That's Why I'm in Youth Ministry

As I sat at Mass last night at St. Paul’s, I was overcome with joy and hope as I witnessed all of the young people singing and praising, all while donning their retreat t-shirts.  As I sat on the altar as one of the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, I looked to my left and saw Oggy in the music ministry.  And straight ahead of me was Father Justin Huang, the youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, celebrating Mass at his home parish (after spending 2 years in Chilliwack).

Both Oggy and Father Justin played prominent roles in our Searching in the Spirit post-Confirmation event that we held back in August with the YMO.  There is no greater feeling in youth ministry than to see “former teens” making an impact and doing extraordinary things as “adults” in the church.  It’s both inspiring and humbling.

Oggy served on the 12-member Leadership Team charged with planning and executing the 5-day program for close to 100 grade 7s and their adult leaders.  Oggy teamed with Jeremy to present a wonderful, faith-filled day themed “We are Witnesses.”  As part of his testimony, Oggy shared that it was at a similar retreat with St. Paul’s back in 2000 where his life changed forever.  That experience served as a catalyst for his involvement in parish and now diocesan youth ministry.  In his testimony, Oggy mentioned the many leaders who have helped him and inspired him along his faith journey, including Gerard and me (it was funny because we were both sitting in the back of the room as Oggy was sharing…I hope he didn’t feel like he HAD to mention us…haha). 

I pulled Oggy aside on the last day of Searching, affirming him and encouraging him.  I told him that he is an outstanding young leader, and that he has the ability to draw people towards him with his talent, his humility, his good-looks and his obvious love for Jesus and the Church.  I was struck by some of the similarities between him and me as a 19 year-old (minus the good-looks…and maybe some humility), and I warned him against some of the things that I’ve found challenging over the years.  But most certainly, I told him that he was already way ahead of where I was 15 years ago and that the sky’s the limit for him with respect to his talent and the way he can make a positive impact on young people.  Oggy was receptive to this old man’s advice and we shared a laugh over what Oggy might be like 15 years from now.  In his words, “Hopefully a bit skinnier.”

Father Justin came up on Thursday night and celebrated the closing Mass with us on Friday.  In his awesome homily, he spoke about community and how important it is for young Catholics to worship God and grow into deeper relation with Christ, but not as a lone ranger.  He too mentioned Gerard and me, recalling how he used to go the youth ministry at St. Paul’s as a teen, and how Gerard and I were “younger” and “cooler” back then.  He cracked the participants up by stating:  “Well, they were younger…but I’m not sure about cooler.”

I remember Justin as a youth participant at St. Paul’s.  He was very keen, very smart, and wasn’t afraid to challenge us leaders (respectfully of course).  It was a good learning experience for me, as I was often racing to my catechism or bible after a good discussion with Justin.  As a community, we stayed in contact with him as he studied at the Abbey and then in New York, and we were thrilled when he was ordained in June 2006 at St. Paul’s.  Then, it was great news to hear that he’d be returning to St. Paul’s starting July 2008.  Needless to say, our parish community is very proud and excited.

I don’t mention Oggy and Father Justin just because they mentioned me during Searching in the Spirit.  Rather, it humbles me to see that I, along with many other great leaders, had a small part in their faith formation.  It could have been in sharing our testimonies, in performing a skit, or perhaps during a one-on-one conversation.  Regardless, they are both in strong leadership positions now, and young people in general are the ones who benefit.

There are countless other examples of former teens doing good things. My sister-in-law Julie Ann has served at many archdiocesan events, including emceeing Youth Day and being part of Spirit Day’s Stage Team. Krissy is a regular volunteer with the YMO and even worked for us as our administrative assistant for a year. Alvina, Pam, and Mike and many others are now professional teachers. Young people are making a difference in many other fields: medicine, business, engineering and others.

Youth ministry is about people, not programs. We need to be interested in the souls of young people, and not just their attendance. 

Sometimes, I get too bogged down in numbers:  how many people came to our last event or meeting???

Instead, I should ask myself:  how many souls are we touching?  How many lives are we changing?

For inspiration, I need not look further than Oggy and Father Justin. 

That’s why I’m in youth ministry.



Being Humbled and Enduring Pain: Appropriate for Holy Week

We weren’t able to make it to a Good Friday Service this year (more on that below) so we prayed a rosary together as a family just after dinner but just before the Canucks game. It was a beautiful time, both spiritual and (respectfully) humourous in spots. Jake fell asleep by the 2nd decade, while Sean kept losing count, and he would try and signal me to find out where we were without having Gail notice. Priceless. Kayla meanwhile was babbling constantly throughout…you can guess who she takes after there. It reminded me just how powerful praying with the family can be, and it encouraged us and challenged us to make more time for deliberate prayer as a family.

The reason I wasn’t able to leave the house today was because I am nursing an inch-wide and half-inch deep cut on the back of my leg. I had an abscess removed on Tuesday (remnants of a staph infection I got in late February). My family doctor packed it after cutting it out on Tuesday…it was so painful that I bit a hole through the paper on his examination table! He removed the packing on Thursday and repacked it in a slightly-less painful procedure. We went for dinner an hour later to the Vetters, and I started bleeding out from the wound, soaking the dressings and my pants. Thankfully, Zinha is a Registered Nurse, so she was able to redress it for me (I had to ask permission from her husband Richard that she see me with my pants down…haha) and she recommended that I go to Emergency at Richmond General Hospital. They generously offered to watch Sean and Jake while Gail and Kayla took me to the hospital.

I am so grateful that the Lord had us at that place at that time. I almost didn’t go to the Vetters’ that night, opting instead to just rest at home. I probably wouldn’t have known what to do had I started bleeding profusely with no one to help me! So not only did I get a yummy meal…I got professional care and some peace-of-mind.

It was a madhouse in the waiting room but I was luckily treated within an hour. Needless to say, it was very humbling lying on the hospital bed with my pants off with both the female nurse and female doctor tending to me. Thankfully I was wearing decent underwear. As unpleasant as it was for me, it must have been worse for them as they had to clean, re-pack, and re-dress the wound. The most painful part was actually when they removed the tape (think Steve Carell in the 40 Year-Old Virgin).

While waiting to be worked on, I had a lot of time to think, text, reflect, and pray. I thought it was appropriate that this was happening to me during the Easter Triduum, as I thought of the humility shown by Christ washing His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, and the pain and anguish He felt on Good Friday. This isn’t to say that my humbling experiences and pain were comparable at all to what Jesus went through…but they certainly were analogous to me.

Here’s one last funny story: in making small talk with the Filipina nursing student, I mentioned that my wife was born in the Philippines. She then asked me if I was Filipino, and I responded “no” but that I could say one Filipino phrase…but that it was very inappropriate for the situation (remember…I was lying there on my stomach in my underwear). She told me to save it for when we were done.

After I finished dressing myself, she asked what the phrase was. I said in perfectly fluent Tagalog: “Gusto mo akong umutot?” She burst out into laughter and indeed thanked me for saving it…as it means “Do you want me to fart?” Quite the ending to my hospital visit!

The injury has affected me more than I thought: I can’t really sit so I’m regulated to lying down or standing. Thus, I can’t drive and I was in an out of the office all week for short spurts. Being a person somewhat of routine and habit, I find that I haven’t been really effective at anything, either at home or at work. So I’m praying that I can recover quickly and get back to business as usual.

Thus, I’m looking forward to the joy and new life that comes from Christ’s glorious resurrection at Easter! And to keep with my analogy…it will likely mean taking the boys bowling or playing hockey outside.

Happy Easter!

My Wedding Proposal to Gail

My wedding proposal to Gail on Sunday, February 28, 1999 at St. Paul’s LIFE TEEN Youth Ministry’s annual “KNACK” Talent Show.

This proposal caught Gail completely off-guard because of the location and the timing. It fell exactly half-way between Valentine’s Day and Gail’s birthday of March 13. Thus, she didn’t suspect a thing (given that the other 2 dates would have been more opportune times).

Check out the look on Gail’s face when I first call her up…priceless!

Thanks to Gary, Mark and Brian for helping me out. It turned out as well as could be expected despite the bad acting (them) and bad singing (me)…haha!

Being a Canucks Fan in Calgary

I arrived in Calgary today for meetings with other diocesan Directors and Coordinators of Catholic Youth Ministry before heading to Banff for a national youth ministry conference. So, as I like to do when I travel to other cities, I bought a ticket to see the local professional sports team, in this case the Calgary Flames. And I had the awesome company of youth ministry colleagues Peter, Laurie, Denise, Lecia, and Sarah. Peter in particular was very excited to see a team other than the Maple Leafs in person. I can’t say I blame him.

I proudly donned my brand new Vancouver Canucks jersey, the one that says LUONGO in big letters on the back. Upon entering the Pengrowth Saddledome, I knew that I was walking into enemy territory, as the Canucks and Flames are battling for first-place in the Northwest Division (in fact, the Flames entered the night one point ahead of the Canucks in the standings).

I had no reservations about wearing the blue and green among the sea of red. After all, I am an Ultimate Canucks Fan . And most of the Calgarians probably thought I was clueless. After all, the game was between the Flames and the Phoenix Coyotes.

The first comment directed at me was actually a positive one. “Nice jersey” someone said as I made my way to my seat. Couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not. But it didn’t matter. I was too busy focussing on not tripping and falling down the seemingly 257 stairs I had to climb to get to my seat in the highest row in the arena! Peter had me in stitches all night with his one-liners about our mile-high seats, the best being “So this is what it looks like for God when He watches a hockey game.” Classic.

Every time that Phoenix scored, I cheered. And every time that Calgary did something good (not a lot) I stayed silent. Phoenix played a strong game and won 3-1, much to the dismay of 18,000 and to the delight of one (me).

I knew the true litmus test would be leaving the arena. After all, the home team had just been drubbed in their own arena. And the arena sold beer.

Sure enough, I saw 2 guys pointing and snickering as I made my down the 257 stairs. Then, in the concourse, I rather tall cowboy-type brushed shoulders with me and said “Vancouver? What the f**k is that?” I knew better than to respond. Actually, I didn’t even know what a proper response would be. I guess it would be: “A city on the west coast.” Or “host to the 2010 Winter Olympics.” Or “the most beautiful city in the world.”

Then, a chant of “Vancouver sucks” from behind me. Another guy muttered “Luongo sucks” under his breath while walking by me. Then for fun I went into the Flames Store and looking at the wall of Calgary jerseys, I asked the employee (with my tongue firmly in my cheek) if he had any Luongo jerseys in large. His response: “Never in here.” Or maybe it was “Get out of here.”

I made my way back to hotel to greet more of the youth ministers. And my night came to a perfect end when Krissy texted me with: “6 rounds of shootout and Edler wins it!”

The Canucks had just defeated the Islanders 3 – 2 in Vancouver, taking over first place in the division. I then had my answer to the tall, foul-mouthed cowboy dude.

“What is Vancouver?”


Husband, Father, Youth Minister, Speaker: Lover of God, Family and the Canucks

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