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World Youth Day: Holy Mother Church nourishing the Young

Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, MPA

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World Youth Day (WYD) gatherings always evoke a celebratory atmosphere. The excitement generated by the prospect of meeting new people, of praying together, and of sharing life experiences truly makes this gathering a festival of nations and a celebration of faith that is alive. Far from sounding self-reverential, the Church, I think, should be commended for starting and continuing this noble tradition that aims to empower the young as agents of faith and communicators of the Gospel.

With each WYD celebration, the question of how young people can make a difference in the life of the Church always comes to the fore. The young are usually seen as dynamic, creative, smart, and resourceful but for whatever talents they possess, they are casually judged as passive or less engaged in the more serious tasks at hand. It is said they exhibit anti-social behavior, thus alienating them from their families and society at large. While they are capable of cultivating relationship, it is often self-centered, leading to self-destruction. They create cliques and practically build a world of their own. But while these may not be apt descriptions of our young people today, perhaps it is safe to say the youth still and truly need the supervision and wise counsel of the old, as they chart their own place in this jungle called life.

The holy mother Church painstakingly fulfills this task of evangelizing and guiding the youth to make them authentic members and effective leaders later on. She carries the weight of reaching out to the young even though many of her institutional heads and members – bishops and priests – are old enough to be the youth’s grandfathers. Add to the fact that she teaches doctrines and principles that seemed hardly suited to their age in this era of rampant secularism. The challenges she bears at present far outweigh some of her many accomplishments in the past, thus a sense of triumphalism for those well-attended WYDs may yet be uncalled for. The task to mold and to influence the youth to be in the image of Jesus is a process that can take a lifetime.

We cannot, of course, judge the motive of the millions of youth who took the journey of a thousand miles just to participate in these World Youth Days. But because they are young, it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that some of them see it as an opportunity to explore the world. It may also be a chance to start new friendships and to determine cultural diversities. For others, it may simply be an occasion to see the Pope. For sure though, many of them want to journey with other young people as they try to deepen their faith through the Eucharist, spiritual talks and sharing, dancing, singing, eating, and praying even while there are difficulties in sleeping, the use of comfort rooms, and the raising of funds to finance the journey.

Fortunately for these young people, those small troubles hardly dampen their enthusiasm, elation, and ardor as they try to make sense of their World Youth Day participation. It must be the work of God’s grace. But I am curious though to know if these young people are still capable of exuding the same amount of fervor if those same activities and predicaments are celebrated and encountered in their parishes or communities.

In all likelihood, the members of Parish Youth Ministry (PYM) or Parish Youth Council (PYM), out of a sense of commitment, will emphatically say yes! But participants to World Youth Days also include those who don’t have affiliations to any religious community or group. They are neither exposed nor formed according to the spiritual nitty gritty of parish life. It would be good to know if they can now at least be actively engaged in parish life after all the hoopla surrounding their WYD experience.

The actual WYD, while attended by millions of enthusiastic young people worldwide, cannot be an accurate measure of the Church’s success in leading the young to live the Gospel values. The true measure, as echoed by the Pope, is not always celebratory in nature. What truly matters is what happens after everything has been done, that is when the challenge to the youth begins.

Hence, success actually becomes evident when young people do not now easily succumb to the temptations of the flesh by shunning pre-marital sex; when they become more prayerful than playful; when the Church becomes a home to them; when family becomes a priority more than friends; when foul language is replaced by kind words; when self-centeredness becomes an all-embracing attitude; and when rebellious character becomes an obedient spirit.

The Church as mother will never get tired of rearing her children, especially the young. She will continue to be a steady presence providing strength and fortitude to those whose faith are weakened. She will continue to seek out the lost and she will forever be a teacher even when her teachings seem to be a voice in the wilderness drowned by the echoes of materialism, secularism, and relativism, philosophies which unfortunately have apparently become more appealing to the young.

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