“Be joyful always. Pray at all times. Be grateful in all circumstances” - 1 Thessalonians 5:16. This was the bible anchor verse that inspired the Singles for Christ Singapore (SFC-SG) National Conference “Blessed” held at St Peter’s Auditorium in Catholic Archdiocesan Educational Centre, Sept 15-16, 2012.
The one-and-a-half-day event that drew 330 participants from Singapore and seven (7) from Malaysia highlighted five (5) talks and activities such as sharing, workshops, reflection, and journaling. The five (5) talks focused on the following: (1) I am blessed, (2) Joyful, (3) Prayerful, (4) Grateful, and (5) Blessed to bless.
The conference kicked off on Saturday early afternoon in a worship and praisefest led by National Conference Service Team Lead Edwin Siruma. After the inspiring praise fest, the conference was formally opened by Dick Cercado, SFC Country Couple Coordinator.
Session 1: “I am blessed.”
The first talk immediately commenced after the formal opening of the conference. Alain Gaite, SFC Pastoral Formation Office (PFO) Head, gave the talk on “I am blessed”. In his talk, he emphasised that blessings come from God, the Father. Amidst our weaknesses and sins, our greatest blessings are the gift of life, calling, and God’s mercy - which gives us so many chances after each fall and permits us to come back to the Father again. He further mentioned that humility and abandonment to God are great manifestations of being blessed. These are behaviors exemplified by the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The talk was followed by heartwarming stories from our very own brothers and sisters in SFC. They were living testimonies of God’s abounding, all-sufficient grace despite the major challenges they have gone through in their lives. The participants were moved to tears as each of the sharers told their story. Ann de Guzman shared how coming from a broken family turned out to be a blessing, and how she accepted it as part of God’s plan for her. Arl Loremia talked about how he and his family used to live in poverty. The way he strived to live a better life through the multiple jobs that he had to do while he was studying was very inspiring. Indeed, God was preparing him for something greater as He led him to a better life in Singapore. Benia Densing and Sigrid Alegre had struggles with their health. With God’s grace and their family’s prayers and unwavering support, they had a successful journey towards their healing and recovery. Mon Magtoto shared about the pain he went through for being rejected repeatedly by a girl who he cared for so dearly, and the unexplainable feeling of joy and triumph he felt when he finally won her affection through his perseverance. Sometimes, God works through the challenges and struggles that are occasionally thrown into our lives, in order for us to be molded into the kind of persons we are destined to be.
An anticipated Holy Mass officiated by Father Cary Chan was held after session 1.
Session 2: Joyful
Paul Molina, a seminarian based in Blessed Sacrament Church, was the speaker for the second session. He emphasised that joy is deeper than happiness. The Christian joy is rooted in the cross, which is the greatest art and symbol of God’s love for us. Jesus suffered and died for us in the cross so that we would be saved. The nearer we are to the cross, the more that we feel God’s love and joy. Hence, we can also experience joy even during times of sorrow.
A workshop followed the talk, wherein the participants were asked to reflect and list down the reasons why they feel joyful.
The first day ended with a closing praise fest led by Raylan Balinas. The participants left the auditorium bringing with them valuable insights from the first two (2) talks and the personal sharing of a few members of the community.
It was a wonderful Sunday morning as Day 2 started with a powerful and revitalizing worship led by Don Reyes, accompanied by the West Music Ministry. They made a resounding reminder of the weekend’s theme that we are “blessed”.
Session 3: Prayerful
Session 3 was given by the vibrant nun Elizabeth Sim who didn’t have any PowerPoint slides, but surely had the power to share her points across. She began by saying that “you are a prayer” – a prayer uttered by your parents, a prayer to somebody’s needs. She relayed a story about a man asking his master to teach him how to pray. He was so persistent that he would ask his master everyday. So one day the master got the man almost drowned in a river with the latter gasping for breath leaving the man astounded. Then he told him “If your desire for God is so great as the need to grasp for air to live – then I will teach you how to pray.” Elizabeth called the participants “awesomelets,” as we are the children loved by an awesome God. She reminded us the importance of prayer as our connection to God, for when we pray, we enter into the womb of God. And as we are an answered prayer, God has given birth to another person through us. Prayer is our response to God’s call. We do pray for 5 purposes: (A-T-R-I-P)
A – Adoration
T – Thanksgiving
I – Intercessory
P – Petitions
Furthermore, we need to create a little chapel in our hearts. And it is only through finding quiet times alone with God are we able to do so. In prayer we also need to be silent to be able to listen to what God wants to reveal to us. He wants us to be in constant communication with Him because He loves us and continues to seek us. He wants to reveal Himself to us in prayer. Only God can give us the ultimate fulfillment in this lifetime. Ultimately, what is important is our hearts – where God resides.
Reflection and journaling followed after Session 3. The participants had lunch together with their respective households, and shared with each other the message they received from God during Session 3.
Session 4: Grafeful
Miyen Lobusta began her talk by asking the participants to reflect on their blessings in life. She explained that it will be helpful for us to always remember to count our blessings, so we will be reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in all circumstances. In this way, our hearts will remain constantly grateful. Being grateful means acknowledging our dependence on God as we entrust everything to Him; that He is able to work for the good of all those who believe in Him (Romans 8:28). Gratefulness is about trusting the very hands of God and having faith in His beautiful plan for our lives.
Miyen also reminded us to be cautious about the vice of ingratitude, which is prevalent in our society these days and may be rooted in our selfish pride. It is important that we combat ingratitude. We can do so by following the example of Mother Mary’s perfect grateful disposition as she kept an open mind and heart to understand and accept God’s plan for her. It is always better to count our blessings instead of our worries. The talk has been made more spirit-filled through the powerful sharing of God’s faithfulness in their lives by Jaime dela Torre, JC Parungao, and Xanne Agomaa. Jaime told us about how he was transformed into the ‘Man of God’ that he is today. Even if some situations in our lives may seem hopeless, God never fails to be faithful to those who remain faithful to Him; JC Parungao went through a very painful time when he lost his father a few months ago. He related how God never left his side as He healed him emotionally, and how He continues to bless him beyond what he deserves. Xanne Agomaa shared about her family’s experiences as they worked towards obtaining their dream house. Although faced with financial difficulties along the way, Xanne remained faithful in her tithing. Indeed, God works in amazing ways that we are never left empty-handed. Through the grace of God and the collective prayers of Xanne’s family and friends, their dream house is currently being built. When we are faced with rough times, we can look back to this message: “ If God puts you to it, He will help you through it.”
Session 5: Blessed to bless
Taffy Ledesma, who has been the most requested speaker in the yearly National Conference, delivered Talk 5. He began by saying that this year’s theme is the best as it is encompasses all the other themes in the past.
He emphasised the importance of acknowledging our state as being “blessed,” for it is only when remembering that we are blessed can we become grateful.
St Paul’s Triad of Christian Practice reminds us of joy, prayer and gratitude as interconnected virtues. Prayer awakens gratitude. Gratitude leads to joy. And joy moves us to prayer. Thus, it is only when we are joyful, prayerful and grateful can we experience a full union with God. Taffy used Mother Mary as an example. She has devoted all her life in full submission to the will of the Father (“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Lk. 1:38) She also showed the ardent desire to serve God through others when she visited her cousin Elizabeth during her pregnancy. Mary manifested how sacrifice is the perfect form of submission and service. Just as Mary sacrificed her simple life for a greater calling to be the Mother of our Savior, we too are called for a purpose. We are also reminded how God turned around the life of St. Paul to fulfill His will in his life.
Like Mary, we need to submit to the will of the Father and we can only do so through humility, obedience, and trust.
Actions, not feelings, determine our relationship with God. Our service is our expression of our gratitude to God. In serving others, we bring and share Christ to others and lead others to praise Him as well. Postures of service are manifested through one’s availability, alertness and being anointed for the calling.
We are reminded to keep the following thoughts in mind: You are born to bless. Your birth is not a mistake. You are lovable. You are blessed for a special purpose. You live to serve. He did not promise a life without a storm, but He promised to calm every storm that we may encounter.
After the talk, Weng Micua, Velmore Vidad, Bell Tecson, Dolf Hesita, Teresa Ermita, and Gilbert Hamera stated that whatever hurdles they have encountered in life did not prevent them to be a blessing to others. Hence, they all proclaimed that they are blessed to bless.
Gratitude was immensely felt in the closing worship and praisefest led by Andy Co. Everyone was truly thankful and inspired to give back all glory to God, who is the source of all our blessings. In little ways, participants blessed one another by giving away the “blessing voucher”, a prayer card ardently asking our Lord to bless the receiver.
The participants went home with a renewed mindset about life and a stronger faith in the Lord. It was indeed a meaningful and spirit-filled weekend for everyone. The National Conference may have ended, but the take-home messages and realizations will always remain in our hearts.