Holy Cross Feast Celebrations in Myitkyina, Myanmar
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, or Udang Poi, is a huge celebration in the Diocese of Myitkyina, Myanmar (formerly Burma), which attracts thousands of people from all over the country. The three-day celebration includes hiking up one of the mountains in the area called Alum Udang Bum or Alam Cross Mountain which is about 2,800 feet high. On top of the mountain is a shrine for the Holy Cross. At the base of the mountain on the grounds of Alam Udang Bum is a bamboo church, visitation center, and a grotto.
On September 13, thirty university students from around the diocese gathered at the Center for Learning Alternatives for Youth center to prepare for the climb the following day. The students came from the Technology University, Computer University, Myitkyina University and Mohnyin Degree College. The next day, the group was joined by young people from the Diocesan Youth Commission and Pa La Na Internally- Displaced Peoples’ camp. Altogether about 120 young people joined in the activities. The activity was led by the Catholic Student Action Myitkyina committee.
The rain was not very helpful, because it made the road very slippery, muddy and wet. On the way to the top of the mountain, the young people went through the Youth Cross Walk which is a contextualized Stations of the Cross. At every station, the young people reflected and prayed for the different “crosses,” struggles and challenges that young people identified themselves. They are the crosses that young people carry everyday of their lives. These includes the conflict/war in Kachin, violence against women/children, youth in conflict with the law, child labor, climate change and pollution, internal displacement, poverty, mental health, human trafficking, lack of access to quality education, access to decent employment after graduation, broken families, drug addiction and HIV/ AIDS infection, teenage pregnancy, and abortion.
Once they arrived at the top of the mountain, the group rested and shared lunch together. The final thanksgiving Mass was celebrated with Bishop Francis Daw Tang, bishop of Myitkyina. After the Mass, the students together with other volunteers started to pick up empty water bottles and waste in the area and along the road. Every year, the amount of waste generated increases as the number of people taking part in the event also increase.
The Catholic Student Action Movement put up signs encouraging and requesting everyone not to throw their garbage on the ground along the way. A reminder from Pope Francis to care for the Earth, our common home was also included. There is a greater need to educate everyone since after every huge event in parishes and the dioceses, there is a huge amount of waste left behind. Plastic water bottles constitute most of the waste generated in celebrations like this. The movement hopes to generate ecological awareness among the youth and general population.
We asked the students who participated in the activities to share their reflection on their experience. Here are some of their reflections:
We, the Catholic Student Action Myitkyina (CSAM) youth together with some other youths from different organizations walked to the top of Alum Bum. On the way to the top, we stopped at every station of the cross, reflected, prayed and sang songs. On the way back, we picked trash and cleaned the road. We cleaned the place as much as we could. It was an awesome time for us to meet new faces and make new friends even though some were not Catholics they joined the feast and the clean up. This is the solidarity which God loves. It was raining that day but nobody gave up. We walked for what we believed. And it was a big challenge for everyone because the road was muddy like a river and steep. It was a long walk so we carried some snacks and water to keep us energized.
I really felt glad because I was able to reach the top of the mountain. When I reached the top, I thanked God for keeping me strong and healthy. I also felt closer to God as I got closer to the top of the mountain. And every time I got tired or felt weak, I remembered that Jesus took a road much more difficult than my road for our salvation. He should be more tired and in pain more than me. On the way, we meet new people, strangers but I did not feel strange with them because it felt like we are all in the heart of God – we are all the same. We are brothers and sisters. We are one family of God.
On the way, some were getting weak and exhausted from the long and difficult walk – but it did not stop them. No one gave up. We believed that we were with Jesus walking. Life is like walking and climbing Alam Bum. There are many problems and challenges. But we need not run away from them. The Way of the Cross inspires us to face everything and anything with courage and hope. Jesus never ran away from God’s plan. He faced it. When we face our problems it is like carrying our own crosses like Jesus did before us. We all are invited to walk like Jesus did, following and understanding God’s amazing plan. Don’t run away no matter how difficult life can be.
– Peter Sut Ring (Technology University, Myitkyina)
When we were walking and praying at the stations of the Cross, I saw the great love of Jesus for me. Jesus saved me with His very life. At every station of the cross I felt sad because of my own mistakes or sins. Jesus went through a lot of pain and suffering because of my sins. I felt guilty of my sins when I climbed Alam mountain. My heart always remembers the stations of cross every time I climb that sacred mountain. Jesus loves everyone. We can thank Jesus by following Him. I learned a lot about love through Jesus’s life – His words and actions. Jesus taught us how to love a person and then how build relationship with other people.
These days most youth experience pain and suffering. In the past, Jesus also felt the same pain and suffering. So most of youth and Jesus are going through the same experience. At every station we reflected on the different crosses of the youth to help us understand what many of the young people today go through and pray for them. We need the help of Jesus. Jesus knows our painand suffering.
– Philip Naw Seng (University of Myitkyina)
When we arrived at the foot of Alam mountain, we saw a big tarpaulin with the saying, “Be happy, be healthy, blessings to every climber.” This year was different from the last year because of the rain. The rain did not stop from the time we arrived until we started walking and climbing the mountain. But we continued walking and praying at every station of the cross with the students, Diocesan Youth Commission members and St. Paul youths. We prayed for the youths who are carrying different crosses everyday of their lives like the war and conflict in Kachin land, violence against women and children, child labor and specially climate change and pollution. We kept climbing and praying even though it was raining, the road was slippery and steep and we were tired and cold.
– Sut Seng Naw (University of Myitkyina)
The Catholic Student Action Myitkyina is a student movement inspired by the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines which was initiated by the Columbans. In the Diocese of Myitkyina, Myanmar, the movement hopes to journey with young people in their faith and lives. Guided by the Scriptures and Catholic Social Teachings, it hopes to encourage young people to be brave, generous and above all joyful Christians.
Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar.