The COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on for nearly two-years, with the end seemingly long ahead as the world continues to face the complications set about by the omicron variant. However, while the media (I believe) persists on fear mongering, and yet while people should exercise prudence, we should be assured that we have progressed far with the pandemic, thanks to the efforts of so many people. Despite the lingering of the pandemic, I take a look back at 2021 at the top moments of the year.
- Quality time with others – I think every highlight this year will touch upon this. So much in-person interaction was missed due to COVID-19. Thankfully, I was able to interact with many throughout 2021, including members from youth group, and friends from high school years. It is hard to believe how much can change within a year… how the pandemic have affected people physically and mentally. The moments by the lake at Trillium Park at Ontario Place, or at The Rec Room trying out some new activities, or maybe just some moments in the Phở restaurant… I learned that such moments should be cherished, and investing oneself into the moment, never taken for granted. Coming to think about it… two or three years from now, my friends would be on to other paths in life, pursuing graduate studies or heading onto full-time careers… time sure flies by fast.
- Family Pilgrimage to Ottawa-Montréal – Readers of this blog would know that I have been to Rome and Assisi which are two popular Catholic pilgrimage sites. In Canada, we are blessed to have several pilgrimage sites, while not as grand as the many churches of Rome and Assisi, but are nevertheless sanctuaries that are witness of God’s grace poured on His children from one generation to the next. There were a few sites on my Pilgrimage “bucket-list” that I want to go to for several years. Fortunately, once COVID-19 subsided during the summer, and my family was fully vaccinated, our family finally gave thought of doing a local pilgrimage from July 31 – August 3, 2021. It was only four days, but it was a packed four days.
We were in Ottawa on July 31, where we walked around Parliament Hill and taking my family through the places where I once was six years ago (2015). We had Mass at the grandeur Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica where there, we attended the bilingual Vigil Mass.
The next days would be spent in Montréal, where our main focus was visiting St. Joseph’s Oratory, built under the guidance of the humble St. André Bessette. This visit to the Oratory was the most important part of the pilgrimage because we made the journey in thanksgiving to God through the intercession of St. Joseph for the favours and graces which our family received. It was also a pilgrimage in commemoration of the Year of St. Joseph, which just ended this past December 8. Besides, I also visited the Chapel of Our Lady of Bon-Secours, where the remains of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys are housed, and the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady Queen of the World. It was time well spent with family while investing spiritually as well.
- Newman 2021 Leadership Retreat – A couple weeks before the start of the school year, Newman Student Leaders were invited to the Newman Centre for two of the three days of retreat, while one of the three days was virtual. Despite the need to wear mask indoors, it was the first time I met many of the people in-person. I have met most of the attendees prior to the retreat, though for most of them, only virtually. Therefore, to see people “in the flesh” rather than virtually was in plain terms… awesome! The retreat emphasized our call to serve the Newman Catholic Chaplaincy, and was a reminder of our relationship with Jesus. How beautiful is that? Thanks to those who made the retreat possible, as well as those I have been able to journey with.
- September 2021 Martyrs’ Shrine Walking Pilgrimage – The second Saturday of June, I would often be at the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario for the annual Vietnamese Pilgirmage at the Shrine. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented such a gathering over the past two years. However, in lieu of that, I found myself at the Shrine on September 25, 2021, the Vigil of the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs (Sts. Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions) for a Walking Pilgrimage. I honestly thought it was going to be like any pilgrimage I have been on: Mass, procession, adoration, etc. However, I was proved wrong by the end of the pilgrimage – it was a real Walking Pilgrimage, in which we walked for approximately 3-hours from Martyrs’ Shrine to St. Ignace II – the place where Sts. Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were martyred – it was at St. Ignace that there was heavy rain, and it rained all throughout the Mass. On our way home, the bus I was on broke down… delaying my journey home by about 1-2 hours… what a true pilgrimage it was! Nevertheless, the little that myself and the pilgrims gave up of ourselves was nothing compared to the sacrifice of the martyrs.
- The Gift of Service – I am blessed that I have been able to serve in various areas of the Church this past year. This past March, during the lockdown, I found a new part-time job as a research assistant, and thus, resigned my role as assistant sacristan at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. Even though it was a difficult decision, I knew it was the right one at the time. It was then, that I returned to my home parish, Vietnamese Martyrs Parish with the skills and knowledge I acquired at the time at the Cathedral. I returned “home” to MC in one of the oddest Holy Week/Paschal Triduum celebrations ever with no servers. It was also part of this decision that afforded me to serve this year on the Newman Catholic Students’ Club as Spiritual Affairs Coordinator, as well as Liturgical Commissioner for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement both on a regional and national level. In all ministries, while I have them to be demanding at times, there is an added factor of uncertainty. However, I have come to the realization that when you serve the Lord, when you put the Lord as the protagonist of the ministry work you do, there is nothing to fear… He will give you the tools to do His will, if the work you do is indeed His will.
Despite all the curve-balls that came at all of his this year, all I can pray and say is, “Thank you God.” I have a firm belief that even in the midst of challenges, God will provide, provided that we are willing to cooperate with God, to be His stewards. God is always so generous and merciful, the question is if we are open to receiving and fostering these great gifts?
Let us end the year with praise:
O God, we praise you; O Lord, we acclaim you.Te Deum (ICEL 2020 translation)
Eternal Father, all the earth reveres you.
All the angels, the heavens and the Pow’rs of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim cry out to you in endless praise:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts,
heaven and earth are filled with the majesty of your glory.
The glorious choir of Apostles sings to you,
the noble company of prophets praises you,
the white-robed army of martyrs glorifies you,
Holy Church throughout the earth proclaims you,
Father of boundless majesty,
with your true and only Son, worthy of adoration,
and the Holy Spirit, Paraclete.
You, O Christ, are the King of glory,
you are the Father’s everlasting Son;
when you resolved to save the human race,
you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb;
you overcame the sting of death
and opened wide the Kingdom of Heaven
to those who put their faith in you.
You are seated at the right hand of God
in the glory of the Father.
We believe you are the Judge who is to come.
And so we beg you, help your servants,
redeemed by your most precious blood.
Number them among your saints in eternal glory.
Thank you God, for 2021. Please guide us in Your ways, God, throughout 2022 ahead. Amen.