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 blessing! Through this pastoral letter, we want to reach out to you, the Filipino youth, and communicate to you regarding this special time of grace, since 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.

 

We 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! Together, let us help the young make their lives meaningful and fruitful not only for tomorrow, but even in the here and now.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 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.

 

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

 

More than just an interest in what we can do, we see something more in this “preferential option for youth”, which is God’s predilection for the “little ones”, a special love for them, something that has been consistently affirmed 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, Samuel, David, 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, the humble girl from Nazareth, to be the mother of His Only-Begotten Son Jesus.

 

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 with greater dedication. Even as we humbly acknowledge that we have failed in living up to this, we trust that this CBCP Year of the Youth will provide a new impetus and grace from above to pursue our desire as one Church 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. 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 the example of our Lord, and having lost sight of him in our mission, we might have also—although perhaps inadvertently (hindi sinasadya)—allowed ourselves to be co-opted by evil in the corruption of the young. 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. 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.

 

Just like any other ministry in the Church, youth ministry 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

 

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 needs of our young people are addressed through this episcopal commission. 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. Grateful too to the youth ministries in the dioceses, parishes, basic ecclesial communities (BECs) and other settings, young people in general are aware of, involved in, and dedicated to the mission of the Church and to society.

 

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.

 

The person, functions, and tasks of the youth minister should also increasingly gain acceptance and recognition as that of a truly professional ministry.

 

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.

 

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, and 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, there certainly remains much more to be done. Strengthening inter-ministerial collaboration 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; 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. 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, in our own different ways but always united in the Spirit of the Lord, 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.

 

Dear young people, we need you. The Church needs you. Echoing the loving words of 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 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 fullness of life in Christ.

 

With the words of St. Paul to the Christians of Corinth, we exhort you too: “Stand firm in the faith… Do all your work in love”. We pray, through the loving intercession of Mary our mother, woman of faith and mother of fair love, that our Lord 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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