Three pilgrims from Novena Church share their unique experiences

Jared Ng

Since their return from World Youth Day (WYD) Panama in late January, three pilgrims from the Novena Church contingent are still coming to terms with the surreal and inspiring faith experiences they had.

One of them, Ms Sharon Leong, said she “gained such a wide perspective of the universality of the Church … seeing pilgrims from all around the world praising God was just inspiring.”

The 36-year-old Youth Minister from the Redemptorist Mission Team shared one particular experience of when she came across the adoration tent among the thousands of other tents occupied by pilgrims.

Inside, “with soft Spanish music playing, people from different countries, in their own languages were having their own moment with Christ. It felt like He was there, preaching to the masses,” she said.

Ms Leong said she also took away something special whenever she attended Mass in Panama. “The celebrations were not in English so it was more of using my heart to experience the Mass rather than my head. I could feel the [Eucharistic] celebration. Hearing and feeling the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish was so powerful and is something words can’t describe.”

Now back in Singapore, “the Mass takes on a deeper meaning. It’s not so much seeing or listening but more of feeling Christ’s presence,” she said.

As for her hopes for some of the youth who travelled to Panama, Ms Leong said “God would have touched them in different ways and that seeds have been sown.” The realisation of their experiences may come later, she added.

One pilgrim who has built on her experiences in Panama is Ms Shalena Louis.

During a prayer vigil in Panama, Pope Francis urged young people to be “influencers” like Mary. “I took that as a call to say ‘yes’ like Mary did and it’s a reminder for me to be more Christlike,” said the 20-year-old from the Novena Youth Ministry.

She recalled an experience in school about a week after returning from Panama. The lecturer in class failed to acknowledge a presentation produced by her classmate which left her visibly sad and disappointed. “I took it upon myself to inform the lecturer as a way of standing up for my classmate,” she said.

Such actions would have been unlikely before her WYD experience, said Ms Louis, who describes herself as shy and reserved. However her encounters with the people at WYD have allowed her to open up and subsequently feel the love of God.

“I learned a new way of praising God when I danced with South Africa pilgrims … and I felt His love from my host Panamanian family who welcomed me warmly and we still keep in touch.”

Redemptorist Father Francis Vijayan said that for him, it was the simple and small gestures that touched him in Panama.
“You could feel that everyone was in good spirits and the atmosphere wherever we were was nice and spirited,” he said.

He shared one occasion in Panama where the Novena contingent was made to wait under the hot sun for a long period of time because of a breakdown in communication between them and organisers of a WYD activity.

“The way they handled the situation patiently and calmly … and sorted the misunderstanding out for us was very Christian. You could tell that the Spirit was working,” said Fr Francis.

The priesthood has many responsibilities and challenges. Fr Francis said returning from WYD has left him feeling “refreshed” and in a better space to work on his ministry at Novena Church.

In the months to come, he said that more realisations of WYD may come to him and impact in different ways. “Right now, we [Novena contingent] want to express our thanks to the people who supported our fundraising by sharing our experiences.”

[email protected]