I have been working with the youth at Our Mother of Divine Mercy Village (the Philippines) for some years now. The last few years have been beyond compare. I remember kicking off 2020 with the youth in a gathering to consolidate our intentions and identify activities for the whole year. We invited Bibing Mordeno, the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation ( JPIC)-Mindanao Animator to facilitate team building exercises and processing, before getting into the business of the planning the year. Never could we have imagined that all our plans would only be on paper.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has totally changed the course of our activities. This has actually changed everyone’s lives. It was on March 15, 2020, that our priest shared the situation and informed us of the corresponding adjustments that people would have to make in the months to follow. He said we could no longer have our group meetings. It was followed by the ongoing travel restrictions imposed by the government fearing local transmission. And if it were not for social media that provided virtual connections, everything would be in total chaos.
Through virtual connections, I listened to various stories of fear and anxiety from the youth. Most common among them were parents or family members losing their jobs and having no money to buy even the most basic of needs, which is food. As almost everyone lives in the same house, daily expenses have increased but not a penny extra was coming into their houses. Every family’s situation of poverty became even more dire.
Sharing their stories with friends in Cagayan de Oro provided me the opportunity to at least facilitate modest relief interventions. Some friends distributed sacks of bananas, which, to my surprise, were embraced by the youth who even volunteered to cook the bananas for snacks and deliver them house-to-house. Every time I received donations such as rice and vegetables, it was the young people who facilitated repacking and delivery especially to those families who are in dire need in the village.
Reflecting on all this, these young people really have understood their roles not as the future but the now of God, young people with the passion of love, as Pope Francis shared in his message during the International Youth Day in Panama. The formation program has planted in these young souls the love for their neighbors, which is now put into action during this time of global crisis.
While excited for the summer camp, which is regularly sponsored by a priest friend of mine, they spent their time devoted to helping the poorest of the poor families in the village. They acted as front-line workers during the novenas in the chapel reminding everyone to wear their face masks. They even made Mama Mary and Papa Joseph wear masks to depict the reality of Christmas!
Despite the challenges of accessing the internet for their online classes and having no personal computers at home, they continued providing inspiration not only to the young children but also to the adults in the village who were continually are amazed at their passion for community service. They even produced a video clip of them singing songs of hope – inviting other youth to realize that there is a brighter side of life.
All these acts of service by these young people continue to gladden my heart.
Columban lay missionary Ana Flores lives and works in the Philippines.