Beautiful things are happening here in Taipei! During the winter vacation, just before Chinese New Year, Antonio, Simone, and I brought our two parishes together for a small three-day vacation. There were twenty-seven of us: together with us priests and twenty high-school students, there were Yahan and Wanru, two young women of about 30 who help me lead the youth group. I stopped being the pastor of St. Paul four years ago; as associate pastor, I work with the youth of the parish. Our groups are made up of middle- and high-school kids; they vary in age from 13 to 18. There aren’t many of them, rarely more than twenty. The collaboration between our parishes was born from the desire to broaden the horizons of the kids. St. Paul, the parish we have had since 2008, had a tradition of youth groups before our arrival, whereas at the parish of St. Francis Xavier, where we took over in 2005, the group was started by us. The collaboration between the two parishes began in the summer of 2018 when we organized a summer camp together. With time and a lot of patience, friendships were born between the kids who attend the parishes. And it also strengthened the bond between us priests.
We discovered that working together is beautiful, even if it’s not easy. We have different temperaments, views, and expectations. Sometimes, we even arrive at moments of tension. But with time, we have learned to appreciate each other in a truer way.
Going it alone seems less tiring but it bears less fruit and risks being the expression of a personal genius rather than the result of a lived communion. This collaboration, which for us has been a school of humility and patience, has produced a beautiful witness in the eyes of the youths who are entrusted to us: seeing priests who are friends among themselves is a rare thing.
Already, something has changed compared to past years. Since we took up organizing the camp, a tradition has been growing in regards to games, to songs, to how we participate in the Mass, and to the relationship with nature. And Yahan and Wanru, who help us in the relationship with the kids, also deserve some of the credit: they took this responsibility to heart and are growing in the faith. A new sensibility has been born among us: if before, everything had been a big game for the kids, even prayer and the Mass, now everything that we propose is linked to the thread of faith: we play because we want to become friends, we go to the mountains to get to know the Creator, we sing to express our heart.
The kids are also aware of this change; they were immediately struck by our way of arranging time. They confessed to us that everything seemed freer than before. The richness of the content that we brought, in fact, comes out not only in the lessons but also in the games, in eating together, in hiking in the mountains. And in the theme, which this year was forgiveness: “As we forgive those who trespass against us”.
A young girl from my parish, Lixin, hasn’t been coming to church in the past year, after having been highly active in the youth group. I got in touch with her, and she told me that she had been suffering from depression. We invited her anyway. Despite being a bit dazed at times because of her medication, I saw her play and laugh out loud with her friends at the camp. At the final assembly, she spoke about the cross that God had given her and that at times it seems too heavy. She told us that she had “forgiven” God for having given her this cross and that she asked Him for forgiveness for “my weakness in carrying it”. The vacation concluded on Saturday, and at the Mass afterwards at the parish, everyone was there, including Lixin. I was happy to see them all again.
In the photo, a game during an Advent retreat of the community of Taiwan.