The sixth Philippine Conference on New Evangelization, a four-day gathering of more than 5,000 Filipino Catholics organized by the Office for the Promotion of the New Evangelization (OPNE) and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, was once again held at the University of Santo Tomas from July 18 to 21, 2019.
With the theme “Filipino Youth: Walking with Jesus,” the Conference was in consonance with the 2019 theme, “Filipino Youth in Mission: Beloved, Gifted, & Empowered,” that was declared by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines as part of its nine-year preparation for the quincentennial anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in 2021.
In the perspective setting, OPNE Director Fr. Jason Laguerta quoted Christus vivit, an apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis about young people, faith, and vocational discernment, and said, “The young people are the present of the Church, ‘the now of God.’ This is the mindset that we are supposed to cultivate at PCNE – to pivot toward the young. They are here; they are not going away. [Is the Church] ready for the young people? For as long as there are young people who have one foot ready to move forward, then we will have hope and we will never give up.”
The first day of the Conference focused on the encounter with clergy and consecrated persons. The Opening Eucharistic Celebration was presided by Episcopal Commission on Mutual Relations between Bishops and Religious Chairman and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Most. Rev. Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.. A biblio-drama by the Dulaan Tobias Foundation, a 25-year old community theater group from Tondo, Manila, was also featured. Kalookan Bishop Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, D.D., served as speaker on “Interpreting: Jesus Ever Young,” while Papal Knight and Head of the English Desk for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication Sean-Patrick Lovett spoke on “Using the Medium, Being the Message.”
On the second day, which was open for all participants whether lay or clergy, the Misa ng Bayang Pilipino (Mass of the Philippine Nation) was presided by Daet Bishop Most Rev. Rex Andrew C. Alarcon, D.D.
Bishop Alarcon encouraged Catholics to help guide young people to find answers to their questions. “The youth have very brave questions [regarding faith and truth], many of which, we, the elders cannot answer,” he said.
The Bishop emphasized that people need “to walk with the youth in search of the truth” by giving them a “sense of belongingness” and to help them “exercise their freedom to develop mature commitments.”
“If we still cannot answer [the youth’s] many questions, it is important that they feel that they have someone with them in search of the truth,” he explained.
It was a sentiment echoed by Episcopal Commission on Youth Chairman and Bangued Bishop Most Rev. Leopoldo C. Jaucian, S.V.D., in his homily for the Eucharistic Celebration on the third day of PCNE VI. “My dear young people, you are the treasure of the Church. You are the joy of the Church and you are the power of the Church,” said Bishop Jaucian.
On the same day, a panel discussion on “A Listening and Accompanying Church,” moderated by Fr. Jade Licuanan and Sr. Helen Palacay, FMIJ, was held. Speakers were: The Feast Youth High Head Benedict Sanchez, Catholic lay preacher and Feast Builder Bro. Audee Villaraza, St. Paul University Manila (SPUM) College of Music and Performing Arts (CMPA) Dean Sr. Maria Anunciata Sta. Ana, SPUM CMPA Chairperson Dr. Raul Sunico, Mary Help of Christians College Theology professor Ma. Socorro Villafania, Evangelion Foundation Values Formation facilitator Nelson Villafania, and their son, John Mari Villafania.
For the “Hungry Souls, Holy Companions” panel discussion, speakers were: spoken word poet Serge Gabriel, Catholic praise band “Where’s The Sheep?” member Michael Shimamoto, and Bukas Palad Music Ministry Founder Fr. Manoling Francisco, S.J.
The final day of PCNE VI featured praise and worship sessions, a play titled “Youth Journey – Genesis to Jesus,” and a concert titled “A Musical Narrative of Darkness and Light.”
Heart to Heart with Cardinal Chito
In his annual talk show segment for PCNE, Manila Archbishop His Eminence Most Rev. Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, D.D., listened to and highlighted the joys, pains, anxieties, and hopes of the youth. Guests were: Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament Member Atty. Anna Tarhata Basman, young TV personalities Robi Domingo and Rhys Eugenio, former captain of the UST Golden Tigresses and UAAP Season 81 Most Valuable Player Cherry Ann “Sisi” Rondina, Catholic Connect LLC President and COO Austin M.D. Quick, and The Light of Jesus and The Feast Founder Bro. Bo Sanchez.
On the challenges faced by the youth in terms of their reception of the Word of God, Sanchez pointed out the need for mentors. “They need authentic real people who can mirror God’s love. [The youth] will not know God’s love on a theoretical level, if they do not experience it through you, through your personal relationship [with the person you want to bring closer to God].
Quick highlighted another need, saying that “The youth want to be heard, and they have to have an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ. They want the Church, the leaders and people in the Church, to be honest with them, to be real with them, to see them as peers that have a voice, because they have something to offer. [The youth are] an exceptional generation. They have so many tools and so many gifts. If the Church just taps into this room alone, think of what the Archdiocese of Manila and the Church can do.”
Cardinal Tagle added saying, “The whole Church can learn something from [the youth]. The elders do have valuable lessons to share with them, but now, the challenge is for the young people to share with the rest of the community their wisdom, because they know this present world better than we do.”
On the struggles of youth in a minority situation, Basman, a Muslim lawyer who studied in a Catholic high school in Manila, spoke of her drive to see her difference as a strength. She advised youth who are bullied, who feel as if they don’t fit in, to acknowledge the feeling of being different, but “to rise above it, since uniqueness is ‘in’ right now. So make it a source of your strength. You can’t change who you are, but you can use it to your advantage.”
Rondina, who grew up in Cebu and received an athletic scholarship from the University of Santo Tomas, shared her experience of working for their neighbors and playing in local volleyball leagues to support herself and her family. “Masaya ako na kahit sobrang hirap, nakatutulong ako sa pamilya ko. Nagsikap ako, disiplina, at nanalig.” (I’m happy that even though I had difficult experiences, I was able to help my family. I persevered, remained disciplined, and had faith.)
“Thankful ako sa Diyos na binigay sa ‘kin ‘yung talent na ‘to. Dahil diyan, nakapagtapos po ‘yung dalawa kong ate sa college, and natulungan ko po ‘yung kapatid ko na mag-aral dito [sa UST],” said Rondina. (I’m thankful to the Lord for giving me the talent [to play volleyball]. Because of that, I was able to support my [older] sisters and they finished college, and I was able to help my [younger] sibling to study in UST.”
Domingo and Eugenio, who both shot to fame from the live reality show Pinoy Big Brother, talked on the challenges of growing up in the spotlight and under the scrutiny of the public. “Whenever it’s hard, I used to stress myself out. But later on in life, I realized that, there’s no use [doing that]. If there’s something happening and I can’t do anything about it, I’m gonna place that in God’s hands. And if I can do something about, I’m gonna try my best and also pray, because if I do my best, God’s gonna handle the rest.”
The path of a celebrity may lead to financial success despite the emotional struggle that can come from being judged constantly. However, TV personality Robi Domingo advised that, when it comes to handling the returns of their double-edged career, it is not enough to invest financially, “but [it is more important to] invest in your character, invest in your connections, and most especially, invest in your faith. If you go into this kind of industry, kailangan mo ng kakapitan, at ‘yung pinaka matinding kakapitan mo, ang ating Panginoon.” (You need something to cling to, and the best one to be your foundation is the Lord.)
Our Lady of Piat
Gracing the Conference was the image of Our Lady of the Visitation of Piat that was brought from Macau to the Philippines by the Dominican Fathers in 1604. The image of the Madonna and the Child Jesus both hold handkerchiefs that represent both Our Lady’s maternal comfort and love, as she dries the tears and wipes the sweat of those who call for her help. After the closing Eucharistic Celebration, presided by Manila Archbishop His Eminence Most Rev. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, D.D., and concelebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio His Excellency Most Rev. Gabriele Giordano Caccia, D.D., Second Counselor Msgr. Gabriel Viola of the Apostolic Nunciature, Bangued Bishop Most Rev. Leopoldo C. Jaucian, S.V.D., Office for the Promotion of New Evangelization Director Fr. Jason Laguerta, and UST Vice Rector for Religious Affairs Rev. Fr. Pablo Tiong, O.P., participants held out and waved their white handkerchiefs, given by PCNE organizers with the inscription “Behold, I am with you always,” as the faithful sang a song of devotion in honor of Our Lady of Piat.
In a final message at the closing of PCNE, Cardinal Tagle encouraged everyone to “Stay online with Jesus! Christ is alive!” by sending this as a message to the community through social media posts and mobile text messages.