My dear People of God in the Diocese of Pasig,

A Blessed Season of Advent!

As we open another cycle of the liturgical year, in behalf of our priests and religious, allow me to thank you for your prayers and sacrifices offered for us as we celebrated the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons. We humbly and sincerely appreciate your understanding, love, and support in our ministry despite our imperfections and sins that have wounded the Church we serve. Patuloy niyo po kaming ipanalangin upang kami’y maging mabuti at banal na lingkod ng Sambayanan ng Diyos.

As early as 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) specified that among its four areas of concern for this Era of New Evangelization, the youth is a targeted object of the Church’s programs and activities. They pointed out that “…we must renew our attention and zeal toward the reawakening, fuller formation and animation of young people and youth groups, in both urban and rural settings. The Philippines is a country of the Young. We cannot insist enough how important and significant, how urgent and crucial the evangelization of our youth is. This, indeed, is priority pastoral task.” (Live Christ, Share Christ, 2012) For this reason, the CBCP declared 2019 as the Year of the Youth (YOTY), part of the 9-year preparation for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. Was it prophetic on the part of the CBCP, six years ago, to declare the Year of the Youth, knowing that last October, the Synod of the Youth was held under the leadership of Pope Francis? This shows the significant importance that must be given to our young people in our daunting task of renewed evangelization.

So what should be our disposition? Let me propose three ways in dealing with our young people and even with each other:

1. Let us LISTEN to them. Our young people want to speak and wish to be heard. This becomes very difficult especially when we were brought up in a family sub-culture where parents and elders dictate that they have the first and last word spoken while the children have to simply listen and do what they are told. Naalala ko tuloy noong bata ako, nag-away kami ng kapatid ko dahil may ginawa siyang kalokohan laban sa akin. Nang sinuway at pinangaralan kami ng aking ama, ako pa ang pinagsabihan na nagkamali. Pinilit kong magpaliwanag sa kanya tungkol sa nangyari. Subalit isa lang ang sinabi niya: “Tumahimik ka! Huwag kang sasagot sa magulang o sa nakakatanda sa iyo!”Our youth wants to share with us what is going on inside them. They want to tell us their sentiments, their struggles, and their stories. They “need to be heard rather than to be arrogantly lectured.” (Bp. Robert Barron) They want to be listened to by their parents, their siblings, their teachers, their priests, their friends and their peers. So let us listen to them not only with our ears but also with our hearts. In an open letter of the Filipino Youth to the Catholic Church in the Philippines they exhorted: “We long for a Church that embodies Christ’s vision and dream for her—a Church that has confidence on us, and ensures that we are not marginalized but feel accepted, declares and actualizes her preferential apostolate for us, and draws the attention of young people by being rooted in Jesus Christ.” (CBCP, ECY, 26 September 2018)

2. Let us LEARN from them. Most of the time, we, adults think and feel that the young learn from us since we are more educated in reason and experience. So our words and actions teach them many things as they grow up. True. But we have often heard that teachers must also realize that they are learners, and that they can learn from the young. Remember that Jesus, through a little child, taught his disciples the value of humility, obedience and trust in God. May naikuwento nga si Mother Teresa ng Calcutta tungkol dito. Minsan daw ay may isang batang lalaki, apat na taong gulang, na nagsakripisyong hindi mag-asukal ng tatlong araw. Maaaring ito’y para sa kanyang gatas. Nalaman niyang kailangan ito ni Mother Teresa. Sinamahan ng nanay niya ang kanyang anak para iabot sa madre ang isang boteng asukal. Pinuri’t pinasalamatan ni Mother Teresa ang bata at sinabi niya: “…that little child taught me that to be able to love a great love, it is not how much we give but how much loving is put in giving.” (Dorothy Hunt, A Fruit Always in Season, p. 219) We can learn a lot from little children. After all, Jesus told us that to them belongs God’s kingdom (cf. Lk 18:16). Dapat din nating makita na ang mga kabataan natin ay naghihintay lamang ng pagkakataon na sila ay mabigyan ng opurtunidad na makapaglingkod sa Simbahan at Bayan. Our Filipino you have also expressed: “It is our ultimate hope that we seek our purpose, we are given much life in order for us to share our lives with and for those around us. We wish to be given more opportunities to share ourselves: not just with and for our families, but with and for the rest of the community, our country, and the Church.” (CBCP, ECY, 26 September 2018)

3. Let us LIVE with them. Living with young people means being with them. Being with them challenges parents to make their caring and loving presence felt at home. Being with them encourages teachers to accompany their young students in their schoolwork and be their mentors as they engage in extra-curricular activities. Being with them should urge priests and nuns to spend time with them, to help them “discern deeply their vocation in the world and in the Church, especially the Lord’s invitation to them to the priestly and religious life.” (Live Christ, Share Christ, 2012). Maraming kabataan ang nauuhaw sa presensya natin. Nais nilang makapiling tayo at maramdaman ang buhay na presensya ng Diyos sa pamamagitan natin. Nais nilang mahawakan, marinig at makita si Kristo sa atin upang maranasan ang pag-ibig ng Diyos sa ating pagkatao at pagka-kristiyano. By our christian life and presence to the young people, we can show and share the love of Christ to them. In the words of Pope Francis: “The presence of Jesus can be communicated through our lives and the language of gratuitous and concrete love.” (@Pontifex 29 April 2017) Living with young people means knowing: who they are, where they are coming from and what are their concerns and hopes. Our youth of the 21st century are life-given and want to be life-giving. In that same letter of the Filipino Youth to the Catholic Church in the Philippines they said: “We are all searching for our identity—who we are. We search for our meaning and ultimately our purpose in life. We know that we are called for something more than ourselves. We are called to act, but we still need to be guided and formed. We lack critical thinking and decision-making skills that usually make us hesitant to commit. We do not see ourselves as the FUTURE, but as PRESENT of the Church, the world, and of society. Hence, we are gifts, life-given to the Church and in the Philippines, and we want to be truly life-giving.” (CBCP, ECY, 26 September 2018)

Three practical ways to celebrate this Year of the Youth (YOTY): Listen to them, Learn from them, and Live with them! Make them feel that they are God’s BELOVED children. Recognize that God has GIFTED them with many blessings for a mission. And realize that God has EMPOWERED them to serve. (cf. Theme for YOTY)

My dear young people of the Diocese of Pasig, using the words of the recent Synod of Bishops, let me also tell you: “Our weaknesses should not deter you; our frailties and sins must not be an obstacle for your trust. The Church is your mother; she does not abandon you; she is ready to accompany you on new roads, on higher paths where the winds of the Spirit blow stronger—sweeping away the mists of indifference, superficiality and discouragement.” (Letter from the Synod of Fathers to Young People, XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops)

And like what the late Jaime Cardinal Sin used to say: I love you so dearly cross my heart. Mabuhay ang mga kabataang katoliko!”

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”(Lk 21:36) Amidst the many personal, familial and communal challenges in our journey with the youth, let us prayerfully wait and prepare for Christmas by listening to Christ through God’s word, by learning from Christ by the exemplary witness of others and by living with Christ as we encounter each other in love.

May Mary who delivered the infant Jesus from her womb and who reared and guided her young boy to adulthood and mission, intercede and inspire us to “respond to the aspirations of the youth [who] will shape the third millennium.” (Live Christ, Share Christ, 2012)

In Jesus, the Good Shepherd,

+Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, D.D.
First Sunday of Advent (Cycle C)
December 2, 2018