Everyone, especially the youth always look forward to the long Thanksgiving weekend as a time to spend with their family at home, lounging at the Mall or at the beach with their friends, or even just relaxing at the comfort of one’s home watching a favorite movie.
This time around, for the 80 youths from Guam and about 40 youths from Saipan, God gave them a unique way to celebrate their Thanksgiving weekend – to be with the families and people who were affected by last month’s Super Typhoon Yutu.
On the morning of Thanksgiving Day, the youths from San Vicente and San Roque along with some parishioners greeted the pilgrims from Guam at the airport with cheers and singing as they begun their three-day mini pilgrimage/mission.
The pilgrims were all members of Neocatechumenal Way Communities from two islands in the Marianas. They were composed of 80 youth from Guam and some 40 from Saipan between the ages of 12 and 39, a handful of chaperones and catechists, Father Jason Granado, and Father Krzystof Szarfarski from the Archdiocese of Agana. Sister Emma Lusterio also joined the group.
They had come for the same purpose: to share the experience and suffering that people of Saipan have been living in since the destruction left by Super Typhoon Yutu last October. They chose to spend their Thanksgiving weekend away from their families and friends. Instead of enjoying the comfort of 24/7 electricity and running water back home, they slept inside San Vicente Parish which was among the many structures heavily damaged by the catastrophic winds and because it is situated on one of the most destroyed villages, it is yet to be connected to island power.
Each day of the pilgrimage began with Morning Prayer and ended with a Eucharistic Celebration.
On Thursday, the first stop was Suicide Cliff where a clear view of the northern part of Saipan was the perfect venue to host a Morning Prayer. Afterwards, the youths visited Gregorio T. Camacho Elementary School and Tanapag Middle School, two of the shelters filled with the most people who had lost their homes and many of their personal belongings. With singing and dancing, the pilgrims shared their experiences to the residence of the shelters, leaving genuine smiles, tears, and hope to the people.
Friday morning was spent working on the grounds of San Vicente Parish and Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Dandan. All 120 youth and the chaperones were split into groups and glistened with sweat under the sun as they collected scattered debris, and sorted them into categorized piles. Amazingly, they were still full of zeal for an afternoon doing mission all over DanDan, singing, dancing, and going door-to-door, inviting men and women to attend the ongoing catechesis at San Vicente Parish.
The last day of the pilgrimage, Saturday, the youth pilgrims did popular mission in the streets of Chalan Kanoa. The mission ended at the front of the Mount Carmel Cathedral after having gone around the main parts of the village. There, a Midday Prayer was held inside the cathedral, followed by a few hours to share experiences and answer questions, and then finally back to their sleeping grounds to prepare for the grand finale which was an anticipated Eucharistic Celebration for Christ the King with Bishop Ryan Jimenez.
Bishop Ryan in his homily shared his Thanksgiving mass with the military personnel helping the island and how their sacrifices make them appreciate their loved ones and God even more. He spoke of his gratitude for the youth, especially those who came from Guam for their willingness to spend their time here and that most importantly, all we need is love.
“We must remember that our lives should be lived not for ourselves or for this world, but for God. Ask yourselves what you have done for God, what are you currently doing for Him, and what will you do,” he said as a way to challenge those who attended the celebration and allow them to reflect on their past actions.
At the end of the Mass, a vocational call was made for those who felt that God is calling them to the priesthood or to the religious life. Two young men stood up for the priesthood and three young women stood up for the religious life. Bishop Ryan laid his hands over them and gave them especial blessing so that their vocations may be preserved and protected.
“Even though I stood up for a calling, I am not limiting myself to a certain vocation at the moment, to not project my future, because I want to remain open to what God’s desire is for me. The point of every vocation is to become one with Christ,” beautifully explained one of the sisters who received the blessing.
Christian San Agustin, one of the pilgrims from Guam said that the pilgrimage turned out to be better than he could have ever expected.
“It was my first time to be here in Saipan,” he acknowledged. “I came here trying to live precariously and do whatever God wanted. At first, I felt nervous, but when you enter into the Will of God, there’s always happiness. I would love to come back to Saipan, whether or not there is another pilgrimage here”
“To suffer with the brothers from Saipan was God showing me to open my eyes. Many times, I have my own struggles. However, God is always with us. A Word I received this weekend was to face my reality and to depend on His Will,” said Shawn Paul Guerrero, another pilgrim from Guam. It was his first experience of a typhoon and it was also his first time to Saipan which he said was an experience that left him feeling more grateful for what he had.
14 year old Magdalen Santos from Santa Remedios shared that, “This was my first pilgrimage. I was enlightened to what I hadn’t thought of before. I found a new understanding of God’s love and was happy to live the experience.”
Every pilgrimage is unique and has its very own way of revealing the magnificence of the Lord. They are looking forward to yet another pilgrimage in the future.
Although the purpose of the pilgrimage was to suffer together, everyone agreed that it was one of the most beautiful and happiest times they had lived– that the joy totally outweighed any suffering. The heavy rain and intense heat were no match for the Holy Spirit who guided them. The pilgrims were sunburnt and physically drained with a few rain-soaked clothes tied in plastic bags, but didn’t feel any regret as their spirits were nourished by doing God’s will. They all agreed that there couldn’t have been anything better to do than to live in complete grace throughout the three days.
Much time and effort was put into the planning of this event by brothers and sister from both the islands of Guam and Saipan for whom pilgrims are extremely thankful for. They are thankful for the generosity, kindness, and love shown to them, and pray you will be rewarded for your efforts. Let us continue to pray for the ones who are still recovering from the typhoon and not forget to thank and bless God for the countless miracles He has given to us all.