On January 16th, we hosted our first online Columban International Youth Encounter which gathered 24 young people and seven young Columban missionaries and co-workers from six different Columban mission areas. The opening prayer was led by Louie Ybanez where he quoted Pope Francis from Fratelli Tutti and played ‘Lord make me an instrument’. The welcome and introduction remarks were given by Kurt Pala.
The next hour was spent looking at the cultural presentations made by the participants about their respective countries which was facilitated by Erl Tabaco.
The group was later divided into break-out rooms for sharing and reflection on the following questions: (1) What did you learn and appreciate about yourself during the time of the pandemic? and (2) How do you feel about this gathering? What are your expectations for the next gathering? This particular session was facilitated by Marjorie Engcoy.
Catherine Bridegwood, a participant from Britain, who was previously a Columban Faith in Action Volunteer and who now works with refugees in Birmingham explains “It was great to meet with other young people from across the world. In a time when it’s so easy to feel disconnected and void of new experience and encounters I really enjoyed the chance to feel connected on a global level!”
In the final part of the session, participants were asked to write down their comments and suggestions for the next gathering. The closing prayer was led by Micheal Javier during which he asked the participants to say the Lord’s Prayer in their own languages as he recited the prayer in the Kachin language (one of the major languages of Myanmar).
When the team started brainstorming about this gathering, we talked about how the challenges we faced in this time and how we continue to minister to young people in our mission areas. We thought of this online platform as a safe space for young people to meet each other during this time of the pandemic. Different countries and youth have different challenges and opportunities, but hearing from each other we can learn from each other.
Pope Francis in his recent encyclical letter ‘Fratelli Tutti’ cited the Brazilian poet and composer Vinicius de Moraes. Pope Francis says, “Life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter.” Promoting a culture of encounter is a clear goal of the encyclical, because “we, as a people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone” (FT 215, 216).
We hope that this gathering was a great opportunity to meet and encounter the “other.” And that this will be the beginning of an encounter that leads to friendships. We have seas and oceans between us, huge time differences but through technology we are able to gather and meet online.
The experience of Covid19 has led us to even greater isolation and wall-building. Pope Francis exhorts us, “Isolation, no; closeness, yes” (No. 30). “In the hope that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words.” We need physical distancing but not social distancing. We need to look out for each other. Finally, St. Columban also reminds us that “A life unlike your own could be your teacher.”
The greatest challenge for the session was the huge time differences between the countries which meant some participants had to stay up late into the night while others had to wake up very early in the morning. We had young people from Britain waking up at three in the morning to join the encounter and young people in Peru staying up until 12 midnight, never the less the whole encounter was fun and informative.