Seeing the pope, and experiencing Church unity and Korean hospitality were among the memories of S’pore Catholics
At the 6th Asian Youth Day (AYD), 48 pilgrims from Singapore learnt about the stories of the Korean martyrs, trod the path of persecution, met with Pope Francis, and shared in the joyful celebration of Catholics gathering from many nations to worship as one universal Church.
The Singapore delegation was in Korea from Aug 10-18 for the celebration, which had the theme, Wake Up! The Glory of the Martyrs Shines on You!
The story of how the Korean Catholic Church was founded is unique indeed. In the early 17th century, Christian literature made its way from China to Korea. Christian teachings and ideals were debated over and studied by mostly educated laity.
More than 10,000 Catholics were martyred over a century. We, as participants, were privileged to make a five-km pilgrimage on the path that some of the martyrs walked after being arrested, from their homes to Haemi Fortress, where they were imprisoned, tortured and executed.
“As we entered a stretch of pavement lined with hand-drawn illustrations of the 124 Korean martyrs fluttering in the wind, it became a poignant moment for many of us,” recalled Fr Jovita Ho, who was with the Singapore contingent.
“We walked in silence” as the group remembered “these men, women, children and infants at the breast, who gave up their lives for Christ and walked as witnesses of the faith”, he noted.
In our interaction with Asians from other countries, we realised that even in modern times, many are not allowed to worship as they desire in their own country.
“One girl from China (age 20) shared with me that her mother had encouraged her, ‘Go, as the Lord has called you and He who is faithful will always watch over you,’” recalled Melissa Gomes, another participant.
Although the Singapore contingent was comparatively smaller than those from other countries, we saw that we too had a part to play in the larger Church. Most of us took on the role of translators in our sharing groups of mixed nationalities.
As citizens of one of the smallest countries, being acknowledged by Pope Francis was perhaps the most exciting moment of the whole AYD.
A group of us had been allocated side seats at the closing Mass, far away from the main altar, but near to the road where the pope would drive past. We had prepared posters that read “Singapore loves Papa” and one of us had prayed really hard that the pope would face our direction when he drove past.
True enough, our dearest Papa turned just as he passed us, saw our posters, and with his eyes lighted up, exclaimed, “Singapore!” (3:36-3:40 in Closing Mass of 6th Asian Youth Day on Vatican Youtube). He also blessed our bunch of crosses on the drive out.
Participant Joanna Chua commented that the pope’s “awareness and understanding of the different countries allows him to give them the message they need to hear”.
At the homily of the closing Mass at Haemi Fortress, Pope Francis drew on the theme and encouraged all young people to “wake up! No one who sleeps can sing, dance or rejoice. I don’t like to see young people who are sleeping. No! Wake up! Go! Go forward!”
He further exhorted, “Let Christ turn your natural optimism into Christian hope, your energy into moral virtue, your good will into genuine self-sacrificing love! This is the path you are called to take. This is the path to overcoming all that threatens hope, virtue and love in your lives and in your culture. In this way your youth will be a gift to Jesus and to the world.”
As Singaporeans who have been privileged to receive pastoral care and opportunities for prayer, we were initially disillusioned with the excessive use of lights and sounds during AYD.
Despite not speaking much English, our hosts always made sure we had enough food and that we were comfortable. One of our group leaders even bought us ice cream to battle the summer heat during an outing even though we were used to hotter and more humid conditions.
Through the struggle to communicate, we recognised the desire to know one another and to share our lives. In our differences, our prayers together and especially the Mass united us in the faith. There was one Mass where the celebrant invited all of us Asians to pray the Our Father in our own languages. To have experienced this single prayer, spoken in many different languages and all at the same time to our One God the Father, was indeed moving for me.
As Jeff Loh, a Singapore participant, pointed out, “Despite the language barriers and various differences, we are one big Catholic family.”
The Asian Youth Day may be over, and we have all settled back in our own countries and homes. But the friendship and faith we share will remain with us. And our experiences will continue to challenge us every day, demanding that we follow in the martyrs’ footsteps to die to ourselves, yet awaken as Christ resurrected to live out our Catholic faith in the spirit of joy and hope.
As one participant, Andrew Lin put it, “Definitely, my perspective has changed to a more Christ-centred one.”
By Yvonne Chen