Dear People of God in the Philippines,

most especially the youth,

“God has given me the grace of passionately loving the youth”[1].

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![2]

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[3] thus becomes kairos[4].

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)[5], 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[6].  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[7].  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[8].  At the same time, we want to revisit the history of our youth ministry[9], 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[10], 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”[11] 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[12] as leading characters in evangelization[13].

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”[14].  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”[15].

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”[16].  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[17], 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[18].  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”[19].

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[20].

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[21] and cast a loving gaze upon the rich young man[22].  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”[23].  Thus, we need to focus on our Lord, for “[u]nless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it”[24].

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[25], 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[26]—to proclaim the Gospel by using these new forms of communication and, as it were, to win the world through the Word[27].  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[28].  As regards youth ministry, there is the ever-present danger of reducing it into mere activities and events[29].  The integral formation of our young people[30], 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[31].  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[32], and that they be continuously empowered by the necessary formation, professional qualification and adequate financial compensation proper to their work[33].

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[34], inter-generational[35] and integrated[36] 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[37].  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[38], 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[39] 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[40], 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[41] and the progress of the country[42] 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.”[43] In turn, believing in your desire for good things, for great things[44], 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[45], indeed towards fullness of life in Christ[46].

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”[47].  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”[48], may “give success to the work of our hands”[49].

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


[1] Lifted from a translation of the French original: “God gave me the grace – as to so many bishops and priests – to love passionately the youth, certainly different from one country to another, but so similar in their enthusiasm and their disappointments, their aspirations and their generosity!” (John Paul II, Message to the French Youth, 01 June 1980).

[2] Cf. Lk 4:19.

[3] Clock time, the time measured by impersonal forces of matter moving through space.

[4] Time measured by purposes and goods.

[5] The Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY) was created in July 1986.  Before this, the ECY was initially a committee under the Episcopal Commission on Lay Apostolate (ECLA) during the period 1976-1985.  During the National Conference for Youth Ministers (NCYM) in January 1986 in Tagaytay City, the delegates proposed for the creation of a separate commission specifically for the youth.  The bases for its creation are the following: 1) that majority of the population belongs to the youth; 2) that the ECLA, dominated by lay adults with their own unique needs and concerns, cannot adequately meet the particular demands of ministering to the young; 3) that the youth and youth ministry exhibit unique needs and aspirations—calling for a corresponding response that is concrete, adequate and complete; 4) that the youth deserve fuller and more direct representation and participation in the Philippine Church.  Acknowledging the need for a commission that addresses all youth ministry concerns distinctively, the Bishops, in their CBCP Plenary Assembly in July 1986, unanimously approved the creation of the ECY.

[6] “As youth ministry is a ministry within the Ministry, then it espouses and lives out the mystery of communion.  Truly, youth ministry is a mirror of the Church held together as a family of the Father in Jesus through the Spirit” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 87-88).

[7] How often do we say that the youth are the future of our nation, of our church, but they are also, and perhaps more so, the present of our nation and church—they who compose more than 50% of our country’s population.

[8] “[The youth] must be helped to grow and develop in the faith: this is the first service they should receive from the Church and especially from us Bishops and our priests… If this is to happen, young people must feel loved by the Church and concretely loved by us Bishops and priests” (Benedict XVI, Address to Italian Bishops, 30 May 2005).

[9] Understood as the specific “branch” of the Church’s mission, directed to and involving the young in general, flowing from the selfsame overall ministry of the Church, but is carried out as a concrete expression addressed to the young in their everyday situation (cf. KA-LAKBAY, p. 27).

[10] Cf. Conciliar Document of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, art. 385: “As we in this Council have declared our evangelical love of preference for the poor, so it would appear to us now to declare a preferential apostolate for children and youth.”

[11] Cf. Lk 5:4.

[12] “You, the young people, are called above all to become missionaries of this New Evangelization, bearing witness daily to the Word that saves.” (John Paul II, Message for the 10th World Youth Day 1995, no. 3).

[13] “Young people are the source of hope for the future, as we have seen during the Tenth ‘World Youth Day’ right here in Manila.  With their enthusiasm and energy, they must be encouraged and trained to become ‘leading characters in evangelization and participants in the renewal of society’.” (John Paul II, Address to the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines, 14 January 1995).

[14] From the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops in Puebla, Mexico, 1979.

[15] Cf. Lk 1:38.

[16] Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, article 50, no. 2.

[17] “Youth ministry as a way of being a gift of the Church to the world, is not a separate ministry.  It is a ministry found within the ‘Ministry’” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 67).

[18] “…false teachers of life, also numerous in the modern world, propose goals which not only fail to bring satisfaction but often intensify and exacerbate the thirst that burns in the human heart.  Who then can understand and satisfy our expectations?  Who but the One who is the Author of life can satisfy the expectations that he himself has placed in our hearts?” (John Paul II, Message for the 8th World Youth Day 1993, no. 3).

[19] Mt 18:6, NAB.

[20] “In school year 2007, about 5M students were enrolled in national high schools… about 1.2M of them will fall by the wayside” (Salesian Missions Inc., The Y Factor, p. 99); “Almost 70% of Filipino youth have tried drinking alcohol” (p. 149); “…3.4M Filipinos are on illegal drugs.  An estimated half of this or 1.8M were from the youth sector” (p. 150); “79% of drug patients were out-of-school youths prior to their admission for treatment” (p. 153); “On the average, male and female youth get initiated to sex at the age of 18.2 and 18.9, respectively” (p. 173).

[21] Cf. Mt 9:14.

[22] Cf. Mk 10:18-21.

[23] 2 Cor 5:14, NAB.

[24] Ps 127:1, NAB.

[25] As upheld by art. 51-52 of the Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines.

[26] “I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life. The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness. In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith that Christ is God, the Saviour of humanity and of history, the one in whom all things find their fulfillment (cf. Eph 1:10)” (Benedict XVI, Message for the 45th World Communications Day 2011).

[27] Slogan of YouthPinoy!: “Winning the world through the Word”

[28] “…youth ministry is not merely for the chosen few, but it is for young people from all walks of life” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 89).

[29] “Another cluster of weakness lies around the characteristic of discontinuity, seasonality, transitoriness, and lack of sustainability.  Some programs are merely sporadic” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 31).

[30] “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, no. 19).

[31] “You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am.  But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet” (Jn 13:13-14, NAB).

[32] i.e. the parish or the diocese: “Within the larger Christian community, [youth ministers] are recognized by and through the ecclesial hierarchy…” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 173).

[33] Here we mention some institutions and events which offer formation for youth ministers and leaders: the Institute of Formation-Fondacio Asia of Fondacio-Christians for the World, the annual Blessed John Paul II Catechetics-Youth Ministry Conference of the Salesians of Don Bosco, and the biennial National Conference for Youth Ministers of the ECY, aside from many other formative gatherings for youth leaders and ministers organized by regions, dioceses and other groups.

[34] “This communitarian dimension is very much in line with the vision of the Filipino Catholic Church as a participatory community of disciples, as spelt out in the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II)” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 15).

[35] Youth ministry is “…a comprehensive and collaborative effort, carried out by the entire ecclesial community—intergenerational, integrated, and harmonized…” (stet).

[36] “Youth ministry takes this opportune time in the life of the individual for total and integral formation that not only focuses on faith but on all other aspects of growth as well” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 84-85).

[37] “…an emerging design in youth ministry is also that of welcoming persons who do not fall under the mentioned general characteristics [i.e. single Filipino Catholics from 13 to 29 years old who normally belong to a parish], such as unwed mothers, youth in the streets, members of other Christian denominations or other religions, indigenous youth, and others” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 21).

[38] “We also ask you to ensure that our ministry, at all levels, coordinate and synergize with other Church ministries (e.g. Family Life, Human Development, etc.)…” (2nd Bishops’ Institute for the Lay Apostolate on Youth 2007, Final Statement, no. 3).

[39] “…we must become new people, abandoning what is old within us, letting ourselves be renewed in depth by the strength of the Spirit of the Lord” (John Paul II, Message for the 10th World Youth Day 1995, no. 5).

[40] “The Christian formation of young people in Asia should recognize that they are not only the object of the Church’s pastoral care but also ‘agents and co-workers in the Church’s mission in her various apostolic works of love and service’” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, no. 47).

[41] “In fact the Church sees her path towards the future in the youth, beholding in them a reflection of herself and her call to that blessed youthfulness which she constantly enjoys as a result of Christ’s Spirit” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, no. 46).

[42] Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, whose 150th birthday our country celebrates this 2011, wrote in his To the Filipino Youth:

“Raise your unruffled brow

On this day, Filipino youth!

Resplendent shines your courage rich,

Handsome hope of my motherland!”

[43] Benedict XVI, Message for the World Youth Day 2011, no. 6.

[44] ”…young people want great things.  They want an end to injustice.  They want inequalities to be overcome and all peoples to have their share in the earth’s goods.  They want freedom for the oppressed.  They want great things, good things.  This is why young people are—you are—once again fully open to Christ.  Christ did not promise an easy life.  Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number.  Rather, he shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life” (Benedict XVI, Message to German pilgrims, 25 April 2005).

[45] From the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal 2001.

[46] Cf. Jn 10:10.

[47] 1 Cor 16:13-14, GNT.

[48] Message of the Second Vatican Council to the youth, 07 December 1965.

[49] Cf. Ps 90:17.

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