Father Conegundo Garganta (center), head of the Youth Ministry of the Philippine Catholic Bishops, speaks with Alyana Therese Pangilinan and Gerald Rey Coquia, who will represent the country at a pre-synodal meeting in Rome from March 19-24. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
Filipino delegates to a pre-synod gathering in Rome said Catholic Church leaders need to understand how young people live, think and communicate to be able to preach the Gospel.
About 300 young people from around the world will gather at the Vatican from March 19-24 for a five-day preparatory meeting for the Synod of Bishops with a youth theme in October.
"[Church leaders need] to understand and journey together with young people so that [they] will have that sense of belonging and support," said Alyana Therese Pangilinan from the Philippines.
The 23-year-old youth leader from Bacolod Diocese said it is important for the church and its leaders,"to listen and respond" to the concerns of young people as they face myriad issues.
Some quarters have expressed concern at the risk they face from extremist groups.
"It's very important to be accepting and to be a listening church," said Pangilinan, a member of the Christian Family Movement in her dioceses.
She said church leaders need to understand the "questions, hopes, fears and wounds of young people to be able to minister effectively to future generation."
The synod of bishops in October will focus on the theme of "faith and vocational discernment" among young people.
Gerald Rey Coquia, a 29-year-old youth leader from Palo Archdiocese, said there is an urgent need for priests and religious figures to engage the younger generation.
He said the church is supposed to be a "ministry of presence" and should have an "aggressive but tender embrace" for its members.
"This embrace should not cause pain, it should not be so tight that it hurts young people," said Coquia, who works in a local school.
"We are supposed to share the teachings of the church, but if no one knows or will give [the youth] these teachings then definitely there will be confusion among young people," he said.
Bishops' conferences around the world are expected to send participants to the preparatory meeting.
Pangilinan and Coquia went through a thorough screening process to represent the Philippines.
Father Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the Bishops' Commission on Youth, said Philippine Church leaders have been using "all possible means" to listen to young people.
The priest said the synod this year is an opportunity to clarify the concepts that the church has about young people and "come up with the language that will be fit in addressing their concerns."
"We speak the same language but how this language is used or delivered is a cause of hindrance for the church and for young people to meet," said Father Garganta.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said that while the church has its own views on where young people stand today, it is also important to hear opinions straight from the horse’s mouth.
"This will be an interesting synod where bishops will listen to young people, in order for them to actively help in shaping the mission of the church and the direction of the world," said the prelate.