The Church of Divine Mercy Penang (CDM) held it’s first Family Conference over the weekend of the 13th - 14th July. The theme for the conference was “My Family, My Church”. The event started off with Praise and Worship at the Friday night mass on the 12th July. In his homily, Fr Martin Arlando, parish priest of CDM mentioned that Jesus knows our human nature well. We should not put our faith in others at the same level as our faith in God. Jesus is steadfast in his love for us and is more loyal than any of our family members. By his crucifixion, he has shown us he knows that you cannot love without sacrifice. We need to give Him a personal response or we will remain stuck in our nothingness. By praying for our family and sacrificing for them to help them preserve their faith and we will understand that Jesus cannot be missing in our lives. In this way we can also be a Jesus for one another.
At the end of mass, Fr Martin said that it is easy to be in a family but difficult to be family. The main objective for the Family Conference was to cater to four groups of people in the family namely the Men, Women, Youth and Children to bring them closer as family. The purpose was to culminate the parish’s efforts on Prayer, Word of God and Family for the last three consecutive years. He then formally introduced the speakers for the various sessions of the conference. Michael Xavier and Derek Chong (from Sabah) were to address the men. Carmelita Xavier and Leoreen Heah were to cater to the women, Brendan Lo Rick and Adrian Oyog were to see to the Youth and Stephen Rodrigues to the young children. Fr Martin then explained that this Family Conference was the culmination of the three year program at CDM to foster a parish community to grow as a family by recognizing each of our identities and how they fit into God’s plan and to grow in it. He explained that God gives us a gift of life and showed a video on the Miracle of Life. He then elaborated that family begins as soon as each of us is conceived. God is the source of our blessings in all our ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. We often forget about Him, so this is the time for us to listen, speak to Him who wants us to renew our relationship with Him. He then related a true story of a young boy, Michael who had constantly sang his favourite song, You are my Sunshine, to his sister from the time his mother was expecting the child. After a complicated birth, there was almost no more hope for her survival and Michael had constantly pleaded to be allowed into the ICU to see his sister and sing to her. Finally, his mother broke all the hospital rules and defied the head nurse to let Michael in to see his sister. As Michael sang to her, she responded and then everyone began to encourage Michael to continue singing. His sister eventually made a miraculous recovery. Fr Martin explained that God only wants us to love Him. He knows all our pain and worries and wants the best for us. He is there to watch over us and we are never away from His sight. He holds us in the palm of His hand. He is as the song goes “Our Sunshine, our only Sunshine”. In ending everyone joined in with Fr as he sang “You are My Sunshine”.
The conference attracted 214 registered participants from CDM and other parishes in Penang. There was even a group of ten students from UTAR. Each group were given six sessions during the course of the two days. They were mainly geared to bring a greater sense of self-awareness of each person’s identity and how by their actions and resolve they could cultivate a better sense of understanding and love within their families. Each session began with a short Praise and Worship conducted in most cases by volunteer groups of the youth in CDM and USM. Each of the groups were asked to write petitions and affirmations of their family on post-it slips and attach them on the crosses placed in front of the altar in church.
The Men’s group covered topics of how men addressed Emotions, Spirituality, Temptations, Communication and Purpose in their lives. There were blunt questions like “Do atheists have any spirituality? Did Jesus in his humanity masturbate? Won’t everyone following just his passion force some ministries in the church to close down?” The final session ended with the men offering plans of action to start, stop, increase and reduce certain practices within their families.
“Start: Make time for family to recap highlights and lowlights through the day. Stop: Negative comments and criticisms. Increase: More family prayer time. Reduce: High academic expectations.”
The Women’s group were drawn into the Heart of the woman’s purpose, identity and value, their feminine genius, the power of life and death, their calling and mission as women of God. In both the adult groups there were personal sharings of life experiences by the facilitators as well as invited guests.
“...in our many roles as wife, mum, daughter or even in-law, we often try to fix our struggles or challenges ourselves and forgetting about God. We think we can do it all and suffer the consequences sometimes! It was empowering for me to know God always has my back, if we commit to let go, and let God do.”
“... reminded me of my walk in Jesus … to stay focused … made me see that Jesus is always good to me.”
The Youth group were exposed to a series of dynamic sessions exposing the young people to the challenges of the living a good Catholic life and making a declaration to affirm their commitments to living in harmony and understanding with their families.
“... I have learned lots of things about me and my family. Although we were all in separate groups, we were able to connect within our family and other families. I had an amazing time and if we have another family conference, I am sure to go.”
The most challenging group was that of the young children. They were reminded of the fourth commandment and God’s command of filial piety. In addition they were also told of the role of the trinity, Mother Mary and the seven Hebrew words of praise. In addition they were told of various ways to receive blessing within their families.
“... You can never hide anything from God/Jesus.”
The conference culminated in a final session conducted by Fr Martin in the church. He humorously related the basic nature of men and women with stories and videos. He reminded everyone that our faith must come home with us. There should be a balance of what we do and what we are to each person in the family and that faith has to be lived out in the family. To put faith into practice in the home. He said that everyone is equal in the eyes of God but we each have different responsibilities. That relationships are meant to be reciprocal and that the first institution founded by God was the family. Fr Martin then provided an inventory list for the family as a reminder. “Do you believe that the family members are a gift entrusted to you by God? Am I participating with God to be the person God wants me to be? Do the members of your family feel you are on their side? Are you a role model to your family?”
Fr also gave a moving personal testimony of his life relationship with his father when he rushed to see him after a massive heart attack. He reminded all to not wait too long to reconnect with the ones we love to resolve all our issues with them. He then led each group in a prayer and affirmation of love to their family. In return the participants all gathered around Fr Martin to say a prayer for him, led by Michael Xavier and Derek Chong. There were tears of gratitude and thanks as each one came forward to give Fr a hug and blessing after the prayer. As one participant remarked he is indeed our super hero, God’s spiritual representative here at CDM , our “Sunshine”.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
21st July, 2019