Young People: Stand Firm in Christ

 

 

Dear People of God in the Philippines,

most especially the youth,

 

“God has given me the grace of passionately loving the youth”.

 

With the desire to make these words of Blessed John Paul II our own, we, your Bishops, cordially greet you in this CBCP Year of the Youth! May God’s love, ever fresh, ever young, be with you all, in this special time of grace and blessing!

 

Through this pastoral letter, we want to reach out to you, the Filipino youth, and communicate to you our thoughts and sentiments regarding this most blessed opportunity, this grace-filled time.

 

Perhaps the one thing which some of you cannot seem to get enough of, is TIME—you being always in a hurry and on the go, multi-tasking left and right, doing a lot of things, and yet feeling as if you never have enough time in your hands. God, instead, is the One beyond time: Eternal, timeless, unchanging. But He entered into our time, thereby sanctifying it. In God, chronos thus becomes kairos.

 

As the CBCP Year of the Youth, the year 2011 becomes indeed a special time, a time of grace. Fortuitously and fortunately, the year 2011 is also the 25th Anniversary of the Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY), the commission in our Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) directly attending to you and your concerns; its silver jubilee served as a primary motivation for us to declare this year as Year of the Youth. Like more than a decade ago with the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, this year also promises abundant blessings for you, dear young people.

 

But before we go on any further, may we also call out to all other agents and sectors in our church and nation: Parents (first and foremost), government officials, educators, those in civil society and media, and other leaders and stakeholders in the welfare of the youth. Join us in this CBCP Year of the Youth! Link up with us as we reach out to our young people and make this year relevant and meaningful to them and for them. More importantly, let us help the young make their lives meaningful and fruitful not only for tomorrow, but even in the here and now. For what they can do or contribute to make a better tomorrow, they can very well do and contribute to make a better today!

 

A THREEFOLD OBJECTIVE

 

The fundamental objectives of the CBCP Year of the Youth are to raise awareness about young people, and to promote a pastoral ministry to, with, for and by them. These we hope to achieve with the help of this “triple gaze”—

 

First, to look back at the past (paglingon): We want to review and assess the Church’s role as sower, nurturer and harvester of the faith to the young. At the same time, we want to revisit the history of our youth ministry, through the eyes of the ECY and its relationship with the youth ministries of the regions, dioceses and the member-organizations of the Federation of National Youth Organizations (FNYO).

 

Secondly, to focus on the present (pagdiriwang): We want to appreciate our young people as a gift to the Church, celebrating their protagonism, their boundless creativity and youthful enthusiasm. We want to give them priority and preference in our ecclesial life, recognizing the unique contribution of youth ministry to the Church. We also want to affirm the document we have, KA-LAKBAY: the Directory for Catholic Youth Ministry in the Philippines, for the contribution it is making to various levels of our youth ministry.

 

And lastly, to gaze into the future (pagtanaw): We aim at “putting out into the deep” of youth ministry as envisioned by KA-LAKBAY, while empowering and accompanying the young to become more responsibly involved in the transformation of the Church and society, in the protection of life and the whole of creation, and in the missionary activity as leading characters in evangelization.

 

With this “triple gaze”, we hope to cover the many different concerns and needs in the lives of our youth. At the same time, we commit ourselves to spearhead a youth ministry that is truly alive and pro-active. But do we give a particular emphasis on the young and on youth ministry simply because it is their special year this 2011? Where do we draw the reason for such a special gaze on the young? Underlying all this is our outlook on the young people themselves, after the manner of God’s preferential love for them.

 

GOD’S LOVE AND ATTENTION FOR THE YOUNG

 

The loving attention given to youth is but right and proper. More than just an interest in what we can do or contribute, we see something more in this “preferential option for youth”. We realize that it is actually a Godlike predilection for the “little ones”, a special love for them who occupy a special place in His heart, something that has been consistently affirmed ever since by the history of our forebears in the faith, starting from the Old Testament. There we observe an unbroken pattern of God’s loving preference for the younger one, who more often than not is also the weaker, the disadvantaged one: Abel, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Josiah, Jeremiah, Ruth, Judith, Esther, the seven Maccabean brothers, and many others. All these stories attain their marvelous climax in God’s radical option of choosing Mary to be the mother of His Only-Begotten Son Jesus. And in response, she, who in the eyes of her society was doubly disadvantaged for being a woman and for being young, nevertheless heroically offered her loving and generous “Fiat”.

 

For us today, this preferential option for the young translates into what has been enshrined in the Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II): That “youth ministry should be assured of the fullest attention and highest priority in every way by all in the Church”. We reiterate this commitment with even greater conviction; now as before, we do not want it to remain merely on paper; we renew it, in fact, with greater dedication and commitment. Even as we humbly acknowledge that we have failed in living up to this commitment, we nevertheless trust that this CBCP Year of the Youth will provide a new impetus and grace from above to pursue our desire as one Church, in our ecclesial life and through our various ministries, to give a preferential option for our young people.

 

A SENSE OF URGENCY – THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS

 

There is urgency behind this commitment to the young. There is no denying the existence of sinister forces out there to exploit our youth. The forces of evil are working double time, as it were, to compete for the souls of the young, to corrupt and abuse them. To such unscrupulous, malicious individuals and groups, let these very words of our Lord Jesus Christ himself be a warning: “[I]t would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck, in the depths of the sea”.

 

However, it might have also happened that, having taken for granted and forgotten the example of our Lord, and having lost sight of him in our mission to the young, we might have also—although perhaps inadvertently (hindi sinasadya)—allowed ourselves to be co-opted by evil in the corruption of the young and the little ones. And we humbly repent of our shortcomings and failures, and ask for forgiveness, resolving as we do to purify our motives and embark on a renewed ministry for and with the young. We add in this resolve to repudiate any form of abuse that may have hurt these little ones. In the same vein, we strongly reject the convenient apathy paralyzing us into thinking that all is well in the youth ministry and with our young people when in fact it is hardly true.

 

Let us bear in mind that the same Lord who condemned those who “cause one of these little ones… to sin” also lovingly welcomed the little children and cast a loving gaze upon the rich young man. He will sustain us with his grace, every day and always. For the youth ministry we carry out is difficult and challenging. Just like any other ministry in the Church, it has its attendant difficulties and problems, but it is also not without strength, for it is “[t]he love of Christ [that] impels us”. Thus, we need to focus on our Lord, for “[u]nless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it”.

 

INTEGRAL, INTER-GENERATIONAL, COMMUNITARIAN YOUTH MINISTRY

 

Here is precisely where we realize the decisive importance of youth ministry, this “branch” of the Church’s overall mission. Convinced of its ever-valid significance and relevance, we consider this all-important service of the Church as the locus for our renewal and commitment. We wish to take advantage of it in our efforts and endeavors during this CBCP Year of the Youth.

 

In fact, with the great strides made thus far by the ECY as far as organized structures, programs and activities are concerned, we have several possibilities. We are thankful that we have the mechanisms and agencies basically in place, along with the fundamental awareness in most of us about youth and youth ministry. Thus, many of the countless needs of our young people are met and addressed through this episcopal commission. Since its inception way back in 1986, various programs and activities have been carried out under its auspices. More recently the Commission, in coordination with the CBCP Media Office, has launched the website YouthPinoy! (www.youthpinoy.com) as a forum for Catholic youth in the internet. This is an acknowledgment of the important influence that the digital world has on the young today, and a response to the invitation of our recent popes—Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI—to proclaim the Gospel by using these new forms of communication and, as it were, to win the world through the Word. Grateful too to the youth ministries established in the dioceses, parishes and other settings around the country, young people in general are aware of, involved in, and dedicated to the mission of the Church—including the necessary commitment to the larger realms of society and nation, community and world.

 

But without doubt there is still much room for improvement. The large number of youth still outside the reach of the Church—those who are unaware or have grown indifferent to the faith—remain a deep concern for us. As regards youth ministry, there is the ever-present danger of reducing it into mere activities and events. The integral formation of our young people, including those from the grassroots and the marginalized, is of prime importance in the objectives of our youth ministry. We acknowledge that youth ministry alone cannot do this; hence, the need for an integral and comprehensive ministry, with a developmental formation program for the youth culminating unto servant-leadership. Moreover, our youth ministry should necessarily include various programs and efforts to combat ignorance and dishonesty, to generate opportunities for education and employment, to advocate for victims of abuse and exploitation, and to promote care of the environment and active participation in public governance.

 

The person, functions, and tasks of the youth minister should also increasingly gain acceptance and recognition as that of a truly professional ministry. This means that youth ministers should have a mandate from the community, and that they be continuously empowered by the necessary formation, professional qualification and adequate financial compensation proper to their work.

 

It is in our youth ministry therefore where various people—the volunteer and the professional, the clergy and the laity, the adult mentors and the young people themselves, the parents and their children, and finally the different generations of persons—all happily meet and merge. The result is a communitarian, inter-generational and integrated youth ministry—never the elite turf of a few people left on their own, but always a community of disciples in communion and mission.

 

GUIDED BY KA-LAKBAY, AND OPEN TO THE LARGER CONTEXT

 

For all this, we consider the 2004 publication of KA-LAKBAY, the Directory for Catholic Youth Ministry in the Philippines, as a landmark event in our communal journey. We continue to heed the principles and directions it has set for us. In particular, we wholeheartedly share the vision it has charted for our distinctly Filipino Catholic youth ministry. Acknowledging that there is still much to be done and carried out, we commit to continue in our study and use of this most helpful Church document, and to be guided by its recommendations. We further look forward to the “YouCat” (Youth Catechesis) which Pope Benedict XVI will give to all the World Youth Day 2011 pilgrims in Madrid. This document, derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but with a “youthful” slant, so to speak, will certainly be a great help in the young people’s growth in their knowledge, love and following of Jesus Christ.

 

Moreover, we also wish to go beyond our own circles, to “think out of the box” and reach out to other youth who may not necessarily be within the usual network of the ECY. While acknowledging present efforts of special ministries, often involving other episcopal commissions for which we are grateful to these offices, such as those for children of overseas workers, youths in areas of conflict and war, or minors in conflict with the law, there certainly remains much more to be done. Strengthening inter-ministerial collaboration, whether on the national or on the diocesan and parish levels, becomes an imperative not only because it is needed but also more importantly since we are one Church. We also need to team up with government and non-government youth organizations; after all, more often than not, we share the same goals and objectives with them. Finally, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue should also be actively pursued in our youth ministry.

 

It is in this spirit of unity and solidarity, of openness and collaboration, and of networking and synergy, that we envision even greater strides in our youth ministry during this CBCP Year of the Youth—and yes, beyond!

 

CONCLUSION

 

Therefore, to conclude, we continue to implore the help of and be guided by the Holy Spirit in a joyful, committed celebration of this special time of grace. The ECY has a list of activities to be carried out in the calendar, and we shall highlight our successes and milestones through the years, recognizing and paying tribute to those youth ministers, especially, who have loyally accompanied young people in many different ways. But more importantly, let us—brother-bishops, priests and deacons, parents, teachers, government officials, religious women and men, and anyone who has a heart for the youth, and above all, you young people—let us all dedicate ourselves to conversion and renewal for the sake of a more relevant, responsive and effective youth ministry. Let us deepen our commitment to assist young people appreciate their persons and their God-given talents, and make use of these for the good of the Church, society and the whole world. Let us, in our own personal and different ways but always united in the Spirit of the Lord who makes us one, give of ourselves to the young in our midst and in our lives—our children, students, siblings, friends, etc.—in order to make them feel that this CBCP Year of the Youth is truly their year. This we will continue doing in fidelity to our Lord’s life and example, as we recognize them for who they are, make them feel loved and respected, and encourage them to make a contribution, in great and simple ways, to our life as a Church and the progress of the country and the world.

 

Dear young people, we need you. The Church needs you. Echoing the loving words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who today will be celebrating the Closing Mass of World Youth Day 2011 with about half a million young people in Madrid, Spain, we affirm “your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church.” In turn, believing in your desire for good things, for great things, we promise to continue bringing Christ to you through our ministry among you: engaging in dialogue with you, striving to enter your world and journeying with you towards Christian maturity, indeed towards fullness of life in Christ.

 

With the words of St. Paul who exhorted the Christians of Corinth, a melting pot of trade and cultures and where the nascent Christian community was undergoing trials and difficulties, we exhort you too: “Stand firm in the faith… Do all your work in love”. That is exactly what we desire for all of us to do in this CBCP Year of the Youth. Offering all these efforts to Him Who is the source of our strength, we pray, through the loving intercession of Mary our mother, woman of faith and mother of fair love, that our Lord and God, the “eternally young… the Companion and Friend of youth”, may “give success to the work of our hands”.

 

Sincerely yours in the Lord

on behalf of the Bishops and Archbishops of the Philippines,

 

 

+ NEREO P. ODCHIMAR, DD

Bishop of Tandag

President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines

 

21 August 2011

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Young People: Stand Firm in Christ!

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