To the universality of the Church, World Youth Day Panama 2019 will add youthful energy. Thousands of pilgrims from one hundred and sixty nations will arrive in the Isthmaan country, which, in addition to forming a bridge between continents, will be a center of exchange and sharing between people who, from the Catholic faith, will think and work to make a different world, a world of dialogue and peace. Cuba will attend this type of event with the largest delegation in its history: nearly five hundred delegates.
Fr. Jorge Luis Pérez Soto, adviser to the Youth Pastoral in the Archdiocese of Havana, chairs the Havana delegation to WYD. Young also – just thirty-six years old – has lived with intensity the preparatory days for the January appointment. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the last days leading up to the great celebration, the parish priest and professor of the Seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio and the Laurea in Humanities, among many other responsibilities that lead him to accurately time the hours of the day, agreed to converse with the New Word.
How has the Haban delegation been made up of WYD? What criteria have they relied on for the selection of these young people?
“Today, Thursday the 1st. November, we are 141 Haban pilgrims to WYD. It is the largest delegation in the whole country and has its point of origin in the direct dialogue we have had with the Archbishop of Havana, the vicars and the parish priests. In Havana we chose to give all the facilities to young people who wanted and could participate in WYD. Minimum requirements were established for those concerned: community life, having the sacraments of Christian initiation and some commitment to the communities where they are from. From there we have allowed every young man who can subsidize participation in WYD to do so. The possibility of other young people attending has been realized thanks to the financial assistance provided by the Archbishopric of Havana, the episcopal conference and some sister churches. But, fundamentally, most young people have paid for this trip. That is, their participation has been self-financed, and that has been thanks to the efforts of their families, inside and outside Cuba, and also the result of the sacrifice of many of these young people who have worked and still do so to earn some money and save it. There are those who have acquired debts in order to participate in this experience of faith that will be WYD.”
That is, it has been an event that has mobilized young habaneros…
“Yes, but from within. In this sense it is appropriate to remember all this atmosphere of commitment, experience of faith, of Charity, which generated in the Archdiocese the passage of the signs of WYD, the Cross and the icon of Mary”.
From the passage of these signs, could we affirm that in Havana there is a revitalization of the Youth Pastoral?
“I could say that this revitalization of youth ministry has a close, if already a little remote, background, and was the celebration of World Youth Day in tune with Krakow, about the edition of this event in that Polish city. Subsequently we started other processes of organizing our Youth Pastoral. I, for two years, took your advice, and I have accompanied many of these processes that do not yet culminate. But certainly, since november 5, 2017, the Cross and the icon of Our Lady arrived in Havana, there has been an awakening of Havana youth that, thank God, feels more committed to faith and grows and walks in the process of making Church”.
Once the young people have been selected and the Habanera delegation has been formed, how was their preparation? Has any training program been designed since youth ministry?
“The Archdiocese of Havana was assigned responsibility for forming the national registration commission for World Day. That is, we have had to process and process the visa of the more than 470 delegates of the island. This process has taken us more than five months of very hard work, because it responds to the legal and documentary theme of the Day. For this reason, we are behind in this other (very important) preparation for the Day. With the visit of the President of Panama to the Archbishopric habanero, our delegation began the itinerary that will take us directly to Panama. This path also includes formative meetings and an important meeting with Mr. Ambassador of Panama to Cuba, in which all delegates from Havana must participate. Before the Day, we will have a spiritual retreat.”
How will you share the catechesis designed by the universal Church so that the young people of the world will live in tune the preparation for WYD?
“Catechesis will be part of formative encounters. They are catechesis that, moreover, young people can download online, but, indisputably, we, at the diocesan level, will make it easier for these catechesis to reach all young people, because we think it is important that they live with the universal Church this preparation for the Day”.
Important, fresh, renewed communicative work around WYD is also perceived in the Archdiocese. On social networks, websites, written testimonies, images, audiovisual works circulate, in order communication products made by young communicators. Has the Youth Pastoral in Havana prioritized the communicative dimension?
“One of the priorities of the project we are designing is the communicative dimension, which goes beyond the transfer of the news. We want to draw up a communicative strategy so that all the good that is done in the Youth Pastoral reaches not only young people, but has an impact on the entire archdiocesan Church.
“Certainly, we have developed an important group of audiovisual products, reviews, testimonies of young Habaneros have been taken and published. Youth Pastoral has several Groups of WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook profiles, as well as spaces in the print and digital publications of Word New, the magazine of the Archdiocese. Through all these supports, we expose our work, communicate and all this creates a very favorable environment. It is still incipient, our desire is that the communication strategy be the cross-cutting axis of the entire Youth Pastoral. We believe that this path, which may be initiating the Youth Pastoral, will be useful for the entire Church of Havana. A communicative strategy for the archdiocesan Church will allow everything we do in the work of spreading the gospel to reach as many brothers and sisters as possible.”
There was a strong interest of the Pope that Panama was the seat of this WYD, because, among other reasons, this would facilitate Cuba’s participation. This indisputably entails a greater commitment on the part of our young people.
“That’s right. And the greatest commitment on this journey that we travel is that of a deepening of faith, that of greater Christian commitment, that of greater seriousness and responsibility in the face of the joint mission of the Church. Our wish would be for the awareness of co-responsibility in the Church to take root in the hearts of young people, for her mission is not the responsibility of her pastors alone, but co-responsibility of all the Christian people. We want the work of the Youth Pastoral to contribute to the formation of a laity committed and serious to the life of the diocesan Church and to the life of the nation and the Cuban people as well.”
But to do this, and so has just been said by the newly completed Synod, the Church must rely more on young people.
“Of course, this will only be possible by trusting young people, understanding the role they play and can play within the Church. I also think it is very important that the laity, whose work has meant so much for the life of the diocesan Church to this day, are taking on a new mission, which is to accompany the young people who come, but letting them do, trusting in their ways of working, respecting them. This is how they leave a strong and committed laying for the future.
“I like to say that young people are not our future, they are our present. Our future will be children. The present is young people. If we do not bet on them today, if we do not form them today, if we do not work with them, the morning of the Church will be difficult because the present is not guaranteed.”
Tell me, then, how do you assume your role as an adviser to the Youth Pastoral?
“The role of a youth adviser is to accompany. And, of course, the official things Pastoral does are accompanied by me, which does not mean that I tell young people what to say or do. Yes, of course, I suggest, I recommend, but always out of respect for the person and their opinion.”
What have you perceived in the youth that leads you to the conviction that they should be trusted?
“Sometimes young people are looked at with suspicion, sometimes young people are looked at and their maturity is not trusted, what they are able to do. Without a doubt, they carry an accompaniment. Sometimes you have to give some ‘no’ that open the doors to many ‘yes’. I believe that when we trust them and give them a responsibility, and accompany their work, we see wonderful things developed by them. Young people are able to spend a whole night and an early morning in adoration of the Most Holy when the bishop summons them, they are able to organize an Easter and spend an entire early morning in vigil, as happened this year in the Sanctuary of the Corner. From the logistical work, the formative work, all the dynamics that were lived were thought out and organized by them. Young people are able to go and clean, on their own initiative, the new residence that will occupy the Golden Age. They’re capable of doing big things and beautiful things. It is true that they come to the Church with their fragility, their weakness. It is true that our young people come and are in the Church with their fears, worries, frustrations. But all that world of fragility must accompany him from the Pastoral.
“And the mistake of many people in the Church, and even of many pastors, is in setting eyes on fragility and not on enormous potential. Because we all have fragility, but we pastors of the Church also have many frailties, but also the Church as an institution has many frailties, and young people have enormous potential which is where, I believe, we have to set their eyes. Preaching and accompaniment to young people cannot begin from the renunciations we ask of them, but from the choice for Christ. Whoever finds Christ is able to leave anything for Him, whoever finds Christ is able to leave him the whole life, who finds Christ and discovers the precious treasure that is Christ, is able to live life for Him, because the ideal of Christian life is to live for Christ, with Him and in Him. And this the young man perceives; when the young man perceives Jesus Christ in his life, he begins a process of transformation that leads him to commitment, by self-understanding in a new way, to understand his history and life in a new way, and to understand the Church in a new way.”
Father, how are the young people who accompany you?
“The young people with whom I walk dream Church, and dream of a Church that is revealed to me with extraordinary freshness and beauty, a Church for which we are not prepared because we are anchored in ancient Church schemes, and they show us a Church that can be renewed by the young spirit.”
Although he is still a young man, how has this pastoral experience influenced young people in his life as a priest?
“When I took up pastoral care two years ago, I did so as a commission that was necessary for the diocesan Church. I have been trained in a style, in which the Church cannot be said no when it can be served. It was a yes that I gave with fear, for I knew the enormous challenges that were ahead; it was a yes that I gave to some extent out of commitment to the Church, to the bishop, and it has been one of the yes that has changed my life the most. Coming into contact with the young people has led me to understand myself as well, to understand my own existence. Because the best way to be accompanied is to accompany someone. If you want to know what your own life is worth, accompany others on the path of your life. Giving is the same as receiving, and it is only received by giving. I believe that I have given little to the Youth Pastoral, I have given him what little I can give, because what we have to give is always limited. And I have received much more from the Youth Pastoral; I have received infinitely from the young. I have to say that today the Youth Pastoral Is, in some way, comfort and hope in my life in the face of other pastoral realities that I may find less pleasant to assume.
“Youth Pastoral is a sign of hope in my life, because when I look at young people, I who am still young, I say, ‘There is a strong Church, there is a living Church, a Church that is there, that all we have to do is accompany it.’ Christ has not made a mistake, He is with us every day until the end of the world and Christ continues to arouse life and hope in the midst of the Church. Ah, we’re not a crowd, and that’s our wealth. What this is about is, as Pope Benedict XVI said, that we are a significant minority. And I believe that young people are being in our Church today, a minority that is not so minority and meaningful.”
He speaks to me of young people committed to the Church, but how committed are young Catholics to Cuba?
“Being a Church means being anchored in a reality. The Church is not a reality alien to time and society, the Church is given in the concretetion of a particular Church. It is given in the concreteness of a historical Church, also marked, for better and worse, by the history that it is his turn to live. And that is the reality of our Church. Young people committed to the Church means young people committed to the country, to society, committed to history. The Church is like the house, like the mother who comes to seek comfort and nourishment. It is the mother who puts us for a walk and is also the one who takes us out and sends us to be life, because true motherhood produces, begets life within her to give to others. And that is the Catholic Church in Cuba, the mother who gives life to her children so that her children can come out to communicate life in the midst of this society that we have to live.”
What, in your view, is the greatest strength of the Haban delegation to WYD Panama 2019?
“The greatest strength of the Habanera delegation to WYD Panama 2019 is its diversity. It is a very diverse delegation, there are young people from all Christian communities, from all vicarages, from all the specters of Cuban society, there are young even foreigners studying in Cuba, there are young people who manifest the richness of the universality of the Church in this particular Church of Havana. Another great strength is the presence in it of young people who already have a long journey in the life of the Church and others of newer incorporation into the community. And that’s a great wealth that can nourish us. Another great wealth is the presence of priests, religious who participate as pilgrims to WYD, the presence of seminarians, which I must say is not so in most dioceses. Havana has its own seminarians within the delegation. There are also people who exceed thirty-five years of age, who are companions of the Youth Pastoral, who work in the communities in service of young people, are their catechists… That’s all a huge good.”
Father, do you think that our Church, that of Cuba, must learn to trust young people more?
“Yes, and it’s never too late to begin. And in this sense I would like to ask all Christian communities to be a nest of love and spaces of freedom for young people, wherever they are, whatever they may be, come and find comfort, hope, welcome. They go many times through a world that causes them wounds, and in the Church all they need to find are open arms and a more proactive than imperative environment. When young people are welcomed, young people are transformed. And not only young people, when a person feels welcomed and loved, that person transforms. Because only love is the force that transforms the hearts and the force that saves the world.
“We must strip ourselves of our rigidity and abandon apertreated positions. It is not a question of telling them that any lifestyle is right, that everything is worth the same, but of expressing to them with our concrete gestures that the Church understands them, that the Church accompanies them, that the Church walks with them, that the Church appreciates and values them, that Christ does not put conditions on anyone to love him. That Christ loves us as we are and from there impels us to new ways of being, that with Christ a new beginning is possible in all things because He is the eternal novelty, He is eternal youth, He is the living one who lives forever and who continues to call us to follow Up.”