We have all heard of famous saints like St Peter the Apostle, St Paul of Tarsus, St Francis of Assisi, and St Teresa of Calcutta. But what about St Medard? St Martin de Porres? Or St Gianna Beretta Molla? All these saints, and more, were “present” at the Night of Light celebration held after Sunset Mass at the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) in Sg Ara, Penang, on Saturday 3 November.
The event, the first of its kind in the diocese and possibly in Malaysia, had been organized by the Parish Chinese Apostolate in conjunction with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. These two days in the liturgical year are traditionally dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs and all the faithful departed. In the past, the eve of All Saints’ Day was known as All Hallows’ Eve, which was later shortened to Halloween (“hallow” being an archaic word meaning “saint”). This day was traditionally a vigil for the observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, and was marked within the Church with prayers, hymns, fasting, and the reading of various scriptures. Today, commercialism has downplayed the Christian roots of the celebration, associating it instead with demons, darkness and horror. The Night of Light celebration was organized in the church to counter this culture of death and reclaim Halloween for Christ and his Church by turning it into a beautiful night of fun, light, and Christian joy.
The evening’s programme began at the end of Sunset Mass with a short video presentation about the origins of the Night of Light. This was followed by a message from parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando, in which he reminded us that saints are examples for us as they were real people who loved God and lived beautiful lives for God. Through their examples, they point us on the path that will lead us to God. Therefore, when we choose a saint’s name for ourselves, we must be prepared to emulate the holiness of that saint in our daily lives. In the same way, we must be careful to name our children after saints whose qualities we would like them to possess and whose lives we hope they will emulate. He reminded us that as we embark together as one family into the parish Year of Family in 2019, we may look to the saints for inspiration to live our Christian faith and serve God with all our hearts so that we may become a Jesus to others.
Fr Martin then invited a group of adults and children, all dressed as their favourite saints, to present the life stories of those saints. Among the saints introduced were St Faustina, St Teresa of Ávila, Pope St John Paul II and St Jeanne Jugan. The congregation then proceeded to the Garden of Mercy where Fr Martin led the countdown to the switching-on of the Christmas lights around the church. A chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ went up as the church grounds were transformed into a Christmas wonderland. With Christmas carols playing in the background, everyone went around admiring each other’s costumes and taking photos of the Christmas decorations. Of particular interest was the specially commissioned mural which covered a whole wall in the Garden of Mercy. According to the Chairperson of the Organizing Committee, Simone Lee, the painting had been created by her non-Christian artist friend. The artist, Billy, had been very keen to do the project and had worked on it for many days, putting in long hours in order to complete it within a tight schedule. The result is a stunning mixed media painting depicting the Nativity scene that gave a 3D lighting effect. In another part of the Garden, a group of “saints” were seen going around quizzing people about famous saints and rewarding correct answers with a sweet treat from their trick-or-treat bags. Among the saints and biblical characters spotted in the crowd were Jonah and his whale, Abraham and his wife Sarah, St Anne, St Rose, St Philomena, St Clare of Assisi, St Michael the Archangel, and even a Vietnamese martyr.
A number of people commented that the event had been a positive and enlightening experience for them. One parishioner, Kelvin, said that he had been reminded of the values embodied by his patron saint. Doris, a RCIA inquirer, said that even though she had learnt about saints in class, they had not seemed real to her; the event had made her more aware that saints were real people who had led extraordinary lives. Another parishioner said that the Night of Light was something positive that parents could pass on to their children to let them know that they do not have to be afraid, for Christ has conquered death.
Everyone present complimented the organizers for doing such a great job of putting together an event that was so simple yet so meaningful. Kudos to the Parish Chinese Apostolate for making the light shine on Halloween again, for reminding us to embrace the good that is of God. It is hoped that the Night of Light initiative will spread far and wide so that more people, Christians and non-Christians alike, will choose to celebrate this day with light and not darkness. For as Scripture says, “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
Ng Wai Queen
7th November, 2018