(Vatican Radio) Thousands of young Catholics are set to walk in a peaceful prayer vigil on an island hit by civil unrest as part of a National Youth Day in the Philippines.
More than 2,300 young people from all parts of the country are gathering for the five-day event in the city of Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao, where martial law is still in force following a siege on the north-western city of Marawi in May by extremists inspired by the Islamic State group.
Church leaders are calling on young Catholics to be “agents of change” as the event gets underway in spite of significant security issues in the region.
As part of the National Youth Day, young people between the ages of 13 and 39 will assess the problem of human trafficking and reflect on other issues relevant to young people's lives including social challenges, social media, and the promotion of education.
Local priest Fr. Wilfred Samson told the Fides News Agency: “At the end of this five-day celebration of faith, our dream is that young people recognize themselves as 'agents of change' for our Church and our country.
“Therefore, it is our hope that this encounter will help form our young people as future leaders and as missionaries of the Gospel in the world.”
The National Youth Day is being supported by the Catholic mayor of Zamboanga, Mary Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, who described the week as “an opportunity to express the desire of young people to embrace Christ's mission among their peers.”
Organisers hope that the national gathering will build up a fruitful collaboration of the Catholic community with the civil authorities at a time when state military are still engaging in combat with extremists in Marawi, about 450 kilometers away from the host city.
Archbishop of Zamboanga, Romulo Tolentino de la Cruz, said: “My hope is that Youth Day will allow young people from different places to meet in order to announce to the world how beautiful, precious and vital youth is.
“Young people participate with the desire to get to know God better and become pilgrims and apostles, to share with others the relationship with him.”
From 1987 to 1990, the National Youth Day event was always held in the country’s capital, Manila. However, since 1991, it has been celebrated in several dioceses of the country.
Listen to the report by Richard Paul Marsden: