The Preferential option for the youth




By Fr. André “Sabihin” Semeni

In the first document of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) in 1970, the Catholic bishops acknowledged that young people constituted over 60 percent of the total population of the Asian continent. Thus, they expressed their desire to see the Asian Church becoming a “Church of the young” and they all wished “to be in them and for them, a Church that they shall see worthy of devotion and hope” (Asian Bishops’ Meeting, 1970, I, 4 and 6). Twenty-one years later, in February 1991, the Congregation of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, gathered in what goes down in history as the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II), noted: “As for the youth, in 1989 there were 8.2 million of them between ages 18-24 or about 14% of the total population” (PCP II, no. 383). Like their peers of the Federation, they also stated their preferential option for the young men and women of the Philippines. Let me quote directly from the PCP II: “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” (PCP, no. 385).

Since the central problem of this column is “the preferential option for the youth,” I will focus on the youth not because I dislike children, but because “The greatest resource of the Church for evangelization are the young people of the Philippines… They are hungry for Christ and his word. They need to be evangelized. Unfortunately we do not reach the majority of our young people by catechetical instruction or the Sunday liturgy” (PCP II, no. 650). Honestly, can the Catholic Church in the Philippines last without the dynamism of the Filipino youth? How then can we minister to them in our parishes and schools?

In the light of the above quotes, in order credibly to witness to the love of Christ Jesus, we need to become the “Church of the youth.” Regardless of our ministry, mission and interest, we are called to minister to the young. In whatever missionary field we are engaged in – parish setting, schools, formation – our determination and conviction, our occupation and exertion have to cover a preferential option for the young. What then do I mean by “Church of the youth”? Obviously, like in the case of the preferential option for the poor, it means a Church where pastors and leaders give preferential attention and time to the youth. It means a Church where the entire Christian community especially the rich and better off sectors of the community and its leaders orient and tilt the center of gravity of the entire community in favor of the youth. It means a Church where we all collaborate with the youth themselves and journey with them. When this effectively takes place in our parishes or schools, the youth participate actively in the life and mission of the Church.

If we decide, indeed, to journey with the youth, we decide to minister not only to 40 or 55 of them, not only to one group that we choose to serve as in the Parish Youth Ministry (PYM) or the Chapel Youth Ministry (CYM), but to pastor a flock that comprises over 60 percent of the entire population of our parishes or chapels.  If we decide to get involve in the youth ministry, we mean to reach out to them and searching them out – all of them, not just a fraction of them. The task sound enormous. However, there is always hope of having it done if we start with them and for them. As the bishops put it: “But the youth must also become evangelizers themselves. The youth follow their peers. Committed Catholic young people are the best evangelizers of the other young people… Even when young, they should be involved in parish or transparochial apostolates after due training. They should be given a place in parish pastoral councils” (PCP II, no. 651).

As a “community of disciples” with a vision that continues to be evangelized and to grow in faith and commitment, the schools are reflective of the Church.  For the Bishops, more than an institution, the Catholic schools are an environment where the faculty, the staff and the students are all promoting the common good and what is best for all.  “To manifest our concern and care for the welfare of the youth, suitable and well-trained campus ministers should be appointed for school youth. Chaplains for out-of-school youth should also be chosen from among the best young priests in the diocese. This concern will certainly bear fruit in a more effective ministry among the youth. It can also result in more vocations to the priesthood and religious life from among the young, and the emergence of lay leaders among them” (PCP II, no. 652).

In clear, for the Council Fathers, the youth are the Church, not only of the future but also of the present. We cannot ignore them and we cannot do without them. And “since youth constitutes a large and dynamic portion of the laity, the youth ministry should be assured of the fullest attention and highest priority in every way by all in the Church” (PCP II, Decrees, Art. 50, #2).

One Comment:

  1. some parishes in PH give enough attention to the youth but some are weak. this was one of the common concern during the sharing among the youth leaders and catechists on the JPII conference in Don Bosco, Makati two years ago. the youth likes to get enough support from the parish in thier activities, not just to leave them behind whatever they can.mostly young people they like a priest that can animate them, that can understand thier feelings and desires. PH youth howver, are very active and alive in thier parishes. it is obvious!

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