Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Sense in #hugot: Young People Are Speaking Out Their Hearts, is the Church Listening?

By Sem. Maximilian B. Estayo
     It is impossible for anyone of us in these times of social media dominance to never have heard of those snappy repartees called hugot lines. Externally, these spontaneous expressions common among young people of today may appear as spur-of-the-moment deadpan reactions.
     However, on closer scrutiny, they reveal a person's inner feelings, on what is going deep inside his being. In our class of seminarians in theology, our professor after an exhausting discussion on a difficult topic would announce a furlough and say, "Let's have a break!" Instantly, one or two students would holler from behind, "Aray, ang sakit!" (Ouch that hurts!), bewildering the clueless teacher. Until some of the students, after having a good laugh, would explain the expression, with emphasis on the word "break," as imitating a response to a friend's – or perhaps, in the distant past, to a girlfriend's – declaration of a break-up from a relationship. This is hugot at work.
      Whoever coined the word hugot to describe these short and humor-inducing but thought-eliciting one-liners can be commended for his exactness. In the English language, there seems to be no direct equivalent of the word. But when we hear of it, we think of something that is being drawn out from one's innermost sentiments, like a precious metal being extracted from the deepest recesses of the earth. If this is the language of today's generation, it pays to hear what they say. It cannot be just empty articulations "for from the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Lk. 6:45).
      The Catholic Church has been known to have a preferential option for the youth - much as it does for the poor. Enshrined in the Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines is the commitment that the “youth ministry should be assured of the fullest attention and highest priority in every way by all in the Church." Certainly, the measures to attain this vision were never lacking.
     In 1986, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines approved the creation of the Episcopal Commission on the Youth to address youth ministry concerns. This effort recognizes the distinctive needs and aspirations of the youth as requiring an appropriate response from the Mother Church. Hence, in this way, young people are incorporated into the functions of the Church, while they receive formation in the faith and shielded from the dangers that confront them in this modern age.
      The Church cannot deny that young people have a special role in society and within the Church structure itself. Pope Benedict XVI affirmed them with his address to the World Youth Day 2011: "...“your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church.” In the foreword to the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, he exhorted the youth: “Do not...flee from the face of God! You yourselves are the body of Christ, the Church! Bring the undiminished fire of your love into this Church whose countenance has so often been disfigured by man.”
      In the Philippines, the youth make up a quarter of the country's 97 million population according to the 2010 government census. For the Church to ignore them, therefore, would mean taking away an important pillar to build Christ's church here on earth.
      On the other hand, it is delightful to see the dioceses harness the power of the youth in their various ministries and apostolate. The Archdiocese of Manila, the nation's mother diocese, for instance, is aggressive in forming youth ministries. Youth servant-leaders are chosen and instructed on the faith, and then assigned roles at the parish, vicariate and district levels. The youth leaders are brought together to a wider umbrella group at the diocesan level where they get to share more of Christ's mission of service and evangelization.
      At the same time, the other youth organizations and movements within the parishes are encouraged and commended to work with one another to achieve their shared goals. Ministries are also present to serve those living in dormitories and those studying in schools, so they also get the chance to serve the Church in their own situatedness.
      Now, it is common to see young people leading or assisting in the Mass as lectors, commentators and sacristans. They are also heavily assimilated into the basic ecclesial societies, their "home communities" where they get trained by their immediate elders.
      In a specific example in St. John of the Cross Parish in Pembo, Makati City, a booming parish east of the central business district, one of the seven Sunday Masses is assigned to the youth. The youth take care of everything - except to say the Mass - from the singing to the serving at the altar. This is evidently a powerful illustration of the "highest priority" being given to the youth ministry for they are being made responsible for the Church's most important liturgical celebration.
      Be that as it may, still some questions linger. How far has the Church engaged the youth? Aside from the practice of servanthood in the parishes and vicariates, beside the catechism on the faith given to them on weekends, how has the Church profoundly communicated with the youth? Has she drawn them to an intimate reflection on their faith amidst the increasing secularism of today's world and amidst their own daily sufferings?
      The insights and reflections of the youth, perhaps more than their Sunday servitude, are compelling elements that could enrich the Catholic faith. Their triumphs over the material lures of the world, even their anguish from problems in the family can be shared with others.
     Pope Francis says in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that "whenever we attempt to read the signs of the times, it is helpful to listen to the young people....Young people call us to a renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future" (EG, 108).
      The well-loved Jesuit pope was himself dumbfounded when Filipino youth and victim of poverty Glyzelle Palomar asked him during a youth encounter in Manila in January 18, 2015 why God allows children to suffer.
      The pope - and this is pastoral care at its best form - humbly admitted to not having the answer and only offered consoling words to the teary eyed Palomar and the audience that was in tears with her, "Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something." He went on to say, "let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer, she did this in tears. The response that we can make today is: let us really learn how to weep."
      In my own experience, a friend of mine who has suffered from the rejection of his father asked me: Why does one's greatest hurt have to come from your family, from the ones you love the most? I wanted to say that it is exactly the price of loving. You cannot love without being hurt. When you love, be prepared to get hurt. It is like saying the time of your death was already set on the day you were born. Now, it makes it moot and academic – your family will hurt you the most because it is they you love the most. But it is also true that with them you experience the highest joy. But I stopped dead on my tracks and, imitating Pope Francis, I just listened to my friend.
      Indeed, what father would give his child a snake if he asked for fish? (cf. Lk. 11:11). God, certainly more loving than any father we can find on earth, does not want his children, let alone the young ones, to experience pain. But they have to undergo some hurts to know how it is to live.
      God shows us the depth of his merciful love – at great pain to himself – when he allowed his only son to die for our sins. Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church #9 says, “Through Jesus Christ, He becomes a man like us. This shows us how far God’s love goes: He bears the whole burden. He walks every path with us. He is there in our abandonment, our sufferings, our fear of death. He is there when we can go no farther, so as to open up for us the door leading into life.”
      The youth of today can perhaps find sense in their own sufferings if they have someone to accompany them. They need to be listened to. They need someone to embrace them as they face the difficulties of their daily battles, not unscathed. For every story of a youth dressed in immaculate white serving with the priest in the altar are two stories more of a youth wasted in poverty, torn by parents working overseas, or destroyed by drug addiction or sexual abuse.
      Why do we, in the first place, need to undergo wounding? Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church #102 teaches us that our suffering becomes meaningful if it is "united with the sufferings of Christ." St. Peter tells us, "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps" (1 Peter 2:21).
      Pope John XXIII also teaches us in Mater et Magistra (p. 257): "Animated, too, by the charity of Christ, [a Christian] finds it impossible not to love his fellow man. He makes his own their needs, their sufferings and their joys."
      St. Teresa of Calcutta offers a beautiful insight on this sacrificial love: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
      But the youth need someone to understand these and appreciate the value of these experiences. They need a pastor who will journey with them and explain to them with loving patience the mystery of their experiences as Jesus did to his two disciples on the way to Emmaus.
      It is in fact a challenge posed by the 21st International Eucharistic Congress. In its basic text, particularly in its discussion on "Mission in Dialogue with the Youth," published ahead of the gathering held in Cebu in January 2016, the Congress exhorted: "Youth pastoral care mean accompanying them in their journey, which is not easy, on account of the rapid and drastic changes that are happening around them but also of the dramatic changes they are going through physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually at this stage of human development." "This kind of pastoral care," it went on to say, "is directed toward preparing the ground before the sowing, softening it, making it receptive."
      The Church, with the help of its pastors, should draw them to the Eucharist. The same text said, "The Church's mission today includes directing young people toward the Eucharist for sustenance in the face of their many uncertainties and questions. From their Eucharistic encounter with Christ in word and sacrament are offered enlightenment and guidance in their quest for meaning and purpose in life."
      It is here where the youth finally finds the meaning for their sufferings – in Jesus’ vicarious suffering for the sins of humanity.
      If the Church is at a loss where to find the youth in the frenzy of everyday life, it needs only to look at the tell-tale signs of their whereabouts. And they can be found with the help of those ubiquitous hugot lines spoken in youth gatherings and in social media.
      When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, the youth was daunted and desired to back out, "Oh Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth" (Jer. 1:6). God’s response certainly provided the template for the modern Church’s own preferential option for the youth: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth.’ For to all whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7).
      The youth of today may not be as introverted, but they need someone to unravel the hidden message of their angst, and to listen to the voice of their hearts already expressed in the popular language of the day.
      If they find a pastor who can understand them and guide them through their travails, the Church wins  persons with whom she can impart the mission of Christ. Once ministered, the youth can be developed to minister to others. Thus in this way the youth ministry achieved its fullness, as envisioned by the national conference of bishops.