From Lisbon to St Luke’s

Fr Kurt Zion Pala (right) with a member of the parish youth ministry team. - Photo: Kurt Zion PalaFr Kurt Zion Pala (right) with a member of the parish youth ministry team. - Photo: Kurt Zion Pala

The youth ministry team preparing for the celebrations.

It had been a while since the parish youth ministry had prepared for a big event. Arriving back from my home vacation in the Philippines, the youth ministry team decided to hold its own celebration of World Youth Day last August 19.

St Luke's Parish in the Myitkyina diocese, Myanmar, is a new parish, established on 18 October 2021, a few months after the coup. Young people these days yearn for hope and light at a time when many of them do not know what to do or where to go. The youth ministry team got so excited about holding this event that they decided to invite young people from the newly established parishes of Myo Htit Kyi, Njangdung, Palana and Shadau.

With only a few weeks to prepare, they started fundraising. One Saturday, they went house to house to collect garbage for a fee. They also prepared and sold chicken soup, a popular dish during these rainy days. The night before the event, the venue started to fill up with young people decorating and preparing the venue for the big gathering.

It had been pouring rain day after day every morning. But by God’s grace, the sun came out on that day. The day began with the opening Mass led by our parish priest, Fr Bernard. In his homily, he echoed the words of Pope Francis for the young people gathered in Lisbon, Portugal. Pope Francis reminded the young people of the three most important actions: “to shine, to listen, and to be unafraid”.

These words resonate so much with the young people of Myanmar. Their world, our world, has been destroyed by a military regime that does not see any value in life or young people. Illegal drugs are allowed to spread, intoxicating a young population already lost and hopeless. Little is invested in young people’s education, a common tactic of authoritarian regimes to keep the population ignorant and blindly following them without question.

Pope Francis said, “Dear young friends, today we too need something of this burst of light so that it can fill us with hope as we face the many failures of each day and the darkness that assails us in life and respond to them with the light of the resurrection of Jesus. For he is the light that never sets, the light that shines even in the dead of night.” Events like this are a burst of light for young people in Myanmar - a reminder that they are not alone. The Pope also reminded young people to listen to Jesus. That is the secret to life. Lastly, Pope Francis reminded them that they will encounter difficulties in life but always believe in the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid.”

Youth band practice. - Photo: Kurt Zion PalaYouth band practice. - Photo: Kurt Zion Pala

As the Kachins love to dance, the Manau was incorporated into the liturgy. The young people carrying their offerings danced their way to the altar.

After the Mass the opening program commenced. A mental health awareness session followed, where young people learned to practise meditation and self-awareness exercises. After a simple lunch of rice, Indian pea soup and a spicy side dish, I recalled Pope Francis' message and explained the meaning of the World Youth Day logo.

The day ended with a very meaningful worship service. Young people processed, carrying first the Bible, then the Cross, then the image of Mother Mary. Then the young people prayed a decade of the Rosary, with one young person carrying a rose and presenting it to Mary. After saying the Rosary, three youth led the group to worship God through songs in Kachin and Burmese.

We hope that this celebration of World Youth Day brought to young people a “burst of light”. Pope Francis left the young people in Lisbon with these words: “Dear young people, I would like to look into the eyes of each of you and say: Do not be afraid. I will tell you something else, also very beautiful: it is no longer I, but Jesus himself who is now looking at you. He knows each of your hearts, each of your lives; he knows your joys, your sorrows, your successes, and failures. He knows your heart. Today, he says to you, here in Lisbon, at this World Youth Day: ‘Have no fear, take heart, do not be afraid!’”

Columban Fr Kurt Zion Pala has been the assistant parish priest at St Luke's parish since its establishment in 2021. He works with the parish youth ministry team to organize activities for the young people in the parish.

Listen to "From Lisbon to St Luke’s"

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