Catholic Student Action Myitkyina outreach program to an orphanage. Photo: Fr. Kurt Zion Pala SSC
I heard there would be a big protest in the city's centre. As a foreigner, I had to stay back home as much as I wanted to join. It was around two in the afternoon. I was going to take a few minutes of rest when I heard someone calling out, "Wajau, wajau!" It means father in the local language. "Ah Myo has been shot, and he is in the hospital," the youth continued to explain.
I took what I needed and went with another seminarian to the hospital in a rush. On the way, I was praying hard that the young man survived. I reached the hospital and anointed him before the doctors operated on him. Later I learned that he was among the youth who protested in the streets and was shot by a military sniper. He is one of the few ones who survived.
That day in the city alone two were killed and so many others died in other parts of the country. To this day the junta continues to persecute the people, arrest and kill many young people who have been the driving force of the protest and the revolution. This day marks the first year anniversary of the declaration of military rule by the junta.
The Now of God.
At the conclusion of a Mass during the World Youth days in Panama, Pope Francis told the youth: "We are on a journey…Keep walking, keep living the faith and sharing it. And do not forget…you are not the tomorrow, you are not the 'meantime', you are the Now of God."
These days Myanmar is in the dark, hopeless and lifeless. The pandemic has made us all helpless. The coup has made us all lifeless. Yet Pope Francis reminds us that we are the Now of God. The pandemic nor the coup is not the Now of God, but we are. You are. Each and every youth in Myanmar has demonstrated that they are the Now of God. The young people of Myanmar are not hopeless and lifeless instead, they have shown the way, the light and the hope.
Reaching out to others.
The coup and the pandemic have kept most young people in their homes. When it became quite safe to go out, the students decided to use some of their funds to buy oil, rice and beans - a basic need for many families. After packing them into individual packages, they distributed them to about 40 poor families and the elderly. Later, in support of the youth gathering in Glasgow, Scotland - the students gathered and prayed for Creation. It became an opportunity to meet and renew friendships.
Catholic Student Action preparing food for outreach. Photo: Fr. Kurt Zion Pala SSC
After our Christmas recollection and fellowship, the members of the Catholic Student Action Myitkyina, led by their new committee, organized a one-day outreach program to an orphanage. They brought and contributed their clean and still wearable used clothes. They also collected donations to buy essential supplies like rice, cooking oil and beans for the children. They prepared a delicious chicken noodle soup and an exciting program for the children. They enjoyed sharing their time and talents with the children.
Online conversations, training and workshops.
The pandemic has shifted everything. Our English conversation club meetings, soft skills training, and English classes transformed into online sessions. Zoom meetings became common and in demand. We initiated online training for teachers to provide the necessary skills in teaching. We trained around 20 youth to be able to teach children effectively. Schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic. After the training, the students facilitated online English classes for two months. I've always thought that the best way to learn is to teach.
Many young people also suffer from excessive worry, anxiety and depression. Some shared that they feel lost and angry; and they do not know what to do. A lot of them are dealing with so many feelings and stress. We conducted an online Mental Health camp for youth to learn about mental health and become youth mental health advocates. Together with mental health professionals, we provided psychological education and exercises to help young people understand mental health and the importance of resilience. We also organized the Catholic Student Action Myitkyina football club for men and women to encourage youth to be active and physically healthy. This is part of building resiliency among the youth.
Building the parish youth group.
A new parish was established last year. After selecting the parish youth committee, we conducted a leadership training and team-building workshop where about 30 youth participated in the 3-day program. The whole program was about discovering who they are and each other, discovering the Church, and finally discovering parish youth ministry. We also had a fun team-building activity.
It is so easy to give up these days, and it is easier to stop living and survive. A familiar toy played by many children in Myanmar is the Pyit Tine Htaung or Tumbling Kelly. It means "that which always rights itself when thrown down." As important Burmese cultural values, the toy represents resilience, perseverance, and the ability to pick oneself up or never give up. It has become a symbol of the struggle of the people. No matter how the people are trampled upon and thrown around, they will rise back again each time they fall.
Paul writes to the Corinthians: "…Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In these days of darkness, please help us help young people keep their fire burning so other young people may see the light. Working with young people has taught me not to lose heart easily. When Pope Francis visited the country, he met the young people and left them with these words, "Be brave, be generous and above all be joyful." Those words continue to inspire me to this day.
Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar.
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