Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Home Sweet Home (Shifting Gears!)

I've been back from the Emirates for over a week now and pretty much over the jet lag (the "fall back" weekend from Daylight Saving Time sure helped!), so I wanted to share an update on how the ACYC actually went, along with a few of my extraneous experiences:

The actual event I went to the UAE for (the Arabian Catholic Youth Conference) was held in Ras al Khaimah, one of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the best known). RAK is a two hour drive through the desert from Dubai, and that desert was not quite what I expected. It was composed of orange sand that is more like powder than the sand of the seashore. And rather than seeing cows or horses from the car window, sure enough, there were real, live camels in the distance. Walking around the Church compounds the next day, I also spotted some lovely desert plants and interesting bird tracks.

But I was not there for sight-seeing. Arriving Thursday evening, I saw a great deal of preparation going on: a massive outdoor stage was rising in the courtyard between the Church and the parish house; young people were setting up a "Gethsemane Garden" for prayer in solitude; there was a pro-life exhibit, activity tents, and in the parish center, dorms were being equipped for the overnighters.
When the young people arrived (almost 1500 of them), I was enthusiastically greeted and welcomed into a thousand “selfies.”

Sr Bernadette Mary Reis of Vatican Radio had already interviewed the organizers (and the bishop of Southern Arabia), and once I arrived, interviewed me as well. I also became an unofficial photographer for Vatican news coverage of the event, providing all the photos featured on the Vatican site. (The young people were thrilled to pose for Vatican News!)

The participants came from all over the “Arabian Gulf” region, plus small numbers from Jordan and Lebanon. The delegates from Saudi Arabia, sadly, were unable to get their visas on time, but there were groups from Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar, and the bishop of Northern Arabia and Southern Arabia, as well as the Papal Nuncio for the Arabian gulf nations. The event was coordinated by the young adult groups of the UAE, all working together. This in itself is highly significant, because there are many distinct groups, some of them with roots in the home countries (for example, Jesus Youth from India, and Couples for Christ from the Philippines), so the collaboration among them was an important step forward for the church in the region.

I was one of four speakers brought in from other nations for the event. The others were John Pridmore (a converted enforcer and “entrepreneur" in organized crime who now lives in community in poverty, chastity and obedience), JC Libiran (a Filipino life coach), and Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra, Australia. I was the only woman. (Next time, you can be sure, there will be a more balanced representation of the Church!)  A few days before, we had been interviewed by a tabloid newspaper, the Gulf News, for an article that would be strictly cultural, with no religious reference at all. (The article that was published especially focused on John Pridmore's colorful life, but it did include a photo of me with John and JC, so like it or not a “religious” angle was there!)

The conference began with an African drum procession, a proclamation, and an energetic (and superbly performed) dance routine. All the general assembly talks were held in the Church hall, which comfortably held the 1500, with room to spare for spontaneous dancing during the musical sessions in between talks and Mass.

Friday being the Muslim holy day, it is a weekly holiday and the day that most Catholics have free for Mass, so the Sunday liturgy was celebrated here on Friday, the first day of the conference. (People could register for one or both days; most opted for Friday.) Friday night there was a concert on a huge stage in the church courtyard; a number of local bands performed. On Saturday there was a slightly smaller crowd, but just as much energy. Hot-button questions were delivered to us speakers during a panel discussion, and the young people really engaged with the content. Afterwards, I was stopped many times for further questions and conversation--conversations that are now continuing via social media (this is forcing me to get much more active on Instagram!). In between, I continued to hand out holy cards of Blessed James Alberione, as well as information about the MY SISTERS program and our Discover Theology of the Body video lecture series (with a special discount code--you can use it, too: ACYC2018).

When the conference was over, I had hoped to take some pictures of the desert (and the camels!) but we traveled back to Dubai late at night. All I saw were families on picnic blankets in the sand, having picnics by their cars... They do everything at night because the daytime is so blastedly hot, even now when (I was told more than once) the approach of “winter” temperatures means it does not get over 100ยบ during the day.

On my last day I had some free hours, so one of the organizers (a young woman who had participated in the "pre-Synod" meetings in Rome) took me to the ultra-deluxe Dubai Mall (replete with aquarium, ice rink, three-story fountain and other dazzling offerings). I also got to see the old style open market, the souk, where every merchant tried to tantalize me with their high quality Iranian saffron and other delicacies. I was tempted, but did not want to deal with any Customs agents on my way home—or any additional weight in my suitcase! (As it is, my trusty, battered Samsonite had to be delivered to an East Boston repair shop last week.)
And I'll never forget my ride on a traditional water taxi, the abra. This flat, little boat (seats 20?) with a putt-putt engine is steered by a pilot who stands in a kind of well at the center of the vessel, while we passengers position ourselves around him on a raised seating area. Fumes abound, and only an 8-inch ledge keeps passengers from sliding into the canal! (Needless to say, I was happy when we made it all the way to the dock—though disembarking without the boat being tied down was an act of faith!)

Now back in Boston I'm attempting to shift gears into Christmas concert mode: I can hardly believe that the choir will be assembling here in just two and a half weeks! (I have got a lot of practicing to do...)

If you are in a few hour's drive of any of our concert venues I hope you will consider making the trip; we are putting together a fantastic program. (Cleveland peeps: we are switching over to a Wednesday this year; couldn't make it for our usual Friday.)

An important message for our Boston-area friends: after last year's event when there was barely standing room in the chapel and we were nervously telling each other what to do in case of emergency, we are moving to a bigger and better location. The concerts will be at Fontbonne Academy's newly updated performance hall (in Milton). Tickets are on sale now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

God bleys you Sister,!