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Young laity engage in transforming Asia

Fondacio Asia is implementing formation programs for a diverse group of young people to enable them to be leaders of projects and missions for the Church and the society. Friendship with Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the missionary zeal that animates them.

Tugso, 27, a young graduate, comes from the mountain steppes of Mongolia. In 2014, she started an empowerment program for women living in extreme poverty in a rural area. By making and marketing products made by hand and felt sewing, they were able to augment their financial income and build a community of families.

Martin, 30, married to Victoria, and a young father, manages a goat-breeding livelihood project called “Green Pasture” near Mandalay, Myanmar. The couple also serve as the only teachers and catechists in their village. Seeing the extreme poverty and the lack of any proper school during his internship, he decided to set up the project for the education of the village children, at the same time, providing extra income for the families.

James, 28, from Laos, facilitates a program which teaches life skills – English, computer, work ethics, self-management, professional development, livelihood, among others. It helps young people to be employed and stand on their own feet, and reduces the risk of migration and trafficking. His wife, Amala, also serves locally with an NGO.

Jhimus, 24, from the Philippines, is actively involved in youth ministry in his home diocese of Legazpi and facilitates personal formation and catechesis as a way of doing faith formation among the youth.

Tugso, Martin, James, and Jhimus are all alumni of the Institute of Formation Fondacio Asia (IFFAsia). IFFAsia started as a little seed in Manila, in 2006, and has sprouted to reach out to other countries, counting 180 young adults coming from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and Pakistan.

Friendship with jesus christ

“Formation at IFFAsia is not just about acquiring knowledge and skills needed to become an effective missionary disciple. It is also about growing in friendship with Jesus Christ and an ongoing conversion,” emphasizes Alice Tan, the director of IFFAsia. “It is this friendship, central to Fondacio’s spirituality, which brings about transformation and humanization of persons, relations and society.” She points out precisely that this is what Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, teaches as the fundamental message that must be shared with all: “the personal love of God who became man, who gave Himself up for us, who is living and who offers His salvation and His friendship” (n. 128). “This is also what we want IFFAsia’s graduates to bring to the mission field,” adds Alice.

One can observe how this friendship is manifested in these young leaders. What continues to push Martin to develop the livelihood and education program is the passionate care that he has for his people, the poor villagers and, particularly, the children who benefit from the project. For him, all children, no matter how economically limited their families are, deserve to have good education. Just as Jesus was compassionate towards the marginalized during His time, Martin feels the same for those around him.

The graduates of IFFAsia work in different mission fields in their respective countries and churches. It includes youth and children ministry, campus ministry, catechism, education and evangelization. In the area of social development, the graduates work with urban or rural poor, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, and marginalized women. Others are into community building, working with dioceses and parishes. A few graduates have gone on to pursue the religious or priestly vocation. Still, others have decided to stay on with the Institute as interns, building themselves up as formators for its succeeding generation of students.

Challenges and partnerships

Doing mission is not without its challenges and difficulties. For Tugso and the women, they had to deal with the substandard quality of the initial batch of products, the expensive raw materials and the marketing of their products. She also had to handle the self-centeredness of the women and their difficulty to understand the goal of the program. James had to struggle with his local situation and limited resources while setting up the program. Among others, the level of education, budget, cleanliness, were points of concern and learning.

IFFAsia is well aware of these different realities because they serve as learning points during the formation program at the Institute. The graduates’ initiative is tested. Certainly, it encourages them to be more courageous and creative in dealing with situations. On their own, or with Fondacio’s help, these young missionaries have also built partnerships to help sustain the programs.

It was easier for Tugso to work with the Consolata Missionaries in Mongolia because they were the ones who introduced her to the Catholic faith. She also developed partnerships with local state offices, NGOs that conducted trainings and seminars, and individuals who partly funded the program. Jhimus has the full support of his bishop who, in fact, has encouraged him to implement his youth catechesis program in all the parishes in the diocese. He is also supported by his parish priest and the diocesan pastoral council, and coordinates with the youth leaders in the area.

IFFAsia continues to be present in the young missionaries’ lives through its network of small Fondacio groups and the regional Fondacio Asia office. They know that these young adults need pastoral care to grow as disciples in ministry, and not all may be as privileged as Tugso or Jhimus in their local Church. They need ministry support, including planning and review, feedback, mentoring and ongoing formation, most especially when they are on their own.

Martin and James, have the support of Fondacio to help them manage the programs and the fund-raising. When needed, pastoral companions provide guidance and support the alumni to ensure the growth of the mission. Young volunteers, mostly from Europe, spend from a few months to a year assisting and sharing their skills: be it in language, computer, or administration. Through this exchange, they too become conscious of mission realities and, thus, mutual solidarity is fostered.

Looking ahead

The alumni, friends, mission partners and persons committed with Fondacio gathered at Radio Veritas Asia, Quezon City, Philippines in November 2016 to celebrate ten years of IFFAsia’s mission. Titled “Building Leaders, Transforming Asia,” the alumni shared stories of bringing joy and hope in the Lord’s vineyard, and listened to each other’s best practices and challenges.

Addressing the alumni, Bishop Joel Baylon, Chairman of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) Youth Desk, and Chairman of IFFAsia, thanked each one for “going out to make a difference.” He reminded them about the challenges in Asia, and what it means to read the signs of the times “to understand its significance for our lives and communities.”

He then repeated Pope Francis’ message at the recent World Youth Day: For the young people, “to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”

IFFAsia is revising its programs to offer two tracks of specialization, beginning July 2017, to equip the laity to better respond to mission needs. The social leadership track focuses on Community Development and Livelihood; and the Phenomenon of Migration, Refugees and Human Trafficking. The pastoral leadership track centers on Youth Ministry and Family Life, and the Joy of the Gospel. More so, the alumni are encouraged to conduct the life skills training and basic leadership programs locally in each country, to reach out to wider groups of young people on the peripheries.

“Through all these, we want to call the young and laity to a living friendship and discipleship with Jesus, to impress upon them that Christian mission is part of their lives whatever career they may go into, and that we are here at Fondacio to support them in whatever simple ways we can,” concluded Alice.

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