by Fr. Wilfredo Samson, SJ
WHEN Zamboanga City was chosen as the host for this year’s National Youth Day this November, everybody was asking “Why in Zamboanga? Is the city ready to host a big national youth event? What can Zamboanga offer to the youth of today?” I just smiled. Coming from someone who has lived in Zamboanga for ten years, my immediate reply was, “More than the youth can imagine!”
The City of Zamboanga has lots of things to offer to the NYD youth pilgrims. First, the city offers a colorful, diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions from three sources: Christian, Islam, and Indigenous People. Second, the Zamboanga Peninsula was a historical mission area in our Church history. In this city, Christian religious missionaries played a vital role in the promotion of faith and justice.
Zamboanga City is indeed a perfect place for this year’s National Youth Day, as the youth all over the country, will journey together from Nov. 6 – 10, 2017, to discover their giftedness, identity, and calling as children of Mary and disciples of Jesus.
At the end of this five-day celebration of faith, it is our dream that they will see themselves as agents of change for our Church and for our country. Therefore, it is our hope that this gathering would be a perfect time for three things: First, an opportunity to form our youth as future leaders and missionaries. Second, a good time to enrich our faith through prayerful liturgies and sharing. Third, the NYD 2017 is good time to affirm the youth’s role in the Church’s evangelization effort. It is our desire that through this gathering, our youth will be more sensitive to the issues of our society, and be more deeply engaged in building God’s Kingdom.
This year’s National Youth Day was designed to assist our millennial youth to deepen their “sense of mission” and “personal care” through Mary’s example. In our present situation where our youth seem detach from the hard realities of life, through this gathering, we hope to assist them to know the art of discernment and critical thinking. What the Church needs now are young leaders and bearers of faith who have a heart for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. We need young people who are “on fire” and deeply committed to uphold justice, peace, and truth. We need young who can read the signs of times and actively respond to the issues and concerns of our society.
The road to NYD 2017 Zamboanga is quite challenging. And the declaration of martial law in Mindanao makes it more challenging. Some parishes have expressed their concern with regard to the safety of the young pilgrims in Zamboanga City.
I have two things I want to tell the youth pilgrims:
First, Zamboanga is safe and secure. The Archdiocese of Zamboanga and the local government officials have already announced the readiness of the city to host the NYD. The pilgrims are perfectly safe in Zamboanga. Set aside your fears and anxieties. We are NYD-READY on all fronts!
Second, as young evangelizers of the Church, sailing to Zamboanga is an opportunity to go to the frontier. Pope Francis dares us to go to the peripheries of our society. And like our Mother Mary, we should “run in haste” and be with our Elizabeths – the lost, least, and lonely. This year’s National Youth Day theme proclaims, “The Lord has done great things for us, holy is his name.” To see that we are blessed with so many things in life, thus, we are compelled to bless others, especially the less fortunate.
As November 2017 comes closer, let us ask our Mother Mary to intercede for the youth, that our young National Youth Day pilgrims to Zamboanga will return home to their parishes, totally aware of their giftedness and mission, and ever ready to commit themselves to serve our country and our God.
To all our youth pilgrims for this year’s NYD gathering, see you in Zamboanga City!