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God is wherever our paths meet: A youth-led virtual pilgrimage in Balay Laudato Si’

God is wherever our paths meet: A youth-led virtual pilgrimage in Balay Laudato Si’

Raiza Javier

The road to Emmaus takes us to an honest conversation between two disciples of Christ talking about his persecution and death, who were later on joined by a stranger who turned out to be the risen Jesus himself. As they talked with Christ, they felt their hearts burning, and later on their eyes were opened that they were indeed communing with God.

Throughout the month of October, the youth in Upper Pulangi, Philippines, have been walking the same road: meeting others along the way to dialogue about their challenges, concerns and actions in response to the ecological crisis, and drawing hope from the interaction. This is their contribution to the On the Way to Change, a global community pilgrimage to COP26, in coordination with Balay Laudato Si’ (BLS).

Starting from a simple celebration of the feast of Saint Ignatius where they reflected on the life pilgrimage of the saint, the youth journeyed virtually to other parts of the country and the world to connect with other young people and share stories from their upland context to those in the cities, coastal areas, and lowland communities.

“We are separated by the mountains and seas, but we are so close because of our shared goal to respond to the ecological crisis,” Balay Laudato Si’ Youth Coordinator Marvin Magat said during one of the exchanges.

Much like the road to Emmaus, the youth-led discussions reflected the essence of a pilgrimage process, experiencing God’s love in different ways.

One student participant from Ateneo de Manila University – Junior High School shared a personal project he started when he was 10 years old as a simple way to contribute to ecological action. The project, LUIS PH, promotes awareness on different environmental issues and lifestyle changes to respond to the ecological concerns. (photo: LUIS PH)

A deeper understanding of the self

In sharing their personal experiences on the ecological crisis, the youth were able to express their unique perspectives about the environmental challenges in their regions, may it be constant flooding, unpredictable climate affecting their livelihood, air pollution, or plastic waste. This led the youth to reflect where they are part of the problem and how they share in the solution.

“In this pilgrimage we are journeying as a community, giving information about what is happening around us. Through this, we are learning what we need to change within ourselves, and this encourages others to join us in making these changes,” said Gerajean Lipanda, one of the youth participants.

This journeying together also became a chance to recognize that while the youth come from unique contexts, they are not isolated in experiencing these challenges, but connected to everything that is God-created.

Connecting with others with humble honesty

“I am always very struck how we fight different battles, even though it’s one world. (In Malta), our battles are very much due to our overconsumption and it is having effects even on other parts of the world. While Balay Laudato Si’ is also battling different battles. I am always touched when we encounter different realities, how we are living a very different life and how important it is that we understand each other and we think of each of each other as well,” Christine Rossi, Ignatian Formation Coordinator and Global Citizenship Coordinator at St. Aloysius College Malta said.

In many ways, these kinds of interactions are God’s way of speaking to us. Being able to feel God’s presence in a simple conversation among young people strengthens us as a group. The youth are free to share with humble honesty what they know and don’t know about the climate negotiations, what they want to contribute, and what they sincerely hope to come out of the process and beyond.

Students and staff of Father Leoni Memorial School (FLMS) in Bukidnon, Philippines, Season of Creation celebration 2021 (photo: FLMS)

Celebrating life and the journey we walked together

What ultimately comes out of these conversations is a sense of comfort that God is accompanying us as we face the ecological crisis in our different but interconnected paths, and a sense of gratitude for being able to journey together.

“We are staying in a common village which is our Mother Earth. We are breathing the same life-giving oxygen; the same water is quenching our thirst…the same goes for the food that give us energy. We share this entire village. We are a family,” Devopriya Dutta, Youth Coordinator of Tarumitra said. “We draw hope from each other. This conversation has been all about hope.”

For the Upper Pulangi youth, this process is also largely cultural. Bentela daw sayuda is a valued tradition of the Pulangiyen community of visiting other villages to share information or to provide a service, like building a home for one family or regenerating the forest. This fosters a deep sense of connectedness among the people and a shared commitment and companionship with one another.

“I draw hope from my culture, my source of identity and my inspiration for my dreams. I remember one of our elders told me, when I finish my studies, he hopes I come back to my tribe, because it doesn’t matter what I achieve in life; what matters is what I do for other people. Even if we are experiencing many vulnerabilities around us, I have hope that someday I will be able to achieve my dream and go back and give back to my culture. This also motivates me to take part in COP26, because without the environment, my culture will not exist,” Iram Ampildon shared with the group.

And while technically the youth pilgrims did not physically travel to meet one another, the simple interaction drew them closer together, and the wisdom and renewed energy that they took from the experience gave them much to take home to their own communities.

“As I was listening to the experiences of different schools from around our country, I got inspired to see that there really are people who advocate for change, for a better future. Part of the fight against climate change is also sticking together as a community and creating resilience together,” Kit Gocena, a student of Sacred Heart Ateneo de Cebu said after a discussion with BLS youth and other Philippine schools. “Our goal in this discussion, and perhaps, our life is to motivate us to act, to have a conversation with each other and to be part of the most important change for us and for our future generation.”

Balay Laudato Si’ extends its gratitude to the students and teachers of Saint Alphonsus Liguori Integrated School, Ateneo de Manila University-Junior High School, Ateneo de Manila University-Senior High School, Saint Isidore High School, Father Leoni Memorial School, Pangantucan Community High School, Sacred Heart School Ateneo de Cebu, Miriam College-Nuvali, Saint Aloysius College-Malta, as well as members of the Tarumitra Club in India, for joining them in this journey. 

Connect with BLS at [email protected] 

Raiza Javier from the Philippines is the pilgrimage coordinator of the On the Way to Change global community pilgrimage to COP26.

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