In a Lenten recollection for the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals Alabang East chapter, Fr. Armand Robleza aligned his talk with the 2019 Year of the Youth. He talked about “The Overlaps,” a segment of young people that go to Mass at 8:30 p.m.
As a Salesian priest and chaplain for San Miguel Corp., he discussed how his fellow priests noted that young people never make up majority of churchgoers. However, he also observed that the “last full show” of Mass at night is when the young outnumber the over-40 set.
“Kids may be more comfortable now, materially speaking, but life is harder for Gen Y (born 1980-2000) and Gen Z (born after 2000) than for baby boomers (born 1945-1960) and Gen X (born 1960-1980),” said Father Robleza.
Gen Y and Z now make up over 60 percent of Filipinos. These are the overlap decades, those in their late teens and early 20s. They seek the same things: love, a good job and great friends. “They need foundations of honesty and sincerity, authentic companions and simplicity in a world of complexity,” added Father Robleza.
He pointed out that every day, at least one member of Gen Z lands in the ER of the Philippine General Hospital for suicide attempts. Almost 12 percent of 13- to 17-year-old students have thought of ending their lives, and 16.8 percent have attempted to take their own lives, largely due to a lack of social connectedness.
“They are connected but don’t seem to have a trusted person, so they can’t understand the difference between true friendship and belonging. They have both the need to fit in and to stand out,” said Father Robleza.
Yet another common theme stands out: disconnectedness and deterioration of relationships due to social media and technology. “There’s just too many things to do, too many things to prove,” said Father Robleza. “Young people today tend to be very pressured, very stressed, live complicated lives, and tend to be socially disconnected. If you want to understand your kids, you have to understand their digital world.”
In this age of fake news, anyone can post online—truth and lies sit side by side. This open-source nature of our times means Gen Y and Z suffer from moral relativism: a loss of reference points, contradictions creating confusions and mistrust of social institutions.
Father Robleza said that in the Philippines, only 55 percent of millennials are Christians, and one in three is not affiliated with any religion. These “religious nones” are spiritual but not religious, believe in God but have no religion. This leads to moral relativism, a jaded consumer mindset, and they look to brands for change.
“Note how the young trust private more than public institutions,” said Father Robleza.
Truth is also relational, “so give them your time. How you show your friendship is how you give your time,” he said. “‘But the youth, even those who live Church teaching, express the desire to receive from the Church a clear word with kindness and empathy.’ (Synod on the Youth 2018, no. 39). So we need to act like Christ, and be an inclusive Church.”
An internet-dependent world is also omnipresent, user-friendly, and gives a false sense of empowerment. “What is virtual is now real, and so disconnection becomes the default, which leads to depression,” he said.
This easy access to information likewise gives the internet generations a false sense of empowerment. This is why they are said to be “annoyingly confident,” because they think the world is egalitarian. They need to be informed, kept in the loop, and identified.
“They need to connect with real people without surrendering themselves,” said Father Robleza. “So expect Gen Y and Z to test you first and be consulted, unlike Gen X and baby boomers who were raised to just submit to authority right away.”
He defines this as espousing a “Ministry of Presence”: “It is not a question of doing something for them, but to live in communion with them.” (Synod on the Youth, 2018).
The influx of Gen Y and Z is now a workplace concern, as they will comprise 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, and 75 percent by 2025.
Father Robleza said that they are characterized as feeling entitled, being superficial, having a nomadic lifestyle, lacking in commitment, and for whom the present is all that matters.
However, he noted that they crave genuineness: “Their impatience and apathy betray the premium they place on authenticity. They connect with what is genuinely good and beautiful, and prefer simplicity in lifestyle.”
Gen Y and Z may be hard to pull into groups that have prayer meeting formats, but they will show up where there is action such as volunteer efforts.
“Our children must experience human misery face-to-face to enable them to make concrete choices about the world they live in,” said Father Robleza, as he urged his audience to become apostolic families.
He encouraged the group to work toward family spirituality that is characterized by joyful discipleship, kindness and empathy, mentoring, a welcoming attitude, apostolic involvement and simplicity.
What are millennials saying then? Father Robleza said it would be along these lines: “Do not be afraid of us. We go through life with a different tenor from yours. We have technology which you didn’t have. We have the world at our fingertips which you never dreamt of. We are willing to live with risks while you were safe with established patterns. But think about it: We are just like you when you were our age.” —CONTRIBUTED