“Quo Vadis?”- “Pe Ye go?”

From the 6th to the 9th of September 2018 we had the great blessing of hosting the first Youth Festival in Suriname. When I returned to Suriname last August I was noticed a palpable lack of hope present among the people here, and most especially among the young people. The present situation in the country doesn’t give much hope; the level of education has dropped significantly and the reality is that even those who finish school are often not able to find a job. This makes many young people drop out of school and often fall into depression and idleness, very anxious about their future.

One of my main offices in the diocese is helping to coordinate the youth ministry on a diocesan level. In this apostolate I work with the Youth Movement “KJS” which stands for Catholic Youth Suriname. With this group of about 12 young adults I help to organize activities for young people in the diocese. When we started planning the activities for the last year I proposed the idea of a Youth Festival. No one in the group had ever experienced something like that so I tried in different ways to explain what I had in mind. Little by little the plan was being accepted and I started thanking God for the first grace of this apostolate. A couple months before the festival we planned a weekend to organize all the small details for the festival. I gathered videos from our Religious Family’s Youth Festivals around the world in order to show them to the planning committee.

We planned the activity for 150 youth, although no one actually believed we would reach that number. A week before the event there were only 60 youth registered. However, two days before the Youth Festival there were still people showing up at the office, and we had 230 youth registered and about 100 volunteers! We were forced to close the registration due to the location, and many who arrived late slept in a tent for the first time.

It was a very beautiful experience when the big busses started arriving that Thursday afternoon. At this moment one of the youth leaders said to me: “This is the closest I will get to World Youth Day!” Almost every single parish, even the smallest chapels in the interior, were represented.

Once everyone arrived that Thursday afternoon we had the opening Mass with Rev. Bishop Karel Choennie. When he walked into the tent he said: “I saw this in other countries but I never thought we could do this here.”

The activities each day included Mass, a main talk, workshops, sports and of course a lot of music and cultural presentations.
Each day had a specific subtopic that was related to the main theme of the festival “Quo Vadis”. Thursday was dedicated to the environment, focusing on “Laudato si”. Msgr. Choennie opened the festival with a brief summary on the encyclical and the role that young people can play in bringing a change in the environmental destruction that is taking place in Suriname in the goldmines and in the wood export.

Friday’s topic looked at who we are and how we relate to others, with a talk on the importance of study and friendship. Here the youth were informed about different places they can get help with their studies and finding a job.
Saturday was dedicated to faith, vocation, and the Blessed Mother. Sr. Castissima who came to help us from Luxembourg presented on the Five Ways of St. Thomas Aquinas for the proof of the existence of God, and closed with Mary as model of our faith. The first part of the day was a vocation fair with people also from different professions providing information to the youth about their jobs. The evening was closed with a procession with the Blessed Mother through the streets of downtown Paramaribo, something many of the youth experienced for the first time.

After the procession we exposed the Blessed Sacrament on the main stage where we finished the last decade of the rosary. The Blessed Sacrament was brought in procession to the small chapel where the heroic night began. Different parish groups could sign up to stay for at least 30 minutes with Our Lord during the night. The whole night there were youth walking to and from the chapel. On the evaluation sheets about 80 percent mentioned that this was the best part of the Festival.

Sunday, the last day of the festival was dedicated to the works of mercy. After the main talk in the morning we departed to several places in order to put into practice what was heard in the talk. We were able to visit homes for elderly, orphanages, hospitals and homes for disabled. This was another favorite moment for the youth.

The Vicar-general of the diocese, Fr. Esteban Kross, celebrated the closing mass and encouraged all the youth present to take this joy of the faith they experienced during the festival back to their families, school and parishes.

We thank God for this great grace of the first Youth Festival in Suriname and we ask for your prayers for the continued fruits. We also ask prayers for the activities of KJS for this new school year.

In Christ and His Mother,

M. Boomiki foe Karmel, SSVM missionary in Suriname.

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