|THE CHRIST PURSUIT by Dominic Apuan, South A|
Posted by Joy Katigbak on 7/28/2009 5:28:50 AM
The Lion’s Head, Camp John Hay Airbase, Philippine Military Academy, The Mansion House, The Baguio Cathedral, Mines View Park, Burnham Park, The Wright Park, Botanical Garden…From its skirts to its very core, there is a cluster of places to go to, and lots of reasons to visit Baguio City. But last July 24 to 26, 2009 the SFC Metro Manila had but one reason: The Christ Pursuit.
What better place to pursue God than on the mountaintops of Baguio? The SFC Metro Manila Conference ’09 was held at the CAP – John Hay Trade and Cultural Center. For three days we were there, and after these three days, our lives will never be the same.
It all aptly began with the Eucharistic celebration on Friday afternoon, celebrated by Fr. Xavier Olin, SJ, followed by the opening worship led by Bro. Arcie Mallari of East B. Opening night saw the SFCs dressed up as treasure hunters, voyagers and explorers to signify the start of their pursuit. Drapings and wooden conviction boxes onstage added pizzazz to the venue, as emcees Mike Ybiernas and Pabsy Pabalan put everyone in “quest mode”. With hundreds in attendance, some SFCs showcased their talents in singing and dancing through a friendly competition called “SFC’s Got Talent”, where Rhea Bernandez from Central C bagged the top prize after serenading the crowd with her guitar as she sang her own, beautifully-written composition. The contest was very vibrant, justly depicting the image of awesomeness drawn for us by God. The night ended with a praisefest where the SFCs sang, danced, shouted, and partied their hearts out for the Lord. Everyone knew “The Christ Pursuit” had begun.
Day Two had a different story to tell. The number of delegates present grew to an even more overwhelming magnitude, numbering close to 3,000. After the Holy Eucharist celebrated by Fr. Norlan Julia, SJ, everyone was excited to see how the day’s events would unfold. After a short video of different single men and women going on different types of journeys, one voice stood out. God spoke through speaker Bro. JM Sangco, as he told the story about “The Journey” that we SFCs were about to take. It was proclaimed in talk 1 that the journey of pursuing Christ is a a pilgrimage towards being Christ-like. The most important message of this talk was that God pursued us first and that He will pursue us, whenever, wherever, however and whoever we are because of His immense love for us. One of our brothers, Napie Ali from West B, testified to this truth as he shared God’s own pursuit of him throughout all the trials in his life.
After Talk 1, the SFCs were allowed a five-minute break and an opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the Jesuit priests stationed within the venue. Subsequently, Talk 2 began, a mini-recollection of sorts given by Fr. Xavier Olin, SJ. Fr. Xavier allowed us to take a deeper look at ourselves “In Pursuit of Christ”. He started by leading the group in an exercise where we prayed over some of our main body parts, in an effort to surrender to God and put at His disposal the body that He gave us. Fr. Xavier emphasized the value of spending time in silence frequently so that we may hear God’s voice speaking to us in the stillness of our hearts and our surroundings. He spoke about the power of prayer and how it can change our lives, about being able to see Christ in everyone and everything by turning our lives into a lifetime of prayer; and how, in the life we are given, God grants us grace in every step we take through the Sacraments. He told everyone how to stay on course in pursuing Christ by keeping away from sin; and drawing others to Christ in the journey that we take. It is through having an intimate relationship with God that we will be able to see His grace move through our lives and clearly appreciate His plans for us in our individual journeys. This was further illustrated by a video of SFCs sharing how they were able to overcome struggles in their lives by a deepening intimate relationship with God. The talk ended with the message of the Conference half-clear and everyone in great excitement as to what else the Lord would reveal in the succeeding sessions.
After lunch, the participants attended various workshops on the sacraments, inner healing, spiritual direction, Christian virtues, praying with Scriptures, and many others. These enriching workshops, tools to accompany us in our journey towards Christ, were given by several members of the clergy and some CFC elders. The workshops were a fitting complement to the messages given in the first two talks and prepared everyone as well for the sessions to come.
Saturday evening began with worship led by Bro. Denmark Mapilis from West B. Tita Penny de Leon gave the third session, which talked about our “Empty Pursuits”. In this talk, we learned that although it is only Christ who can really fill our deepest longings, oftentimes we pursue other things before our God. These are our pursuits of success, satisfaction, security and service. These 4 empty pursuits may consume and blind us from our pursuit of Christ and cause us to fall into pride, addiction, selfishness and burn out. This was illustrated and made real to all by brothers and sisters who shared how the Lord seized them from a life of pursuing success, satisfaction, security, and service. All were inspired by the sharings of Francis Diaz from Central C, Nicky Tuason from South B, and Nina Villanueva from Central C Tita Penny explained that what God calls us to do is to: succeed in only one thing—our faithfulness to Him, satisfy our longings only with His love, secure our personal relationship with Him, and serve only because of love and nothing else. She then led us to a very touching reflection and prayed over us. The evening ended with a praisefest led by Bro. Nestle Jeturian from Central C, beginning with a moment of silence to simply feel God’s presence and hear His voice. The SFCs spent a few minutes in the solitude of prayer, undistracted by the environment. Not a single sound was heard within the auditorium as everyone reflected on the reality check that God posed that night. Then all were led to approach and thank all those in the community who have been instrumental in their pursuit of Christ, as the venue overflowed with joyful and often tearful embraces of brothers and sisters journeying together.
The SFCs welcomed Day 3 once again by celebrating the Holy Eucharist led by His Excellency Bishop Carlito Cenzon. By the end of the mass all the delegates were burning in their seats in excitement, as it was finally time to receive the last piece of the puzzle. Bro. Marc Sebastian was the one tasked by God to deliver His final message. Bro. Marc gave everyone a glimpse of what awaits us at the end of the journey, “The Prize of the Pursuit.” The Lord wants to bring us to our eternal home, heaven, and He will not stop pursuing us until we are His. Heaven is the prize of our pursuit …and it is there where we will experience eternal fulfillment – for no longer will we be broken, His infinite love – in all its purity and infinite magnificence, and endless joy – for we shall be filled! Bro. Marc also exhorted everyone to press on in our journeys for it will not be spared from difficulties and trials. Inspiring all with their stories on how they continue to press on towards their dreams despite seemingly insurmountable challenges were SFCs Mheng Torres, Rollie de los Reyes, and Anne Robis.
It was at this point when I began to question my personal pursuit for Christ. I haven’t been exactly a perfect Christian, neither have I been close to being one. In this MMC, I was able to serve God by leading the first praisefest and by being part of the band that played during the Sunday opening worship. What could I have possibly done to deserve that opportunity? What could possibly be the reason why I should deserve to receive heaven as a reward at the end of my journey? I was completely overwhelmed by how God would bless me with so much, almost questioning why he would even consider me as part of the crowd that will receive heaven.
My questions were answered during the last praisefest led by fulltime pastoral worker Bro. Jay Laquian, when we prayed the song “One Desire”. I realized that the Lord doesn’t look at a person’s credentials or background. The Lord looks within us. If there is so much as an ounce of love or longing for Him in our hearts, God will call us; and though at times it may be too much for our human minds to understand, God is simply that merciful, generous and loving.
At the end of the conference, Metro Manila Coordinator Lawrence Quintero exhorted everyone to stand firm and press on in responding to God’s pursuit of us. Indeed, God’s message for all was clear: He is in pursuit of us and we, His children, are in pursuit of a life of union with Him. There can only be greater things in the future of the Metro Manila SFC and this Metro Manila Conference marked the beginning of it all!