Friars’ contest winner inspired on home front

  • April 6, 2022

Liya Lijoe Thottungal did not have to look far for her inspiration in penning the winning the entry for the annual Friars’ Student Writing Contest.

Challenged to write a 400-500 word essay that champions and contemplate the importance of Christian unity across the world, the 15-year-old Grade 10 student at St. Paul Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., merely had to look around her own home and her local parish.

Lijoe Thottungal said she was interested in chronicling the simple, yet powerful acts of goodness she witnessed in her parish of St. Francis Xavier Church and within her home as a global pandemic took shape.

“During the pandemic, I witnessed many Christians, particularly in my church, unify,” she told The Catholic Register. “They stepped up to comfort and help people who were struggling, our priest delivered wonderful homilies and there was such a desire to share the Holy Word with one another.

“And at home, my family’s faith grew stronger during the pandemic as we began to pray together every day and my Mom started watching daily Mass.”

This year’s Friars’ contest — sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement-Graymoor, the Office for Promoting Christian Unity of the Archdiocese of Toronto and The Catholic Register — was inspired by the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2).

Entrants from Ontario secondary schools were asked how unity can help Christians overcome the forces of darkness in the world and bring the nations to the light of Christ.

For her winning entry, Lijoe Thottungal will receive a HP Pavilion laptop computer. Below is her winning entry.

Guiding light of the world

By Liya Lijoe Thottungal

Picture a star. Although it may seem small in our world, the reality is that it is a large celestial body that provides light for all that surrounds it, including us. This symbolization is what the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity uses to represent the journey of the Magi.

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed His star at its rising, and have come to pay Him homage” (Matthew 2:2). This is the famous quote said by the Magi when they were looking for the Messiah. Although it was night and they were surrounded by the evil King Herod, they trusted the star they saw completely, as they understood it was God leading them to Jesus. And by trusting and following the path to God, they were able to find true happiness and joy together.

Just like how King Herod was the Magi’s darkness on their pathway to light, we too have been engulfed by darkness during the past years. Whether this may be due to losing loved ones, worsening mental health disorders, racism, the fear of the virus or situations where we value our material desires more than our faith, we have had at least one moment where we have lost the path to true happiness in God.

When consumed with these moments of darkness, we always need to remember this quote: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5).

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and we should always remember that, when we have Jesus as our true guide and light, no amount of darkness could ever engulf our brightness. After finding this everlasting light within us and with God, we should share this light with the community by donating to charities like World Vision. Active since the 1950s, this charity has helped millions of children and families by supplying them with food, shelter and clothes, and now, they are trying to provide the necessary vaccinations to poor communities hit by COVID-19.

We can also spread our light by volunteering at soup kitchens, writing kind messages to citizens of one’s local senior home, or by just sitting and listening to the problems of others; being the support and warmth that others struggle to find in their life.

We, by ourselves, may not be the perfect light as we were born to be flawed. However, as the Gospel says in John 1:6-9, we should bear witness to God’s love, become the light we are called to be, and glorify God by letting our light shine on all (Matthew 5:14-16). As an anonymous author once said, “Working together, tiny stars will light the universe. That is the power of teamwork.”

(Liya Lijoe Thottungal, 15, attends St. Paul Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont.)

Following are the second and third place winners in the annual Friars’ contest sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement-Graymoor, the Office for Promoting Christian Unity of the Archdiocese of Toronto and The Catholic Register: Yara Bashoory of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in second, Valeria Valentina Balzan Mora of St. Paul Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in third.

Let us journey together

BY Yara Bashoory

We are asked by St. Paul in Scripture, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree and to ensure there be no dissensions among us, but rather that we be “united in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

In a world fraught by division and conflict, this sort of unity is rare and precious, and if it comes from any one group, should it not come from us, followers of Christ? After all, we are instructed to “mend our ways, agree with one another and live in peace,” as outlined in the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:11).

In recent years, we have been coming closer and closer to full unity as Christians. Talks between Catholic and Orthodox leaders are frequent, excommunications between the Latin Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox were mutually lifted in the 1960s and numerous Eastern Catholic Churches have sacramental guidelines set up with their sister Orthodox Churches. There is still more that needs to be done, more progress that we can make and additional steps that we can take.

As a layperson, I do not know what these particular steps are; this is a matter for the clergy and the theologians. Nonetheless, I am wholly convinced that having a united front as apostolic Christians is invaluable considering that we live in a time when society’s core values are antithetical to Christianity. We cannot expect to feasibly combat the abhorrently sinful culture while constantly bickering amongst ourselves. It is imperative that we follow Christ wholeheartedly, without the common reservations and hindrances that impede our spiritual journeys. This is something we can learn from the story of the Wise Men.

When we read of the visit of the Wise Men in the Book of Matthew, we see their fervent desire to visit and worship the newborn Lord. They left their homes and their lands, humbled themselves before the Christ Child and His parents, worshipped Him and brought Him gifts. Do we have this same commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we have this same devotion and faith in our Saviour? We, who have 2,000 years worth of teachings, miracles, revelations and history available to use, learn from and apply to our lives?

It is crucial that as Christians we journey together with this intense longing to seek the Lord, putting aside petty divisions and prideful notions. Just as He was in the manger waiting for the Wise Men, He is waiting for us too, to seek Him above all. The Wise Men saw the star in the East, and came to worship the Lord. When we heed this call, it is then that we are able to bring the faith to every corner of the globe, as our Lord instructed us when He issued the Great Commission, commanding believers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). 

Unified under the same light

BY Valeria Valentina Balzan Mora

Contrasting symbols such as light against darkness can be traced back to ancient civilizations and are deeply rooted in many different cultures. It metaphorically uses visual elements like day and night to grasp more abstract concepts such as good versus evil.

Throughout the Bible, particularly in the Gospels, this symbolism is used along with many others to describe the light of Christ. The light of Christ can be described as special energy and power given from God that, through Christ, brings life, peace and especially joy to those who live in it. Just as the Magi did when they saw the star in Bethlehem in Matthew 2:10.

Unity amongst Christians is living according to the Gospel. To have unity and promote the Good News to other people, we must first unite with the people around us. I feel most unified when I am with my local church’s small Latino community. As an immigrant, it is reassuring to have a place where people come together to worship God while celebrating our culture. Things like our background, religion and language unite us. However, our differences may try to separate us. As human beings, it is a survival instinct to be afraid of the unknown. And in our diverse world, sometimes people tend to separate themselves from others because of their prejudices. This leads to awful acts that bring forward the forces of darkness. Just like in the first letter to the Corinthians 1:10, St. Paul advises us to “be perfectly united in mind and thought”; our differences should not tear us apart because we are all one under Jesus Christ.

The light of Christ can inspire people to embark on daring missions around the world to proclaim the Gospel and evangelize the nations. Leaving our homes, however, is not the only means to proclaim the Gospel. Living in accordance with the Gospel and the way Jesus taught us to live enables us to shine brightly in the light of Christ. When we live out our faith through our actions, lovingly, generously, humbly and mercifully, we show others God’s living presence that dwells within us. We invite them to enter into the light. As St. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

The light of Christ does not have to come from great events or unexpected realizations; it can simply emerge from the little things in our lives. Our nature must hold not only conviction that this enlightenment will come, but also the willingness to acknowledge it. By nurturing and deepening our faith, we enhance our capacity to recognize that we are in the presence of God, who is living and all around us.

Living according to the Gospel and nurturing our faith contributes to unity among Christians. This is essential to lead people to feel the presence of God because there is nothing more rewarding and comforting than experiencing and living in the light of Christ.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.