Youth for Christ: fun, friends, faith, freedom

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • April 12, 2007
WINNIPEG, Man. - At an early age Ian Garcia started doing drugs, drinking, partying and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Eventually his family disowned him.
“I was at a point in my life where I was at the bottom of the bottom and I had nothing else to lose,” said Garcia, 20, reflecting on his turning point in Grade 10 when he re-embraced the church. “Since then God has really transformed my life.”

While many of his friends were involved in Youth for Christ, he was convinced the lay movement wasn’t for him. But desperate to change his ways, he decided to try it out. Now Garcia is in his third year of social work at the University of Manitoba and he is co-president of the Youth for Christ group on campus.

“I’ve learned from the past that trying to live my life my way isn’t going to work.... so I might as well try to live how He wants me to live.”

Youth for Christ, for youth aged 13 to 21, is one of several branches of Couples for Christ, a lay movement founded in Manila, Philippines, in 1981 by eight married couples who met in private homes for weekly, informal faith discussions. The movement focuses on bringing families into relationship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Two youth pastoral workers are stationed in each regional chapter across Canada, with the largest concentration of Youth for Christ in Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

While Youth for Christ has existed in Winnipeg since 1996, no religious vocations have come out of the movement.

“The importance of (vocation) hasn’t been stressed as much,” said John Acosta, 28, who relocated from Vancouver to Winnipeg last year to be a full-time pastoral worker. 

“I think parents need to have a better understanding of what the priesthood is. Even as a mission worker my parents were like ‛say what?’ ” 

He co-facilitates programming in Manitoba with Rina Castillo for four parishes, four public high schools and three post-secondary campuses: the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg and Red River College. 

Youth for Christ follows seven pillars including be a champion of the poor, be a source of unity to the family and be patriotic.

“The majority of us are Filipino and a lot of (youth) sometimes forget where they are from and the hard work that their parents put into making their lives a little bit better,” said  Acosta, explaining that patriotism and social justice go hand in hand.

Social justice projects are a large component of the movement. While projects are starting to spill over into other countries such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, the Philippines is still the main focus of much of Youth for Christ’s overseas outreach.

Recently, Garcia helped plan the Serendipity Social, a dance to raise funds for Gawad Kalinga, which means “to give care.” It’s a seven-year project, started in 2003, to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in the Philippines in seven years. The social raised $2,700, exceeding the cost to build a home by $700.

The movement is often branded as being exclusively for Filipinos. But while the Canadian chapter is largely Filipino, internationally it is a multicultural movement with a presence in 158 countries, said Acosta.

“When the missionaries came here to Canada and the U.S. their first contacts were Filipino and one Filipino would evangelize to another Filipino.”

Acosta said now that the movement is more established in Canada it’s crucial to widen the circle. As co-ordinator for the Manitoba region he is trying to establish chapters in rural and northern communities and on aboriginal reserves.   

However, some see the cultural component as its strength.    

“I think what makes it easier for us as a youth group to stick together and to treat each other like family and make sure everybody is taken care of is because of the fact that we are Filipino and we come from a collectivist culture and tradition,” said Garcia. 

“So even within our own families we... are there for each other, so because Youth for Christ is predominantly Filipino it is (also) kind of the way we work, so that’s why it feels like a second family.”

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