The Words of the Yong Family
Manila, Philippines -- After starting the year 2014 with an Interfaith Peace Blessing Festival in Manila in January, UPF-Philippines leaders embarked on a nationwide tour, holding 15 festivals from April 4 to 22, 2014. With the theme, "Blessing and Remembrance: Strengthening the Families, Rebuilding the Nation, Creating a World of Lasting Peace," it was a campaign for national unity, prayer and reflection.
The theme of rededication and renewal of marriage was emphasized through a lecture on the significance of the marriage blessing by Prof. Celestino Jose Navalta, Jr., vice president of UPF-Philippines, followed by a toast to faithfulness in marriage. Then Dr. Robert Kittel, education director of UPF-Asia, lectured to youth about the ideal of pure love and invited representatives to join in a Pure Love Pledge.
At each festival, Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, Jr., president of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, gave a powerful message to the people from that area. His charisma, words and singing captured the hearts of people at each event.
Dr. Chung Sik Yong, chair of UPF-Asia, officiated at the marriage blessing ceremony in each city, leading the blessing vows and invocation prayer. Rev. Julius Malicdem, leader of the Family Federation for World Peace in the Philippines, served as the master of ceremonies. Local leaders of various faiths joined in a "Water of Harmony" ceremony and offered prayers for peace.
A special tribute ceremony was held at each event to remember, pray for and honor all the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, as well as those who died during various calamities that devastated parts of the Philippines in recent years. Typhoon Haiyan, known as typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, killing at least 6,268 people; it was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record and the strongest recorded storm ever to hit land. In each city, representative families and local officials presented memorial floral bouquets and led a candle-lighting ceremony. As people in the audience lifted up their candles, Archbishop Stallings offered a memorial prayer. The festivals concluded with a closing cheer led by Dr. Yong.
The Interfaith Peace Blessing and Memorial Festivals took place in 15 cities in 19 days. The first programs took place in three main cities in the southern island of Mindanao: (1) General Santos, (2) Davao and (3) Cagayan de Oro; from there, organizers moved to the central part of the Philippines: (4) Ormoc in the province of Leyte, which was the most devastated region by typhoon Haiyan, then to (5) Cebu, (6) Dumaguete and (7) Iloilo in Visayas. The itinerary continued in Luzon and Metro Manila, (8) Infanta, (9) Cauayan, (10) San Fernando, (11) Tanay, (12) Cabanatuan, (13) Trece Martires and (14) Marilao, culminating in (15) Quezon City in Metro Manila. Highlights of the events follow:
The first leg of the tour, in General Santos City on April 4, brought together around 2,000 people to the Pacman Sports Gymnasium.
In Davao, the major city in Mindanao, around 1,500 people attended the April 5 event at the Almendras Gym. Archbishop Stallings ignited the spirit of the people, making it a memorable event.
On April 6, the Capitol University Gym was filled with people coming from all over northern Mindanao. Around 3,100 people were able to join the event inside the gym, and 900 more participated outside. In December 2011, around 4,000 people had died in Cagayan de Oro because of typhoon Sendong.
The Eastern Visayas region was hardest-hit by typhoon Haiyan, and the city's Superdome, which hosted the April 8 festival, had suffered damage to its walls and ceiling. Around 4,000 people participated in the program. Standing on the stage together with representative families and religious leaders who offered flowers, the mayor, Hon. Edward Codilla, was moved by the tribute ceremony. Many people shed tears as they remembered the victims and the fury of the storm. Archibishop Stallings challenged the audience to lead the transformation of Ormoc and sang "The Impossible Dream." He was interviewed by a local television station afterwards.
A tornado hit a village in Cebu on the eve of the April 9 program at the Aznar Coliseum on the Southwestern University campus. Cebu Mayor Hon. Michael Rama welcomed the guests and expressed appreciation for the rally which emphasized strengthening families and remembering the victims of typhoon Haiyan, which caused much suffering in the northern part of Cebu province. Archbishop Stallings called on everyone to make a difference and stand as sons and daughters of God, closing with a rendition of the song "Ordinary People."
Iloilo in the Western Visayas Region is known as the "City of Love." For the April 12 festival, around 1,500 people packed the Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center, and another 1500 people filled an adjoining room to rededicate their marriage and participate in the tribute to the victims of the typhoon. Iloilo and the Panay Island were badly damaged by the typhoon. Mrs. Evelyn Macapobre, regional director for Region 6 of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, gave welcoming remarks at the opening of the festival. Archbishop Stallings emphasized the resiliency of the Filipino people in overcoming adversity; Archbishop Elias Soria, president of the Asian Clergy Leadership Conference, and Mrs. Macapobre joined him in singing "The Impossible Dream." Later in the evening, new Ambassadors for Peace were appointed in a meeting at the Diversion Hotel, attended by Hon. Jose Expinoza III, acting mayor of Iloilo, and Hon. Neilex Tupaz, acting vice mayor.
April 13, the date of the festival in Infanta, four hours southwest of Manila, became a day of national celebration when Manny Pacquiao, beloved Filipino champion boxer, won the world welterweight title at a bout in Las Vegas that day. Four thousand people converged on the the Chateau de Marinero, filling the main hall, the overflow room, the lobby and parking areas. Dignitaries at the event included the wife of the mayor of Infanta, Mrs. Gloria Potes; Councilor Hon. Manuel Merana; and Lt. Col. Edgar Mangabay III, Commanding Officer of the First Battalion of the Philippine Army.
The F.L. Dy Coliseum of Cauayan, in the province of Isabela in northeastern Luzon, was the setting for the April 14 festival. The 3,000 participants came from all over the Cagayan Valley region. The daughter of the former governor of Isabela and sister of the current mayor of Cauayan, Mrs. Carmina Natividad Dy Bucag, led those making the floral offering, since the late governor and former mayor were among those commemorated during the ceremony. Dr. Ricmar Aquino, executive director of Isabela State University, Cauayan Campus, gave the congratulatory message. Archbishop Stallings challenged each person in the audience to be a "headlight" not a "taillight" and to be "thermostats," not "thermometers." Concluding his message, he called on Archbishop Soria to sing with him "The Impossible Dream," inspiring the whole audience to sing along with them.
Traveling from Cauayan to Bayombong and the breath-taking mountainous route passing through Baguio, the tour staff arrived in San Fernando in northwestern Luzon. Around 1,100 participants from all over the Ilocos region and the Cordillera Autonomous Region converged in the beautiful City Hall on April 15. Distinguished participants included the mayor of Bauang, Hon. Eulogio Clarence Martin De Guzman III, and San Fernando City Councilor, Hon. Lt. Col. Ramon Laudencia. Dr. Myrna Ligas, president of UPF-La Union, was the emcee. Archbishop Stallings emphasized the need to transform oneself and spread peace to individuals and families and then to society, nation and the world.