Where can I start when I think of when I speak of 2019? It was honestly a very busy year that in ways, turned my life around and gave me different perspectives for the new decade ahead. As 2019 winds down, as customary for the last few years now, I am going to speak about five notable moments of 2019. Why not “top 5” moments as I used to call it? After my the events of last year, I found that some events that occur during a year may not be happy events at all and is precisely the opposite. To me, notable moments during a year are moments of epiphany, when you realize and receive some sort of “revelation” about life. These events are not listed in any particular order – these events are listed after a period of reflection.
1. Europe 2019 – I heard about the 2019 School Europe trip in early 2017 in a grade 10 Math class in which Mr. Veiga, the trip organizer mentioned it to his grade 10 STEM class. It sounded appealing, but did not know exactly what the itinerary was at the time. It was not until Fall 2017 that the Europe trip really took off for me and I decided to sign up – I was one of the last people to sign up before the spots filled up. I saw the trip as a pilgrimage – I saw it as an opportunity not only for travel overseas, but also a chance to go to the most Sacred Sites of Christianity such as Assisi, Rome and Vatican City. Upon starting the trip at the Pearson Airport on March 7, 2019, after receiving a blessing from my pastor before Ash Wednesday Mass the previous night, I learned this was more than something personal. The trip was going to be a deeply communal experience where I encountered not new places, but also new friends, people whom I got to know, and able to call “friends” by the end of the trip. On an educational level, I learned how much there is to learn about the big-wide-world. Having visited three countries: Spain, France and Italy, and two smaller countries: Monaco and Vatican City, with three different languages, each with a distinct Christian history and political history, I found it to be a very lively learning experience. On a spiritual level, I strived to stay rooted in prayer as possible. I found a lot of time moving from country to country where I wrote reflections and got some Lenten preparation done… something like a 12-Day Lenten retreat. As mentioned in my reflections, I loved Assisi and Rome – they were striking spiritual experiences. However, I had some very deep moments in Churches in other countries as well. I invite you to read my 4-part reflection (part 1, 2, 3, and 4). To see what others had to say about the trip, read this article I wrote for The Catholic Register. Thank you to Mr. Veiga and Mr. DiRezze again for your efforts in making this trip possible. Thank you to all the participants, who helped make the experience a very memorable one. This is a trip I will never forget, and I hope will be the first of many trips and pilgrimages to Europe in my lifetime (God-willing). As of now, I am planning on going to Lisbon, Portugal to attend World Youth Day 2022, and Rome in 2025 for the Holy Year.
2. A Summer of Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement Events – While I have been part of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement (VEYM) for over 10 years now, never have I attended three overnight events in one summer. First it was the annual summer camp at the end of June. While I have been to a majority of the camps since the establishment of the Toronto chapter, this year, for the first time, I was head of Liturgical matters. It was a great experience planning liturgies which consisted of Masses, a Marian prayer service and Eucharistic Adoration. I enjoy planning these Liturgical undertakings, so to help others pray and draw closer to the Lord. Mid-July, I attended the first ever National Companion and Knights of the Eucharist Convention. It was an amazing experience, meeting people my age from all across Canada. It was a spiritual and fellowship event that I think gave youth like myself, a different perspective of VEYM. Liturgically, it was an honour and humbling for me to serve Bishop Douglas Crosby, OMI, bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, when he came to celebrate Mass. Then, came the last event at the end of August, which was Level 1 Youth-Leader training, Judea XXIII. The training camp was a four-day camp and workshop, done in conjunction with Level 2 training. I never thought of a day going to Level 1 Youth Leader training (if you know me well, I have told you the story… that story will be posted sometime in 2020). It was a very memorable experiences as I learned from priests, youth leader trainees, youth leaders and from other attendees. I often dread going camping, especially for four days – but that camp went by fast. Big thank you to the VEYM Canada for the wonderful experiences.
3. High School Graduation – June 27, 2019… that was a day to remember forever as that day was the culmination of four years of high school and fourteen years in the publically funded Catholic School system. The day began with the most important act of the Catholic faith – the celebration of Mass. It was a moving experience as I have come to know and befriend a large number of the members of the Class of 2019. Never have I partaken in a Mass with just my classmates, and that Mass was the first and last as a group. Yet, it was important as it was a Mass of Thanksgiving for the graces God has given all of us, and made me see that my four years at Chaminade has been nothing but grace after grace. The Graduation ceremony took place at night. To my surprise, my classmates chose me to represent them… and honestly, I thought they chose the wrong person (those who have seen me do presentations in class would know why). I know many of my Valedictory predecessors have chosen to include names of teachers, mention specific moments throughout the four years. However, I wanted to make my speech as inclusive as possible, since there have been teachers whom I never had before, courses I never took and to mention those moments, in my opinion would make a biased speech. You can read my speech here. However, it was that Graduation day that I understood the spirit of brotherhood at Chaminade College School, the brotherhood that has been emphasized ever so often, since I began my journey at Chaminade. That night, I saw a very supportive group of young men, who cheered on for their brothers, each with different passions and ambitions, but nevertheless, respected by all. I thank the staff, parents, and my brothers for the wonderful four years at Chaminade that I will never forget.
4. University – After a memorable High School Graduation comes University for many. I was very happy when I received admission to the University of Toronto, with membership with Trinity College. Was it difficult in the beginning? Yes – no doubt. However, I thank the many teachers at Chaminade and friends who have went ahead before me, who offered valuable advice to make my transition a lot easier. While Trinity College’s Orientation TrinFest was very helpful in creating friendships and getting to know the various services and activities of the College, and also formally admitting new students through the unique Matriculation Ceremony in all Pomp and Circumstance, complete with a reception, the “real work” began when I stepped into the courses and actually did assignments, mostly writing papers. I am glad to have very good professors and TAs. My first paper was in the professor’s words, “good but not great,” and the margins were full of notes which comes to show how much the professor cared about his students’ work. “Professors do not care about students.” – I find that to be a myth. I have had very diligent and caring professors who strive to make time for their students, and even have discussions about life… nothing to do with the course content. I still have a full term ahead of me before I complete my first year of University – so many prayers, please!
5. Liturgy and Youth Ministry – This year has been an ever hectic year when speaking about parish ministry. I managed to apply and get accepted for the job of assistant sacristan at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. While I love working with matters liturgical, especially on a Cathedral level, the job has honestly changed the way I do ministry into ways I never thought would happen. I have not been able to be active as I once was with the parish ministries I once did, but now, a lot of the work I do is “behind the scenes”, whether it be preparing Mass texts, outlines, slideshows, or managing social media, it is really humbling work. It is also good to see other young people take on roles I once had at the parish. Being at the Cathedral has really widened my perspectives on parish ministry and the pros and cons of each parish. I know a lot of youth at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish may not see it, but they are blessed to have been raised in a parish with many youth ministries. I am often asked how long I will stay at the Cathedral, especially by friends and even parents. I replied that I will be there about 2-3 years or when God has different plans for me. While I love the work at the Cathedral, I miss being with people my age on a weekly basis because I have been part of the those ministries for almost a decade. However, I hope that my experiences at the Cathedral will be beneficial the day that I come back full time to Vietnamese Martyrs.
That marks the end of a year and decade full of activities. There were many ups and downs but that is how the “roller coaster” of life runs and every step of the way, God is there.
“Holy God, we praise thy name…” and we thank thee, O God.
May God grant all of you and your families a blessed new year and decade ahead of us.