates from Basilan, Bohol, and Baguio had a hands-on experience helping 75 street children take a shower, groom themselves, and have a meal. They also companioned the children as they watched a video.

After the encounter, a prayerful assessment was made with the volunteers using the acronym, GCL (“God’s Cool Love” or “What am I most Grateful for?”; “What was my Contribution?”; and “What are the Lessons learned?”). One delegate realized she needed to be more appreciative of what she had and to complain less. Most delegates wished something similar to be replicated in their local churches, something more holistic that went beyond feeding.

Why not?

 

***

 

A collage of larger-than-life portraits of young saints greeted delegates and other visitors to the final Mass of the NYD at the Abellana Cebu City Sports Center on Sunday, May 28. I think I made out St. Dominic Savio, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Lucia, St. Cecilia, etc. I would have wanted to see any seer, either St. Francisco or St. Jacinta Martos, the sibling-visionaries in Fatima, who would have represented children in the streets.

Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit writes: “Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!”

As the delegates went home to their respective local churches, my mind goes back to Saturday morning when we squeezed in time for our guests to plant some Bougainvillea, that common hardy and flowery plant, around our perimeter fence. I can still see the large, Hobbit-like foot of one male delegate, a farmer from Tagum, as he assisted us in this activity. His connection to the earth reminds me of the life Pope Francis writes about.

They have since gone home, but their plants will remind them and us of those beautiful days we spent together for NYD 2018.