LIKE THE proverbial sheep heeding the call of the shepherd, hundreds of delegates from all over Asia flocked the recently held Asian Youth Day (AYD) to answer Christ’s call of celebrating their faith.

For the first time, the Philippines was chosen as the site for the fifth edition of the AYD, which took place last November 20 to 27. Hosted by the Archdiocese of Imus in Cavite, it aimed to highlight the unique culture and spirituality of Asians, which is integral to their faith, as characterized by the theme “YAsia Fiesta! Young Asians: Come Together, Share the Word, Live the Eucharist.”

Around a thousand participants from 27 countries and 900 Filipino delegates representing 86 dioceses gathered at the Rogationist College in Silang, Cavite for the seven-day event.

“Amid the challenges and realities that are faced by the youth today, the Lord would want them to listen to each other and reflect together,” said Bishop Joel Z. Baylon, D.D., who is part of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Youth.

Baylon added that Filipinos often took religious freedom for granted because they simply “inherited” faith. Thus, he emphasized the Filipino youth’s responsibility of “witnessing to their faith,” and inspiring other Asians to follow suit.

One of the highlights of the seven-day celebration was community immersion, where delegates brought help to victims of tropical storm “Ondoy” as part of their community service.

“The celebration of the AYD is an attempt to harness the youth for evangelization, which the Church does, not only by teaching Catechism, but by focusing on the development of every person, especially the youth,” said Fr. Efren Rivera, UST Faculty of Sacred Theology professor.

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One in Christ

Apart from community immersion, the celebration also included parish exposure and interaction, community service, moments of reflection and sharing, and plenary sessions with the AYD theme as the topic. The AYD kicked off with a mass held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Pillar, where the delegates were warmly received by Karakol dancers and local Church officials. A liturgical concert and cultural presentations showcasing the unique cultures of Asia concluded the Mass.

Some Thomasians also joined the Asian delegates. One of them was Francis Jiao, a Theology junior from the Faculty of Sacred Theology, who volunteered to participate in the event.

Julie Cemine, a Youth for Christ member from the Archdiocese of Ozamis, described the event as a fulfilling way of knowing the different faces of Christ among fellow Catholics.

“The most rewarding part is sharing [Christ’s] body to people with different culture and way of living. Yet, you see the same Christ you had known,” she said.

Likewise, Cambodian delegate Renjith Joseph saw the event as a means of “strengthening his Catholic faith.” Joseph exclaimed his delight in all the activities he had participated in, particularly his experience with his host family during the stay.

“The place and the people are beautiful. My experience here is something I can use for a lifetime,” he said.

Young Fiesta

Considered as Asia’s counterpart of the World Youth Day, the celebration of the AYD is an idea of the Youth Desk formed by the Federation of Asian Bishop’s Conference. The Youth Desk aims to build a community of different faiths, “engaging them in ecumenism and interreligious dialogues imbued with the missionary spirit.” Included in this is the AYD, which happens every two or three years, with the first one held in Thailand in 2001.

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Youth Bishop Baylon said that the Philippines had been one of the most considered places to host the AYD for the past five years. The event also serves as a prelude to the Archdiocese of Imus’ celebration of their 50 years of existence.

“There may be a lot of several reasons for gathering young people to an event like this. But this is mainly to challenge them, for them to realize that they too, have a mission—they can be missionaries in different ways,” Fr. Baylon said.

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