Look for Jesus, youth urged in Novena Youth Explosion

“What are you looking for?” Redemptorist Superior-General Fr Joseph Tobin posed this question to the young people gathered for the Novena Youth Explosion on the night of Sept 4. “This is the question that I want all of you to think about.” Out of the 73 countries that the Redemptorists work in, Fr Joe, 46, had been to about 55 of them. “Where I live in Rome, you might guess that people are looking for someone to talk to.” Describing in expressive gestures, he described how Romans talk incessantly on their mobile phones, even in movie theatres. “People want to be together. How many of you spend some time on your computer, asking the Internet to give you a friend? You may never see his or her face, and they may live on the other side of the world, but you looking for a friend, somebody who can understand you, who gives you some sympathy, who loves you.”

Fr Joe worked in a very poor city, and one day when some doctors asked him to find out the reason why many old people are starving, he was astonished. When he visited these single old people in their homes, he sneaked into the kitchen and found that their cupboards were filled with lots of food! “They didn’t eat it. Why? Because there was no one to eat it with. It was easier to just make a cup of tea or boil an egg. They were looking for somebody to share a meal.”

“I think most people all over the world are looking to live, and some people don’t make it.” In what was one of the worst summers in his life, Fr Joe, who was then parish priest in a poor parish in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan; he buried 3 teenagers who were shot to death, one after another in 3 consecutive weeks.

“ We want to talk to somebody, we want to be with somebody, and most of all, we want to live.” When his Friend asked Fr Joe what he was looking for, he replied that he ‘want to live’. His Friend said he could help him, and He said he could. “Come follow Me, and I will give you more life than you ever expected. I will give you someone who will listen to you, to understand you, to forgive you. I will give you Myself. My Friend’s name is Jesus.”

Amidst the backdrop of the floral wall built over the previous days, ‘Youth Explosion’ also had other highlights including a Redemptorist school mission PowerPoint presentation, school flag presentation to Fr Joe by respective mission schools like the Convents of the Holy Infant Jesus and St Joseph’s Institution. Lively ‘Praise and Worship’ sessions also interspaced the other proceedings comprising of Healing with the Blessed Sacrament with Fr Gino and a skit entitled, ‘He Makes a Difference’, which showed the dilemma teenagers are in when deciding what they see on the Internet.

David Chan, 17, a parishioner of the Church of St Mary of the Angels, gave a touching testimony of his conversion to the faith. He joined RCIY (Rite of Christian Initiation for Youth) last year and was baptized this year on Easter, but is still helping out in RCIY. “My Mum is a cradle Catholic, but I was not baptized at birth. In fact, I did not believe in God when I was young, choosing to believe in Science and myself, until one day when my life took a turning point. It was at the end of my Primary Six when my father walked out of the family. In a sense, I didn’t have a father. At that time, in the state of confusion, I started to give up on myself. I started fooling around, doing nothing but playing computer games and surfing the Net all day, just wasting my life, sitting in class and failing practically all my tests. I didn’t know what I was looking for then. I really wasted my Sec 1 and 2 life.” It was only at the end of his Sec 2 that he started to think about what he was looking for in life. It was only on hindsight that he realized that it was God who made him stop and think. “I also realized that although I gave up on myself, others did not give up on me; my teachers who kept advising me to work harder, my friends gave me a lot of encouragement, and my mother, who despite all the difficulties and hardship, continued to work hard to raise my brother and I.” He then started to drift back to the Catholic Church, started attending Masses and found peace and hope. I started to know more about God and found meaning in life. Slowly he began to change, and started to work hard, and he decided to consult God for everything in his life, as He gave him all the answers. “What makes me tick is to participate in church activities, and know that all I’m looking for is in God.” He then appealed to the youths to participate more actively in church, to find the goodness that he had found. In Hwa Chong Junior College now, David now plans to help set up a youth English-speaking praesidium of the Legion of Mary. “The greatest gift that God has given to our young people, which many people do not realize, is the gift of openness, sharing and transparency. We need to tap that gift, and to listen, hold and embrace them. Never lose hope.” Fr Simon Pereira told this to the crowd as some youths from the crowd came up to the stage to give some gestures of encouragement to David.

The youth rally ended at about 10pm with a rousing rendition of the ‘Jubilee Song’, with almost everyone on their feet and following the actions of the animators on stage. Peter Sim, 18, who was a parishioner of the Church of St Francis of Assisi, had this to say, “It was an excellent programme for the youths. I hope that the Redemptorist hold more events like this!”

Fr Simon Pereira will be leaving for sabbatical studies in Dublin from Sept 7 onwards. He will be back for a short holiday on Dec 21 but will be leaving again in Feb 2001.

Youths who are interested to joining youth groups or activities may call the Redemptorist Mission Team at 2552133 or email rymec1@mailcityasia.com.

This article appeared edited in the September 17, 2000 issue of The Catholic News.