Bernardo M. Villegas
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Pope Francis to the Youth

           Exactly one year ago today, Pope Francis had an encounter with the youth at the campus of the University of Santo Tomas.  He had a prepared speech but decided to deliver an impromptu homily in Spanish which was translated into English by Msgr. Mark Gerard Miles.  Thanks to Rappler.com, among others, we have a copy of the full transcript of the prepared speech whose content has a very timely relevance as our nation prepares to elect our national and local political leaders next May 9, 2016.  Unwittingly, the Pope gave very specific criteria to the youth about the qualities that they should look for in leaders, whether in the public or private sectors.  People of business who regularly read this column can be a very important channel to communicate to the youth under their care as well as to those running for national and local elective positions what the Pope considers as the key areas where the youth can make a significant contribution to the common good.  Needless to say, these are also the areas in which the not so young should give the appropriate examples to the youth for them to heed the advice of the Pope.  We need role models for our youth.

          The first key area mentioned by the Pope is predictably the challenge of integrity.  He distinguished between two ways that the word “challenge” can be understood.  First, negatively, as a temptation to act against one’s moral convictions, what one knows to be true, good and right.  As is so blatantly obvious among some of the leading candidates for top positions, integrity can be challenged by selfish interest, greed, dishonesty, or the willingness to use other people.  In the wrong forms of capitalism, as the Pope frequently points out, these temptations are also quite widespread.  Let those business leaders who have signed the Integrity Pledge being fostered by the Makati Business Club and the European Chamber of Commerce actively campaign among the youth to second the message of the Pope.

          The Pope also pointed out that “challenge” can be understood positively:   “It can be seen as an invitation to courage, a summons to bear prophetic witness to what you believe and hold sacred.  In this sense, the challenge of integrity is something which you have to face now, at this time in your lives.  It is not something you can put off until you are older or have greater responsibilities.  Even now you are challenged to act with honesty and fairness in your dealings with others, young and old alike.  Do not avoid the challenge!  One of the greatest challenges young people face is learning to love.  To love means to take a risk: the risk of rejection, the risk of being taken advantage of, or worse, of taking advantage of another.  Do not be afraid to love!  But in love, too, maintain your integrity!  Here too, be honest and fair!”   These remarks of the Pope remind me of what I heard Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga tell some student leaders that he does not believe in the integrity of a leader—whether in business or politics—who cheats on his wife.  How can we expect someone who cheats the closest person in his life not to cheat others!  And to top it all, some candidates for important positions openly boast about being two-timing husbands!

          The second area mentioned by the Pope is concern for the environment.  Since his trip to the Philippines, he has expanded this advice into a major papal document entitled Laudato Si or Concern for Our Common Home.  In his prepared speech to the Filipino Youth, he made special mention that the Philippines, more than many other countries, is likely to be seriously affected by climate change.  But over and above this circumstance, the youth (and all of us) are called to care for creation not only as responsible citizens, but also as followers of Christ!  As he wrote:  “Respect for the environment means more than simply using cleaner products or recycling what we use.  These are important aspects, but not enough.  We need to see, with the eye of faith, the beauty of God’s saving plan, the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person.  Men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, and given dominion over creation.  As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family.  When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.”

          The next six years will be crucial in our implementing policies and action programs to protect the physical environment.   This was made very clear by world leaders in their recent meeting in Paris.  At both the national and local levels, the people we elect should be exemplary in their “care of our common home.”  Together with responsible people in business—especially in such sectors as mining, agribusiness, manufacturing, energy and tourism—public officials should be especially vigilant to heed the advice given by Bishops in a prophetic Pastoral Letter cited by the Pope.  The Bishops asked everyone to think about the moral dimension of their activities and lifestyles, their consumption and their use of the earth’s resources.  The Pope seconded the wishes of the Bishops by asking the youth to be responsible in the use of the earth’s resources in the context of their own lives.  He exhorted them to be concerned about what is happening “to your beautiful land!”  I fervently hope that the leaders we will elect in May 2016 will set the right examples to our youth so that they will be motivated to listen to the Pope

          Finally, the Pope ended with the very theme of his entire visit to the Philippines:  love for the poor and the needy.  As far as both the State and business are concerned, I have written abundantly on the policies and programs that can address the problem of mass poverty in the Philippines.  The Pope, however, descends to the level of the lives and personal behavior of the youth themselves:  “No matter how much or how little we have individually, each one of us is called to personally reach out and serve our brothers and sisters in need.  There is always someone near us in need, materially, emotionally, spiritually. The greatest gift we can give to them is our friendship, our concern, our tenderness, our love for Jesus.  To receive Jesus is to have everything; to give him is to give the greatest gift of all.”   We should never forget that there are people in need who are not materially poor.  A faithful follower of Christ should realize that the worst kind of poverty is spiritual.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia