In MV Speaks, Sharing

Squeezing myself through the crowd, I finally get a glimpse of the front stage. It is occupied by hundreds of clergymen, like a foretaste of choirs of angels dressed in white. I feel ecstatic as I dissolve into the crowd of thousands Catholic faithful waving their arms in the air as they chant, “Pit Senor, oh Pit Senor, Kitang Tanan Mag Pit Senor”. 

That’s how I imagine this year would be. Instead, there I was, at home, looking into churches in the Visayas as I tried to draft a script for a video that was our participation for the almost everything virtual celebration of the 500 year anniversary of Christianity. I always question why the pandemic didn’t just begin in 2022. When all the busy, crowd-attracting celebration is over. I couldn’t get over the fact that it is 2021, five centuries after the first Filipino natives were baptized into our faith. We should be gathering in the streets of Cebu, where the friars first laid the groundwork, holding out lighted candles as we pray in thanksgiving during procession. Reality check, it’s 2021 and mass gathering is most prohibited at this time. But one particular event changed how I viewed this year.

         Video that we produced in MFC Youth Visayas as part of our participation in the 500 YOC.

My co-missionaries in Tacloban and I went to Matalom, a town three hours away from home. And, well, there’s something about that place. The first time we visited was for a Youth Camp Training. On the day of the training we attended the 5am mass. At the crack of dawn, we walked to the church just behind our accommodation, our hairs still wet but neatly dressed. Greeting us as we near the church were its thick walls made of pulverized corals, similar to the many old churches in the Philippines that I researched about for the 500 YOC video script. It felt like one of those early mornings of the 1800s when people had the church bells as their alarm and would start their day with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the nearest parokya

Exterior of Saint Joseph Parish (Matalom, Leyte)

Interior of Saint Joseph Parish (Matalom, Leyte)

The second time we visited Matalom we met the community on a personal level. A youth camp was held and we found out that almost all the Matalomnon youths who participated took roles in the parish – altar servers, lectors, choirs, Commission on Youth. During the camp, parents offered their time and service, waking up as early as four in the morning to prepare food. After mass on the last day, the priest acknowledged the ongoing camp in front of  the congregation. Just 10 mins later, people were coming, donating breads freshly bought from the bakery, cases of soda, and even numerous kilos of rice. The news was shared to us by the parish priest, who himself was very generous, approachable, one with the youth and deeply cares for the spiritual growth of the parishioners. And it is just fitting that the coordinators for the parish youth (and MFC Youth chapter) are equally passionate, accommodating, selfless and incredibly humble. 

We took a photo with the parish priest (third from the left) and chapter couple coordinators (second and fourth from the left) after the Youth Camp Training in Matalom. 

Truly there is something about Matalom, their sense of community. Everyone in town is involved. Parents, kids and teenagers sharing their lives with one another, exchanging faith stories and inspiring others through good witnessing. A town centered on the Church is what Matalom is. 

This year, at 500 YOC, there may not be any parades, grand Eucharistic Celebration at the Basilica Minore, no fireworks display, no festivities at the streets of Cebu due to the strict social distancing protocols. But this only reminds us that we reached this point because for the past five centuries, each baptized Catholic belonged to a community of believers. Each one’s faith shaped the faith of others. Unlike today when one is safest when isolated, Catholicism thrives in a place when its people are part of something bigger than themselves. 

Now more than ever, communities need to be strengthened to shape values and promote an understanding of Catholic beliefs and traditions. Today, institutions are freely attacking (or in their defense, critiquing) the Church. But it is through communities like these that we are able to provide an environment that reminds the people why we do what we do and that it is worth it. 

Praise the Lord for the past 500 years of His Grace.  

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  Acts 2:44-47 (New Catholic Bible)

Kiana Gualberto is a Mission Volunteer of MFC Youth serving in the region of Visayas.

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