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Let the young renew the Church

“Are we youth ready?” This was the striking question posed to the participants of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) VI: Filipino Youth Walking with Jesus, held recently. The conference was about finding new ways of evangelizing and reaching out to today’s youth, following the Synod of Bishops on the Youth in 2018 and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) proclamation of this year as the Year of the Youth. The conference aimed “to listen, give a safe space, and allow them (the youth) to teach us,” said Fr. Jason Laguerta, director of the PCNE. “It is their world now, in case we haven’t noticed.”

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority’s 2015 Census Population show that almost 60 percent of the country’s total population is 30 years old and younger. This demographic, said Father Laguerta, “is what we have in society; is this what we have in the Church?”

The noticeable absence of many young people in the Church can be traced to several factors. Some teachings of the Church go against the liberal views that many young people now subscribe to. The ritualistic way of doing things in the Church may also be perceived as rigid, unappealing and boring. The “preachy” language of the pastors may estrange the youth, as well as the lack of space for them to participate.

Their absence in the Church may be what sociologists refer to as social disorganization, manifested in the rise in the level of alienation felt by individuals—that he/she is not significantly related to other human beings or traditions, such as the Church, in this case.  This feeling of alienation results in a “sense of rootlessness, of nonparticipation, of being another stranger in the lonely crowd.”

Indeed, many young people today see themselves as strangers in the Church. The universal Church’s Synod of Bishops on the Youth, the local Church’s Year of the Youth, and the PCNE VI are attempts to respond to this situation by getting to know the youth better, responding to and communing with them.

Psychologist Rollo May suggested that to overcome alienation, one should “be able to experience themselves as contributing persons in the community.” When one bought a pair of shoes from a shoemaker in the Middle Ages, he said, the shoemaker would have felt a deep and simple satisfaction every morning seeing the customer walk by his shop wearing the shoes that he made.

Thus, for estranged young people to become contributing agents in the mission of the Church, they need to have a seat at the table; they need to be heard and be part of the solutions to the ills that plague the Church and the society it serves. The Church should value and utilize the diverse talents and energies of the young to spread the Good News.

Perhaps this, then, is an opportune time for social reorganization within the Church. This entails revisiting the relationships of the young and the young-at-heart in the institution, the leadership style of the shepherds, and our communication systems.

Above all, this reorganization would require meeting the young people where they are. Their evolved, liberal views should be welcomed with dialogue, not with condemnation or discrimination. Their ideas and ways of doing things should be listened to and integrated into the Church’s programs and activities. And their means of communication, especially in an era of rapid technological change, should be understood and learned by the rest of the faithful.

Basically, let us allow the presence of the young to renew the Church. As Klaus Schwab said: “The biggest change in the world today is that the young don’t learn from the old, they teach the old about the world today.” By learning from young people, we don’t only make them the future, we make them “the ‘now’ of God” (Christus Vivit, Ch.3).

First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Cover photo from the Facebook page of the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization.