Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Columban International Youth Encounter 2022

Beyond Borders: Friendship and Faith

By Marjorie Engcoy, PH20 - Fiji

 

“Life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter.”

    Columban International Youth Encounter (CIYE) is facilitating young people from different countries where Columban missionaries work (Myanmar, Fiji, Britain, Peru, Pakistan, South Korea, Ireland, Taiwan, Philippines, and Australia). The facilitating team is made up of Columban priests, lay missionaries, and co-workers from different parts of the world. It aims to provide a safe space for young people from these different countries to meet each other, share their faith, encourage, and build friendships. The heart of the program is taken from the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”. In this encyclical, Pope Francis quoted the Brazilian poet and composer Vinicius de Moraes, “Life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter.” Thus, the promotion of a culture of encounter is a clear goal of this encyclical, because “we as people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone,” (FT 215, 216). Moreover, it also provides the opportunity to practice the use of the English language for the non-English speaking participants through the small group sharing within the session. Ultimately, participants are encouraged to build friendships with other participants and to build a network of young people concerned about the social and ecological justice issues of today, especially in the areas where they live and act on them. 

    The program was born as the COVID-19 cases surged at the beginning of 2021. When the team started brainstorming about this gathering, we talked about the challenges we were facing during the pandemic and how we can continue to minister to the young people in our mission areas. We saw that the digital platform could assist us to continue this ministry since most of the youths of today have a presence online. This platform also enables us to extend our reach further.

    It was received with positive feedback from the participants during its first year. The young people were thankful for the platform for them to express their feelings and opinions on the different topics—culture, suffering, the COVID-19 pandemic effects on them, the birth of Christianity in different places, and participating in the Prayer service for the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow (COP26), sharing of Climate stories, etc. They were given the main percentage of giving the presentations and of facilitating the dialogues by themselves. This was evident by their energy of participation and almost consistent attendance throughout the year.

 
    It would have been preferable to meet in person, but the use of the digital platform is easy and cheap. However, the different time zones posed a challenge we constantly face. Some of the participants would wake up as early as three o’clock in the morning and some would have to stay up late in the evening. Some had to wait until the political and armed conflict that plagued their country subsided. However, this did not stop the flow of the Spirit as the young people find inspiration in making their voices heard on topics or issues that immediately affect them. It was very inspiring to have witnessed their spirit and bravery in speaking up and standing up for themselves and for those whose voices are yet to be found. It was very inspiring to see that they take ownership of all these and are ready to take action. Most importantly, it was so moving that they were encouraging each other and felt in solidarity with their fellow youth participants in whatever social and ecological issues they are facing. 
 

    Using the learnings from last year’s module, the team has launched CIYE’s program for this year. This year, we are working on the theme, “Beyond Borders: Friendship and Faith” and will run for seven (7) months.  The first session was held last April 9. Participants looked into the topic of ‘peace’, a word that is almost elusive in the world today. Using the ‘See-Judge-Act’ framework, the young people reflected and shared among themselves guided by a few critical questions about peace, its presence/absence, and how it can be reached. A youth did say that “peace can be achieved when I start within myself. I cannot talk about peace to others if I don’t have it within me. It is radiated to others so that others will also find peace. I would love to see my place and the people around me see and experience it. But at this time, I can only hope and pray for it.” As a facilitator, I find this kind of encounter as another waking moment as the world is filled with technological and political noise, concerts of war, and parades of intensified natural calamities. Listening to the young people speak and act on these issues passionately gives the world a glint of hope. It also tells me that God’s voice is still heard amidst the noise. 

    As friendship is at the core of the program, the organizers further hope that it would extend to sharing and strengthening our faith in God beyond the confines of our borders. We are oceans and time zones apart, but it should not stop us from establishing God-founded connections.

    The team hopes that this gathering will be a safe space to meet and encounter the “other”. And that this would be the beginnings of an encounter of sharing the faith that leads to friendship.

 

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