An open letter of the filipino youth to the catholic church in the philippines cbcpnews

This is our sentiment—we who gathered on 2018 May 31, Feast of Mary’s Visitation and Encounter with Elizabeth, in St. Paul University of Quezon City, upon the invitation of the Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Youth leaders and youth ministers, clergy and consecrated women and men as well as lay people, through a 3-day process of reflecting and sharing—we drew up a roadmap for the celebration of the Year of the Youth (YOTY) in 2019, following the 2018 celebration of the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons and continuing the 9-year preparation for the 500th year of evangelization of the Philippines.

Like Mary, we are thankful for this privilege of putting ourselves in the shoes of the Filipino youth to prepare for the Year of the Youth. On behalf of our fellow Filipino youth, like the two disciples of Emmaus, we will tell Jesus, the Son of Mary, our situation, our concerns and our youthful dreams for the Church and for the society. With Jesus and His Mother Mary, who went in haste to help Elizabeth, we encourage our youthful peers to hasten and join in realizing the goals of the Year of the Youth.

Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. [Lk 24:13-35]

Many of us, young people of today, regard ourselves as more spiritual than religious. We acknowledge the presence of God; we believe in Him, and we yearn for Him. We choose to express this longing for a deeper relationship with our Lord and heighten our experience of faith through personal prayer and participation in various prayer gatherings. Our apparent distrust and doubt on the credibility of the Church, on the other hand, is but an expression of our burning desire to see her truly living the joy of the Gospel.

Our family is where we first experience love, care and belongingness. It is also where we have our first role models who guide and shape us as we are prepared to be launched into the bigger environment. Our Filipino culture that influences our family plays a major role in shaping us as young people. Practices and cultural behaviors, such as “utang na loob” and “pagmamano”, are still very much present in us, as well as the values of respect, obedience, and being family-oriented.

However, there are many different family situations present for each of us. Nowadays, due to the need for financial stability, some parents have to leave their children to seek greener pastures. Through these various situations, we still see the family as a foundational aspect of our lives. In our dreams for a better life, our families will always be part of our hopes and aspirations.

We value our relationships as much as our families—at times even more. We want to belong, more than anything. Hence, we seek a community that empowers, encourages, and challenges us. Friends and our social relationships are very important as they are part of the environment that we live in. These people not only journey with us and encourage us, but also form and influence us.

We acknowledge the need to be healthy. However, in many places, young people do not receive enough nutrition and the needed medical attention. Depression and suicide are prevalent issues being discussed by the young and about the young. Substance abuse, other forms of addiction, and HIV/AIDS also gravely affect our fellow youth. We feel that there is an urgent need to address these concerns as these may involve us and affect the people around us.

Our national economy is said to be growing at its potential[vi]. However, majority of the Filipino youth do not feel this growth nor understand what it means and yet are very much affected by it. Many of us still experience difficulty in finding stable jobs to keep our future secure; others even fall victim to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Most want to make a living not just for ourselves, but more for our parents who have given much for us. We dream of a more inclusive economy that provides equal opportunities to people regardless of age and gender.

Filipino youth comprise majority of the voters in the country. We seek honest and authentic leaders who stand for truth, justice and integrity. We need credible leaders we can count on and trust to lead and make moral decisions for the good of our country and its people. In the same way, we feel that we too can be leaders ourselves in various ways. Although there are opportunities to be the leaders we seek, we feel that these are limited, and at times even superficial.

We are heavily exposed to many kinds of differences: in cultures (e.g. indigenous peoples), faiths (e.g. other faith denominations), and ideologies (e.g. those rooted in same sex attraction). In all these, we heed Pope Francis’ invitation to build a “culture of encounter”. We seek to further understand them, and a concrete step is for us to have opportunities for dialogue to face these differences and move towards a more inclusive world.

Regular interaction with our friends is now more of a need than a mere pastime as our elders presume. We value much our peer group relationships or “barkada”. During this stage of our lives, we seek to construct an identity of our own, one that may be independent from our family, but defined by the peer group that we belong to.[vii] When we find a sense of connection between our identity and the values that our peer group has, we feel a greater sense of belongingness.[viii]

Unlike before, however, our peer groups today vary from physical groups to digital communities. Most of us live a part of our lives online as technology is already part of our daily life. We are a generation that is very much connected, yet still disconnected. Most of us who are frequently engaged online would rather express ourselves through “emojis” or posts on our social media accounts as these appear to be separate from our physical selves. Some of our behaviors now are also influenced by the number of followers we have online, or the number of “likes” that our posts have earned. These online friendships could even bring about different pressures—to be popular, to be “always-on”; these play an integral part in how we form and maintain our relationships both online and offline.

Our hearts are open to see and embrace role models who give witness to the goodness of life while rooted in the family. We want our elders to journey with us, to be approachable and not untouchable, to level with us to a certain extent, to walk the talk, and to make us sense that we are all equal. We are persons capable of contributing in the way others do—with our own skills, knowledge and wisdom.

Jesus expresses His love and affection for us through the Church—a love that is incarnate, preferential and unconditional[ix]. Through the Church, His Body, He is always concerned with us, with all our expectations and hopes[x], and He reminds us not to be afraid “especially when we are faced with the fundamental choices on which depend who we will be and what we will do in this world”[xi].

The Church in the Philippines puts her confidence in us Filipino youth to raise the social consciousness not only of our peers but also of our elders[xiii]. In his message to the youth for the World Youth Day 1995 in Manila, St. John Paul II told us that we “are especially called to become missionaries of this New Evangelization, by daily witnessing to the Word that saves.”[xiv]

Our Blessed Mother is a model for us, as she herself was called to mission through the Annunciation at a very young age [cf. Lk 1:26-38]. Like her, the Lord continues to call and challenge us. Recently, Pope Francis tells us: “the Lord, the Church, the world are waiting for your answer to the unique call that each one receives in this life!”[xv]

At our young age, our challenges and calling may strongly disturb and overwhelm us, just like Mary [cf. Lk 1:29]. Time and again, we are reminded not to be afraid, for we have found favor with God [cf. Lk 1:30]! May her inspiration allow us to respond with a courageous and committed YES, proclaiming with her: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” [cf. Lk 1:38].

Indeed, like the two disciples, we now are filled with excitement to witness to Jesus who listens to our story, speaks to us words of encouragement, and challenges us. We respond to Jesus and witness to Him in the Year of the Youth through the strategic pastoral plan that the Episcopal Commission on Youth proposes at the national and diocesan levels.

The Year of the Youth is indeed a journey of encounter with Jesus, accompanied by Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization. In this journey, we tell the story of the Filipino youth with our Risen Lord; we, young Filipinos and Filipinas, listen to Jesus, the Youth Minister par excellence and, as we are blessed and gifted during this journey, we are empowered to witness to and share our faith.

We implore the Holy Spirit to guide us in realizing this pastoral project for us Filipino youth, a large and dynamic portion of the population of the Philippines[xvi], “known as a ‘pueblo amante de Maria’”[xvii]. We entrust the 2019 Year of the Youth to Mary, our Blessed Mother, as we commit ourselves to pray meaningfully every day the Angelus, and personally a “Hail Mary”.