MADRID, Spain, August 25, 2011?A Muslim and a Protestant youth delegates from the Archdiocese of Davao to the 26th World Youth Day held in Madrid, Spain on August 16-21, 2011 recalled how their intense experience has marked their lives and changed their vision of reality.
Asked what he would share with his fellow Muslims after listening to Pope Benedict XVI’s messages, Yussef Paglas, a 17-year-old Moro from Davao City and the only Muslim participant from the Philippines, said he would urge his fellow Muslim young friends to be firm in faith.
Joining the other 424 delegates of the Episcopal Commission on Youth of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 34 of which come from the Archdiocese of Davao, Paglas added, “Hindi-hindi po talaga dapat bitawan ang faith” (We should not give up our faith).
Paglas thinks that for as long as Christians and Muslims alike share the same belief in one God, everything would be fine despite what he calls “religious battles” that are taking place now in our country.
This young Muslim delegate said he still was able to “meaningfully” observe Ramadan despite the long walks and exhausting schedule of the week-long WYD activities. His discipline and faithfulness to this Islam religious tradition won the admiration of his fellow delegates.
“We admire so much the way he would discipline himself by observing fasting. He just looks at us while we are taking lunch,” said Fr. Ricky Peñalosa, a diocesan priest from Davao who accompanied the delegation.
“Despite the busy schedule, I still pray and bring the Quran with me always,” Paglas added. He also said that “because of WYD, my faith is strengthened and I want my fellow Muslims to experience what I did.”
Asked what motivated him to join this Catholic event, Paglas replied that he wanted to know better the Catholic faith in order to understand it more deeply and respect it more. Besides, he was also motivated by the memory of his mother who, being an active member of Gawad Kalinga before, told him that “regardless of religion, for as long as we believe in one God, it is okay”.
Paglas also recalled that he has more Catholic friends than Muslims and that he even received loyalty awards from a Catholic high school where he studied.
When asked about his most touching experience during the event, Paglas said the long walks are unforgettable because it was his struggle and “I always pray when I am struggling”. Besides, “the aura that Pope Benedict XVI has for the people is something very heart-moving.”
“Nang makita ko si Pope, na-feel ko po ang kanyang presence at kung sino siya sa mga mata ng maraming Catholic people,” he said.
Shine, a member of a protestant sect Assembly of God, has a similar experience. She says the Pope’s presence also makes Christ’s presence felt.
“Iba talaga ang experience. Parang nandiyan si Christ na parang kaharap mo talaga,” she said.
She also added that attending the WYD is an answered prayer for her. “I really asked the Lord to allow me to attend this time…It’s really God’s gift for me because I’ve been praying it for almost two years [already.”
Asked about an experience that somehow changed an aspect of her life, Shine said that when she witnessed how the young people welcomed the Pope’s presence, she could understand why Catholics are so devoted to the Roman Pontiff.
“When my classmates or (Protestant) friends would ask me, I can now defend why Catholics venerate the Pope…it is really impressive. I know there is something beyond the person of the pope that Catholics really adore.”
The Davao delegation, headed by the Youth Coordinator, Fr. Leif Simbajon, is the biggest in the country. Consisting in nine students and some young professionals, the group was housed in a parish in Cáceres, a beautiful and very historic city, located at the south of the capital.
After the event, the group toured around Madrid and visited some important places like the Royal Palace, the Cathedral of Almudena and the famous completely-walled medieval city of Avila, where they celebrated Mass at the Monastery of the Incarnation, the home of St. Theresa of Jesus for more than 30 years. A pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican City culminated what could be considered their journey of a lifetime.
What these two non-Catholic Davao delegates experienced, during the WYD simply tells us that Christ’s invitation to a happy and holy life through an intimate encounter and relationship with Him goes beyond any human demarcation. [Fr. Russell A. Bantiles (Davao) and Rev. Ian de la Cruz (Masbate)]