Bernardo M. Villegas
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Pope Francis and Filipino Youth

           When Pope Francis encounters the youth in the campus of the University of Sto.  Tomas, he will meet representatives of 50 percent of the Philippine population (those who are below 23 years) or, given a more generous definition of youth, 70 percent of the entire population (those who are below 30 years).  In the whole of East Asia, the Philippines has the lowest median age and is constantly praised by investment analysts as benefiting from a “young, growing, and English-speaking population.”  There is no question that the most valuable asset of the country is its young manpower, in contrast with the ageing populations of Northeast Asia and the whole of Europe.  With life expectancy  on a steady rise, these fortunate young Filipinos and Filipinas who will meet the Pope have at least the next fifty years of their lives to remember what Pope Francis will tell them this coming January 18, 2015.

          Without second guessing what the Pope will say, it would be useful for the young people of the Philippines to reflect on what he told the “young people of Asia” when he went to South Korea on the occasion of the Sixth Asian Youth Day.  Considering that the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in the whole of Asia, he would most likely repeat the message he delivered in Seoul:  “This great gathering of Asian young people…allows us to see something of what the Church herself is meant to be in God’s eternal plan.  Together with young people everywhere, you want to help build a world where we all live together in peace and friendship, overcoming barriers, healing divisions, rejection, violence and prejudice.  And this is exactly what God wants for us, for only us.  The Church is meant to be a seed of unity for the whole human family.  In Christ, all nations and peoples are called to a unity which does not destroy diversity but acknowledges, reconciles and enriches it.”

          The Pope is visiting the Philippines at the beginning of the year that will be remembered in the future as the starting point for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which can usher in greater economic prosperity for the ten nations comprising the Association of Southeast Asian nations with a total population of more  than 650 million.  With the prospects of more freedom in the flow of goods, services, capital, investment and people, there is the danger that traditional values will be undermined by a materialistic culture that gripped the nations in other parts of the world that have undergone the same process of economic advancement.  The Pope warned the youth of Asia about the dangers of materialism and consumerism:  “How distant the spirit of the world seems from that magnificent vision and plan!  How often the seeds of goodness and hope which we try to sow seem to be choked by weeds of selfishness, hostility and injustice, not only all around us, but also in our own hearts.  We are troubled by the growing gap in our societies between rich and poor.   We see signs of idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure which come at a high cost to human lives.  Closer to home, so many of our own friends and contemporaries, even in the midst of immense material prosperity, are suffering from spiritual poverty, loneliness and quiet despair.  God seems to be removed from the picture.  It is almost as though a spiritual desert is beginning to spread throughout our world.  It affects the young too, robbing them of hope and even, in all too many cases of life itself.”

            The Pope is entrusting a very heavy responsibility to the Catholic youth of the Philippines.  It cannot be less than what he entrusted to the young people of Asia in South Korea:  “…this is the world into which you are called to go forth and bear witness to the Gospel of hope, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the promise of the Kingdom.  In the parables, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom comes into the world quietly, growing silently yet surely wherever it is welcomed by hearts open to its message of hope and salvation.   The Gospel teaches us that the Spirit of Jesus can bring new life to every human heart and can transform every situation, even the most apparently hopeless.  This is the message which you are called to share with your contemporaries:  at school, in the workplace, in your families, your universities and your communities.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we know that he has ‘the word of eternal life’ (Jn6:68), that his word has the power to touch every heart, to conquer evil with good, and to change and redeem the world.”  Let all the young people of the Philippines who read these words—whether or not they will be in the UST campus on that fateful day—take upon themselves the spiritual challenge coming from the Vicar of Christ on Earth.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia