“Teacher Francesca, can we please extend the camp for just one more night?” This was the general sentiment of the 26 First Holy Communion candidates at the first 3-day stay in camp at the Church of Divine Mercy, Penang (CDM). The camp was held over the weekend prior to Malaysia Day from the 13th to 15th September on the church premises. Being the first time organizing such an event, Fr Martin Arlando, the parish priest of CDM, decided to choose the most experienced facilitator in Penang. This person is Francesca Wong who has more than 20 years experience conducting such camps.
Over the six sessions of the camp, the children were given input on various aspects of the Catholic faith. It began with an ice-breaker and even though the children had been together for at least four years, the session brought much laughter and excitement as they overcame the shyness usually associated with gender at this age. They were then asked to ballot a prayer partner and keep this anonymous until the last day. All affirmations for their partner and others over the next few days, were to be placed in an envelope designed by themselves. Each night, the sessions ended with the recitation of a chain rosary where each person had the chance to lead the others in prayer. The sessions began each morning with the children attending mass. Over the next two days the children were engaged in role play of selected bible parables, charades, taught actions songs on thanksgiving and love for the world and community, participated in team building games and shown videos of saints and the explanation of the meaning of the Holy Eucharist. They were also reminded of how fortunate they were when Francesca related her experiences witnessing the plight of children who had lost everything in some of the countries she had visited to help out during natural disasters.
The camp culminated with a visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor and sharing lunch with them besides entertaining them with song and dance. The children’s prayers were answered when the rain stopped and washing away the haze. This allowed them to proceed to the Youth Park where they enjoyed a two hour exciting time in the swimming pools. At the end of camp, Francesca gave out many presents, prizes and souvenirs according to a point system devised especially to sustain their competitive spirit and attention to the sessions. Each child obtained a story book, a bookmark, key chains and stationary materials. It was an exciting experience for as it was the first time for many sleeping away from home and attending to their own well being without parents. The parents also contributed to the success of this camp by providing all the meals with the added ice cream dessert from Francesca, transportation for the outing and cleaning up after all meals.
In adding her comments, Francesca mentioned that Jesus played a big part in stopping the rain just before the swimming session and the children were all most grateful for His help & guidance. There was also great enthusiasm, cooperation and dedication shown by all the teachers and parents in organizing and execution of the camp. This had made her role easier and should be highly commended. She also wished to thank Fr Martin for his invitation and support for the camp.
At the parents session, Francesca related her own personal heart rending story of guiding her children in the faith. She emphasized the great importance of giving their children a firm grounding in their faith and reminded them that they are the primary role models for their children in practising the faith. They were asked to continue the good work they had been doing with their children in preparing them to receive the sacraments and to allow them to participate fully in all church activities. This is important as their firm understanding of the faith will eventually help them overcome all the challenges that they will encounter later in life.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
19th September, 2019