The Church of Christ is alive. Through this conference, I hope you would experience the presence of Jesus in your lives, that you would love the Church more, and that you would share the Gospel with other people in humility and joy. Do not get tired of bringing the mercy of the Father to the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the young people, and the family. Bring Jesus now into the world of politics, business, arts, science, technology, and social media. Let the Holy Spirit renew creation and bring forth justice and peace in the Philippines and in the great continent of Asia that is so close to my heart.
— Message of Pope Francis to the Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization, October 16-18, University of Santo Tomas
What’s divine and at the same time somewhat disappointing about big conferences is the vast expanse and penetrating depth of discussions and documents available to participants keen to extract as much learning and networking from the event. One is guaranteed to miss far more than one can ever attend and absorb.
So it was with the Philippine Conference on the New Evangelization (PCNE) at the University of Santo Tomas on October 16-18. Just check out the topics, speakers, sessions, exhibitors, and other goings-on at pcne.com.ph, covering the Catholic Church’s paramount initiative to enliven the faith and make its message real and relevant to more and more of the world and humanity.
Each day featured more than a hundred talks. The first day, titled “Streams of Encounter with God,” focused on enriching the personal faith and love relationship with the Lord through Holy Scripture, prayer and healing, art and new media, and solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized. Among the offerings: “Beautifully Stained: Praying through Stained Glass Windows”; “The Wounded Spirit: Healing Those Hurt by the Church”; and “God in the YouTube.”
Day Two on “Pathways of Communion and Renewal” featured sessions on community Christianity, from family and parish to various congregations and the society at large, including non-Catholic and non-Christian dialogue. Talks addressed questions like: Why do some Catholics leave the Church? Why do some Catholics avoid or even ignore the Mass? — “Booooring!” Why do some Catholics feel that faith is irrelevant? Why is the Church so out of touch with the youth?
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle opened and closed the conference with masses at UST’s cavernous Quadricentennial Pavilion, the last eucharistic celebration punctuated by a video message from Pope Francis. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, offered the second day mass. Probably the most spiritually moving scene was the dark pavilion lit only by the candles of thousands of faithful at mass.
To his inexcusable oversight and immense regret, this writer missed the entire event despite having marked it in his calendar. And that is perhaps the very problem which the New Evangelization aims to address: how worldly concerns crowd out God and His love and message from people’s lives.
In recent months, one has spent most waking hours not just on everyday work and family, but also on such headline concerns as pork barrel, the Zamboanga siege, and most recently, the Bohol earthquake. Plus online teaching on business reporting and learning about organizational analysis. And more.
Not that such matters do not matter. Rather, in these and all other aspects of one’s life, one is enriched in meaning and enhanced in ability by constantly imbuing them with God’s grace and guidance. Plainly, the Christian who makes space and time for God in his or her world and life, turns every moment into a prayer and an offering to Him.
By the same token, rather than fleeing this world to focus on the next, Pope Francis’s video address to the PCNE urged: “… bringing the mercy of the Father to the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the young people, and the family. Bring Jesus now into the world of politics, business, arts, science, technology, and social media.”
So where does the believer begin in heeding the Holy Father’s call and advancing the New Evangelization’s goal of bringing Jesus Christ and His blessing and wisdom to humanity? Answer: Anywhere, for every nook and cranny of one’s life, world and being can use more spirituality and is always in constant danger of losing it.
Moreover, today’s increasingly secular planet is constantly pushing the divine off the radar. Every new generation is losing fervor, knowledge and interest in matters religious, while the quest for money and power dominates the lives and souls of billions.
Even in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, fewer than one in every ten young people are touched by Christianity, according to a survey several years ago. Many of them have nil interest in the Bible, the Eucharist, and the Church.
Quite simply, any which way a Christian may turn, even inward, and there is a niche waiting for the Lord.
The conference expounded upon countless ways to bring Jesus Christ where He is unknown, deemed irrelevant, but sorely needed. One hopes all or most of the PCNE talks are posted online in text or video files, and their resource persons invited by parishes, schools, and congregations nationwide to share their insights.
Even without those very inspiring and instructive lectures, however, the believer of whatever ability, learning and social class who wishes to be an evangelizer can already do so and make a difference. All that he or she has to do is say yes to the Lord and make some gesture or action, and His grace will rush in and turn that littlest of efforts into a churning cog in His all-encompassing renewal of the age and the cosmos.
Start by saying one additional prayer every week, then work your way to one more devotion a day. Formula devotions are fine, but do speak in your own words, too, about things that really matter to you: family, work, even your own faltering faith and your frustrations with God. He wants nothing more than to hear us straight from our hearts.
Going outside ourselves, spare a word or an act of kindness for someone whom you have had little to do with, maybe once a month. Over time, attend a weekday mass, and perhaps, organize a eucharistic celebration with a group in the community or the company. And without willfully provoking unhelpful arguments, share and stand up for your beliefs and your religion, especially as it applies to life, work and the world.
In sum, let us be vehicles for “the Holy Spirit [to]renew creation and bring forth justice and peace in the Philippines and in the great continent of Asia.” So help us God.