PH church needs to strengthen ties with youth—theologian

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Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ emphasized the need for the Church to reach out to the younger sector of society, as they are not only the future but already the present.

MANILA, Oct. 25, 2013—With the Philippine church being continuously buffeted by influences of secularization, there is a greater need for it to reconnect with the young to sustain and actualize the mission of new evangelization, a renowned theologian said. 

Speaking before thousands of delegates during the first Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE), Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ noted the challenges faced by the modern church, emphasizing the need for it to spread devotion not just to those who are already blessed with religiosity, but more importantly to the young and poor members of the society who have distanced themselves from the church. 

“What we need here in the Philippines and in the whole Asia is a young church,” Arevalo said, noting that the Philippine population is predominantly composed of the youth below 25 years of age. “So the Church cannot neglect the young. The young are not the future of the Church, they are the present already.” 

“One of the great problems of the Church is that we have been paying too much attention to those who are already converted, to those who are already, hopefully, in the hands of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said. 

“Have we lost the young or have the young lost us? The problem in the Philippines is not like in other countries where the young are turning away from the Church, or that the young do not like the Church, or the young are angry with the Church. That’s not our problem. Our problem is that we have largely just lost contact with the Church,” he said. 

In his talk dubbed “Popular Devotions and the New Evangelization” on the second day of the PCNE, Arevalo cited the McCann Erickson group survey, which shows that if the high attrition rate in the Philippine church will remain unchanged, it will no longer be a predominantly Catholic country by the middle of the present century. 

My answer to this is that there is a special intervention of God…and it will not be like that. One of the purposes why we are here today is to make sure that we are not withdrawing,” he said, expressing high hopes that the Philippine Church will remain steadfast amid the odds. 

Loss of faith 

Arevalo also noted the disconnection that springs from theological teachings being taught in seminaries and universities with the gradual declining of faith among the faithful. 

Noting the words of a German professor, Arevalo said: “In the last 60 or 70 years we have had four great theological systems developed in Europe. Just give the names: the Dominicans, (Edward) Schillebeeckx; the Jesuits, (Karl) Rahner; Hans Urs von Baltasar, Joseph Ratzinger, these are great theologians. While they were writing these magnificent works which nobody would deny were really magnificent, the people lost the faith.” 

“We are importing all these which could do nothing on the loss of the faith. We are not developing a theology, a kind of a language, a kind of expression which would mean something to our people, to our youth,” he added. 

As an answer to this looming trend, Arevalo said that it is better to first reach out to the young people by contextualizing the teachings of the church not with the overtly technical and highfalutin concepts of theological teaching, but with the layman perspective that reaches and touches people more deeply. 

“If we are going to talk to the young, we cannot speak of the largely imported, largely irrelevant, pseudo intellectualism which they do not understand,” he said, noting the church’s mission of reaching out and bringing the faith back to those young people who have wandered away from the church. 

Popular religiosity 

Arevalo also noted the popular religiosity practiced by Filipinos, noting that it is through this form of faith expression that manifests the faithful’s deep devotion to the Divine. 

“Popular religion is not something shallow or naïve, ignorant or base, but something of profound faith, hope and love, and the work of grace and Spirit among the poor at the peripheries,” Arevalo said, citing the one of the conclusions of the Synod of 1974. 

“Every Filipino is a Catholic with joy and exuberance. For us, we are not retreating, we are not ashamed to profess that we are Catholics, that we love Jesus, we love Mary and that the whole meaning of our lives is to bring Jesus and Mary into the world,” he said. 

“This is the whole meaning of this seminar on new evangelization. When you move out of this hall, (you’ll have) new ardor, our hearts burning, to bring Jesus into a world that needs Him now,” he added. 

The PCNE was held at the University of Santo Tomas from October 16 to 18. The celebration serves as the “humble contribution” of the Philippine Church for the celebration of the Year of Faith. 

The renowned theologian noted two special forms of popular religiosity which, according to him, “have to be reawakened”—the veneration of the various images of Christ and the Blessed Mother. 

Arevalo said that the Filipinos have a notable expression of faith when it comes to the images of Christ such as the crucifix, Black Nazarene, and Santo Entierro, among others. 

“The poor go to Jesus to get this strength. This strength and courage do not pass through the hands of the priests and the sisters, even, it comes from God,” he said. 

“Not a single image dominates in our devotion to Jesus. There is Jesus on the cross especially in past times, his stripes, wounds, and blood are so vividly portrayed in such harrowing details,” Arevalo added. 

He then noted that the devotion of Filipinos to the Blessed Virgin Mother—as manifested by their veneration to different Marian images—exemplifies their devotion to the Divine Son. 

“Devotion to Our Lady, the Immaculate, the Lady of the Rosary, she of the Perpetual Help, of Peace and Good Journeying, whatever the title, wherever we venerate her she embodies in her person as no one else can, our faith in her son, our adherence to his person, our belonging to the Church, our hope for the Kingdom of the Father,” Arevalo said. 

Faith and imagination 

Noting the words of the former Dominican Master General Timothy Radcliffe, OP, who described New Evangelization as “imagination”, Arevalo urged the faithful to bring their imagination “back to the service of faith.” 

“Bring imagination back to the service of the faith…for with the imagination comes the emotions, and with the emotions come the heart,” he said. 

“In almost every meeting of Asian bishops since 1980, the Asian bishops have been constantly saying that the evangelization in Asia…is not primarily cerebral,” he said. 

“The use of the intellect, the use of the brains, the teaching of the doctrines, all that is indispensable and necessary but the approach to evangelization…with the Asians you have to start with the stories, the songs, with the symbols, with the heart.” 

“Bring imagination back in the service of the Church…That’s the way Asians go to Christ,” Arevalo said. (Jennifer Orillaza)

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