Framework for Youth Formation

When I was assigned to Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) in 2016 as the Assistant Principal for Formation in the Senior High School, I did not come without experience and the necessary tools of my trade. Though the context of Davao was different from Manila, I could not perform without prior knowledge of what I was supposed to do. Just like any work application, we were accepted because we had the competencies fit for the job.

One of the first things I had to set up was a conceptual framework, culled from past experiences in accompanying young people, and solidified by my studies in Tertianship in 2011. Being the final stage of Jesuit formation, Tertianship summarized what Jesuit life was, and clarified my distinct mission to accompany young adults in basic education. 

The conceptual framework acted like a guide or a map that steered my team’s whole activity within our area of work. The framework was also personal: it was the synthesis of my particular and distinct mission to the youth as enlightened by my experience in Tertianship. It would set the stage for a youth ministry that was “Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino” and was adaptable to the Vision and Mission of Ateneo de Davao University as well as in any school with an Ignatian character.

However, in the fashion of Jesuit obedience, my team kept an open mind and heart. We were being formed by God, as a Potter to His clay (Jeremiah 18). From 2016 to the present, we were able to make a lot of changes and revisions to the formation program as our campus moved to its present site. We ditched what was ineffective, and enhanced what had potential. We made it malleable to the specific profile of the students in Senior High.

In the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius presents the goal of every person:

“We are made to praise, honor and serve God, and by this means, save souls.” –St. Ignatius of Loyola

The objective of formation takes its inspiration from this: we are to accompany young people in their quest for identity and responsibility as both beloved and lover—loved by God without measure and condition, so that as recipients of so great a love, they too will become lovers of others. 

Thus, holistic formation is four-pronged: Human and Spiritual Development, Community Education and Leadership. Let me explain.

Human Development: The “We” –the object of God’s love.

The Principle and Foundation begins with us, the recipients of God’s love. And therefore, human development focuses on the growth and maturity of the human person in all its aspects. It does not only target the intellectual life, but most especially it regards the person’s emotional life. It develops a high grit, so that they can bloom wherever they’re planted, sail in rough seas, and rise above adversity. 

In the course of the young person’s growth, they should gradually appreciate God’s concrete manifestation of love: their talents and capabilities that needs to be acknowledged, their developmental stage that needs to be understood, and their person that needs to be valued.

Moreover, it is important that young people receive emotional support from their families, school, religious community, and other adult relationships that the person nurtures. Emotional support is critical when young adults are navigating through uncertainty. They need guides not dictators.

Spiritual Development: “Created to praise, honor and serve God.”

We do not grow in isolation. For a young adult, relationships are important, including their relationship with God. They may not acknowledge or name it as I did, but eventually we can glean that they are groping for a significant other or Someone who can be their life-long companion. Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish philosopher, once said:

“We do not die from darkness. We die from the cold.” –Miguel de Unamuno

We cannot be with them 24/7, but only God can. The use of the hashtag #MayForever (There is a forever) or the negative #WalangForever (There is no forever) indicates this yearning for God. When the young adult experiences excruciating pain in rejection or separation, they would seek their friends. Their searching for a true, faithful and authentic friend –a forever— is ultimately a search for God who can always be with them till the end of time (Matthew 28:20).

Nurturing spirituality can also take the form of instilling values and principles on which the young can solidly stand on in life (Matthew 16:18). The McCann-Erickson survey of 2018 says that Generation Z regards equality as a non-negotiable value. In a kaleidoscope world, respect takes center stage as an expression of love.

That is why, in AdDU SHS, we have three simultaneous worship events: For Catholics (the Eucharist), for non-Catholics (an ecumenical service), and for Muslims. Catholic faith affirms the need for a closer community of people, amidst the differences among religions (Nostra Aetate, Vatican II, 1965).

Community Education: “and by this means, save souls.” 

Some would call this aspect, “community engagement,” “service learning,” “Christian Service and Involvement,” and the like. I would call it, “Community Education” when the students learn from the community where they go to for immersion.

Since the student population of ADDU SHS is roughly 3,000 (Senior HS has two grade levels, Grades 11 and 12), it is difficult for us to provide a three-day immersion program for all students. Just imagine the challenge of spreading 80 sections throughout the school year! Indeed, that would be a logistical, supervisory and security nightmare!

What we can provide is a day in an indigenous community, or a few hours in a far-flung public school. It is unrealistic to claim that we can alleviated poverty in a day’s exposure. This is why “community education” becomes more appropriate: the objective is solidarity, that several hours of being with people can stir compassion. For example, we instruct our students to listen to the stories of the people because stories have high impact. In other words, we can only hope that an encounter can enkindle a fire in their hearts. We should not forget that our students are still learners, not social workers.

Transformative Leadership. A commitment to change people’s lives.

When the understanding of leadership shifted from the exclusive turf of those with a position of authority to include those with the qualities to influence and inspire others, this redefinition had made it possible to claim that we could train everyone in school to become leaders in their own right. Luckily, Ateneo de Davao had made Transformational Leadership as the paradigm of choice in a recent strategic planning.

Kurt Uhlir defines transformative leadership development with three important elements: the cultivation of passion, the ability to make choices, and the commitment to see these choices come to fruition:

“Transformative leaders cultivate the ability to get highly passionate about their choices and what they chose to work on.” –Kurt Uhlir.

Leadership then is about “setting the world on fire” —Ite, inflammate omnia! It is about palpably experiencing the Spirit of Love burning for mission as in the power of Pentecost. That this fiery, intense and passionate love can move people to change society. That is why, we understand formation work as providing opportunities for the young person to mature and to have a sense of personal power that can transform lives.

We hope that the terminal profile of students graduating from AdDU Senior High School will embody what the school envisions a Jesuit-trained leader: Knowing what one has with a heartfelt gratitude from God and experiencing those in greater need, the graduates passionately use all that they have for greater service, and in the course of their lives, influence others to follow suit. 

Published by Jboy Gonzales SJ

TV/Digital host: Kape't Pandasal. Vlog: YT On the Line. Environment, Youth Formation. Music. Leadership. Always dancing to a different drum.

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