Eleven Jesuit schools reaching a total tally of 867 students and over 100 chaperones, Jesuit priests & brothers, and organizers were gathered last January 13-17 for a five-day youth camp, specifically, the first-ever Ignatian Youth Camp. As the man behind planning the entire scheme, Fr. Jboy Gonzales, SJ met with us facilitators (or more famously known as “hypesters”) a week before the big event, the first thing he told us was a simple three-word sentence: “You are lucky,” and just by looking back at what had transpired over that 5-day camp, lucky doesn’t begin to describe it.
Even as facilitators, the program was designed in such a way that it would be equally effective for both us and participants alike. With this, I entered the youth camp not knowing what to expect, and perhaps that did contribute to how special the whole thing was for me. The first day was dedicated to welcoming all the participants from provinces as far Zamboanga and Cagayan, met by performances such as our Xavier School’s Dragon-Lion Dance, Ateneo’s Blue Babble Batallion, Cebu’s Cultural Arts Dance, and skits from every school that took part in the camp. The presentation of cultures from each province was then followed by an exciting rave concert with guest performances by Pinoy homegrown stars.
Just before the clock struck 6:00AM the next morning, we hypesters roamed around the sleeping quarters to wake everyone up for our Cavite field trip, or as they’d like to call it, a pilgrimage march. The trip lasted the entire day from an early 7:00AM up to around 7:00 at night. Riding for more than five hours on the bus and a few miles of walking truly made the experience more than just merely a sightseeing one. Indeed, we were able to bond with our groups, play some “get-to-know-you” games, and other group dynamics activities. As tired as I was upon arriving back at our headquarters at Ateneo de Manila High School, a smile was the only expression I could show seeing my fellow hypesters and numerous participants all with new friends having new things to relate to and talk about. It didn’t end there; there was still a lot in store for us that night: an inspiring sharing session with Ateneo’s very own UAAP basketball and volleyball players, as well as a bonfire-fashion show skit to cap off the night.
The next day was no less outstanding than the previous ones. Much excitement filled the air as the long-awaited campus-wide amazing race was finally going to happen. Right after breakfast, all groups rushed to their hypesters, and after some morning stretching activities and dance routines to the youth campers’ favorite song “Shake It Off,” the race commenced. For nearly four hours, participants, guided by their hypesters, went around the entire ADMU campus following the clues and taking part in games parallel to that of St. Ignatius’s own experience as he began the Society of Jesus many centuries ago. The final destination was the blue-oval pitch football field, which was located on the opposite side of where the race began. As tired as everyone was, no one hesitated to take part in the best surprise yet: the Advocacy Run. In essence, a total of eight lanes were stationed together with institutes that are currently in need of assistance, such as ERDA Tech. Participants, hypesters, and even teachers and priests were all welcome to run for a cause, with each lap equating to a corresponding charitable donation for the respective institution.
Finally, the entire camp ended with a collective number of performances by the participants themselves, and these ranged from singing, dancing, and even acting. Not to forget, a culminating mass was held by Fr. Jboy himself after everything to formally close the first-ever Ignatian Youth Camp. In his homily, he shared with us all a quote, “We are not scared of the darkness, but of the cold.” What does this mean? It means that we are often not scared of hardships and difficulty that we all must go through in life, but we are scared of facing them alone. If there’s one thing that everybody needs, it’s a friend. And if there’s one thing that I learned in the Ignatian Youth Camp, anyone can be that friend, and YOU can be anyone’s friend, no matter how culturally distant, or ethically different you two may be. So do savor all your friendships, connections, and relationships with those you love most and those closest to your heart, for it is with them that you too, may find God.