He's a good, good father.
Photo by Sally Yu
It all started with the hot dogs in a box. That’s when I knew. It was a charmingly dreary, rainy day and we had just attended Mass in a vast field of primary colored ponchos. We sent our group off on the long walk back to the hostel, save for a pack of the boys who’d help us carry dinner home. Having left our trademark flag with the others to keep the group together, I held my orange bandana aloft for the guys to follow in the impossible crowd. We nudged and squeezed and dodged our way to the nearest food tent, ducking beneath chains of arms of groups determined not to lose anyone. We found the end of the line that snaked around every which way and watched as more streamed in around the side of the tent, bypassing us line-abiders, cutting through picnic tables and dinner-laden pilgrims determined to get some breathing room. We finally made it to the front, Fr. Eugene and Daniel the seminarian leading the charge, holding out our 40 vouchers in hopes of trading them for just as many hot dogs. Hold on, let me ask my boss, they were told. Not possible was the answer. But—just wait here, accompanied by a knowing look. Father and Daniel waited patiently, chatting and laughing with their new friend as he doled out hot dogs to the masses around us. Then, an empty cardboard box came floating my way above the crowd. As I sat atop the nearest picnic table, five hot dogs followed. Then a pause, then five more. They kept coming in spurts until that box was brimming with buns and dogs, enough to feed our 40. We walked back triumphantly with our prize, collectively claiming Father’s victory. Father knew he had to feed his children, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He asked and waited and charmed and thanked.
And so began a week full of moments like that, moments that struck me with awe as I watched Fr. Eugene’s lavish generosity, his palpable love for his children, his desire to know and love Jesus and to make Him known and loved. And, like wonderful spiritual fathers before him, he showed me the love and sacrifice and tenderness of God the Father, a gift too vast for words. But I’ll keep trying.
After walking the 10 long miles (or was it 15? 20?) to the site of the vigil at the close of the week, I was eager to set up my sleeping spot and rest. But Father was always thinking of the Lord, always thinking of his flock. We held off on our long-awaited lunch and instead, we set up an altar of upturned water bottles and Father donned his alb in the sweltering heat. My thoughts turned from my discomfort and exhaustion to the word of God, to Jesus in the Eucharist. The crowd among us wandered and slept and chatted, and we worshipped. Father brought us from our humble state to heaven, or as close as we could get. He drew me from my short-sightedness and reminded me of my final destination, reminded all of us pilgrims in his flock why we were suffering. For Whom we were suffering.
I didn’t go to World Youth Day for myself, ultimately. I went because God invited me, and I went to serve. I didn’t go to be noticed or cared for, but Father noticed me. He cared for me. At each international event, he found his way to my side, offering an earbud to listen to the translation from his radio. I planned to just listen to words I could not understand, caught up in the beauty of the universal Church surrounding me, however ignorant I’d be of what was being said. But Father provided for me. He took me under his wing as one of his own. We listened and prayed and laughed and cried side by side, father and daughter, me and Fr. Eugene.
There’s much more to say, and there’s much more I know I didn’t see. I can’t possibly thank him properly. But I can thank God for this holy and humble priest, the one who leads his people with unparalleled care. He’s a good, good father.