Q&A: A youth’s personal encounter, lessons from Pope Francis

Jane Bracher
Q&A: A youth’s personal encounter, lessons from Pope Francis
Leandro Santos II, one of 4 Filipino youths who gave testimonials before Pope Francis at UST, shares his experience and lessons learned in his encounter with the pontiff

MANILA, Philippines – Leandro Santos II was one of 4 young people who delivered testimonials at the youth encounter with Pope Francis at the University of Santo Tomas on Sunday, January 18.

Known to many Thomasians as “Doy” when he served as president of the Central Student Council from 2010-2011, the 24-year-old graduating Civil Law student shared to the Pope the youth’s struggles at a time of technology-driven access to information. (READ: Girl breaks down before Pope)

He posed several questions to the Argentine pontiff, who gave him and the rest of the Filipino youth a thorough and enlightening answer.  (FULL TEXT: Pope Francis’ message, youth encounter, UST)

“We have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with that information. So we run the risk of becoming museums of young people who have everything but not knowing what to do with it. We don’t need young museums but we do need holy young people,” Francis said. 

The Pope added: “For this the Gospel offers us a serene way forward: using the 3 languages of the mind, heart and hands – and to use them in harmony. What you think, you must feel and put into effect. Your information comes down to your heart and you put it into practice. Harmoniously. What you think, you feel and you do. Feel what you think and feel what you do. Do what you think and what you feel.” 

In this interview with Rappler, Leandro expounds on how the country can help the Filipino youth, details his feelings of “unworthiness” upon learning he was to give a testimony before the Pope, and shares 3 lessons he learned from Francis. (SEE: Pope Francis in the Philippines: Speeches and Homilies)

 

First off, how did you feel seeing and personally meeting Pope Francis?

Parang better [yung pakiramdam ko] na hindi ko ma-explain. If I put it into words parang it would diminish the intensity of the moment. Ganoon ‘yung feeling. But explaining it, parang movie, na dalawa lang kami nag-e-exist nung moment na ‘yun. Nung una ang sabi sa amin mag-bow and kiss the ring if possible. ‘Yung hug hindi naman part nung plano. Pero nung nandoon na, parang ang naging take ko is, is he waiting for me to give him a hug? So I just hugged him. 

(It’s like feel better but I can’t really explain it. If I put it into words I feel as if it would diminish the intensity of the moment. That’s how it feels. But explaining it, it was just like a movie, as if we were the only ones existing at that moment. We were told we should bow and kiss his ring if possible. Hugging him was not part of the plan. But at that moment, my take was, is he waiting for me to give him a hug? So I just hugged him.)

Why did you choose to ask Pope Francis about technology and information as it applies to the youth?

When I was asked by the Archdiocese of Manila, they said they needed a “representative of the youth.” Feeling ko kasi dilemma ko rin ‘yun sa sarili ko na feeling ko lahat pwedeng maging sobrang talino because of the abundance of information available, especially with the Internet. Kumbaga lahat ng study, na-study na eh. Everything is readily available. So naisip ko, bakit walang magagaling na Pilipino na kasing galing ni (Jose) Rizal? When in reality, Rizal did not even have the Internet. So ‘yun yung tanong na naglaro sa isip ko, and how information is a double-edged sword, na positive siya but in a way it’s overwhelming. So feeling ko makaka-relate lahat ng youth doon sa idea na ‘yun. Saka ‘yung fact na ‘yung information at social media, nagiging validation siya of happiness. Nagiging kuntento yung tao doon sa nakikita niya sa Facebook na information, na nagiging enough na ‘yun na lang yung nakikita nila tapos hindi na nila nakikita yung bigger picture. Kaya doon ako nag-focus.

And at the same time, si Ma’am Evelyn Songco, siya ‘yung adviser ng Central Student Council and the Director for Student Affairs, ang sabi niya sa akin [my testimonial] is not going to be about me. Unlike the two other testimonials, they talked about their particular experiences. Sabi niya, it’s my opportunity to connect with the youth. ‘Yun yung instruction niya. Kasi totoo naman, estudyante lang rin naman ako, working student. And I think it’s not going to be as striking compared doon sa dalawa. So we really tried to come up with a testimonial that’s relatable sa lahat ng youth, out of school man, nag-aaral man, or bata man.

(When I was asked by the Archdiocese of Manila, they said they needed a “representative of the youth.” I felt that it was also my dilemma, I thought everyone can be very smart because of the abundance of information available, especially with the Internet. Everything that can be studied, has already been studied. Everything is readily available. So I thought, how come we don’t have Filipinos as bright as Rizal, when in reality, Rizal did not even have the Internet. That was the question running through my mind, and how information is a double-edged sword – it can be positive but in a way overwhelming. I feel many of the youth can relate to that question. And the fact that information and social media are becoming validations of happiness. People become contented to see information on Facebook, that it is enough to see just that and not see the bigger picture anymore. That’s why I focused on that. And at the same time, Ma’am Evelyn Songco, the Central Student Council adviser and the Director for Student Affairs, told me that my testimonial is not going to be about me. Unlike the two other testimonials, they talked about their particular experiences. She told me it’s my opportunity to connect with the youth. That was her instruction. It’s true, I’m just a student; a working student. And I think it’s not going to be as striking compared to the two kids. So we really tried to come up with a testimonial that’s relatable sa all the youth – out of school, student, or just a child.)

CONNECTING WITH THE YOUTH. Leandro prepared a testimonial that does not emphasize himself, rather, it points out the dilemma of the current technology-savvy youth. Screengrab from Rappler

How were you selected to give the testimonial?

Before kasi ang sabi wala raw certainty, because they were asking for several testimonials. So nung ginawa ko yun, wala naman akong intention na ‘yun na talaga yung i-su-submit. Na-confirm lang nung December.

May feeling nga of unworthiness eh. Kasi it’s not just a rare opportunity, it’s once in a lifetime, it’s a one time thing. Hindi na ‘yan darating ng isa pang beses. Napapatanong ako sa sarili ko na bakit ako? Kasi mas marami naman mas religious. Hindi man ako religious, pero spiritual naman ako. And given that fact, feeling ko hindi enough para i-justify. Then I asked my friends and my parents kung dapat ba ma-feel ko ‘yun. Kasi nag-pa-practice ako, hindi ko siya madeliver nang maayos; nauutal ako. Pero sinabi nila everything happens for a reason. Sabi ng mama ko, kasi hindi ako nakapasa ng UP, kung nakapasa ka ng UP malamang you won’t go to UST, and you won’t get this opportunity. Ganoon na lang iniisip ko. Maraming moments dapat na hindi ako nag-UST, tapos hindi ako naging student leader, tapos hindi ako nagkaroon ng opportunity na ganito. ‘Yun na lang yung tinitignan ko, na hindi man ako ganoon ka-worthy of the opportunity – and mas may worth pa talaga, I admit that fact – pero somehow I was put in that particular position. Who am I to decline?

(They told me before there was no certainty, because they were asking for several testimonials. So when I wrote mine, I had no intention to submit that exact piece. But it was confirmed just last December.  I have this feeling of unworthiness. Because it’s not just a rare opportunity, it’s once in a lifetime, it’s a one-time thing. It won’t come by again another time. I asked myself, Why me? There are so many others more religious than me. I’m not religious but I’m spiritual. And given that fact, I felt it’s not enough to justify it. Then I asked my friends and my parents if I should feel that way. I was practicing my speech and I couldn’t deliver it properly. I kept stuttering. But they told me everything happens for a reason. My mom said – because I did not pass the entrance exam at UP – that if I got into UP, I might not have gone to UST, and I would not have gotten this opportunity. That’s what I thought. There were so many moments that I could not have ended up in UST, and not have become a student leader, and then I might never have had this opportunity. That’s what I told myself, that I may not be as worthy – and there’s definitely others worthier, I admit that fact – but somehow I was put in that particular position. Who am I to decline?)

Do you feel you gave the opportunity justice?

Isa rin ‘yun sa naging resolution ko kasi sobrang momentous ng event and surreal talaga. Sabi ko sa sarili ko, hindi ko sina-satisfy ‘yung iisipin ng iba. Nung nagsasalita ako, nakahanap ako ng comfort na my only task is to deliver the message. Hindi ako concerned doon sa end party. Kasi ‘pag naging concerned ako ma-di-disappoint ako. Nakita na naman ng Vatican ito eh. Pinadala ko ‘to sa kanila. Nung nakita nila, minor revision lang naman. Na-translate pa yata nila sa Spanish para maintindihan ni Pope. Tapos yung mga gumawa ng Filipino, naka-translate din sa English and then Spanish. That’s why nakapag-impromptu siya, may background din siya doon sa mga questions namin.

(That was one of my resolutions because it was such a momentous and surreal event. I told myself, I am not here to satisfy what others would be thinking. While I was speaking, I found comfort in knowing my only task is to deliver the message. I am not concerned with the end party. If I concerned myself with that, I would be disappointed. The Vatican saw my pieace anyway. I sent it to them. They had just a minor revision. I think they even translated it to Spanish so the Pope can understand it. And for those who wrote in Filipino, they translated it to English and then Spanish. That’s why he was able to speak impromptu, he already has background on our questions.)

What do you think of the other youth speakers with you?

Inspiring din kasi si Tetchie eh. Actually silang dalawa yung una ko na-encounter na youth na problematic pero naging positive. ‘Yung nakikita mo kasi sa jeep na nanlilimos alam mo naman pinang-ra-rugby (solvent) lang yung binigay sa kanila, na hindi ka na rin nagbibigay kasi alam mo na mapupunta rin sa masama. Pero sila, nagbago sila, especially Jun. Sana tulungan natin sila Tetchie. Sana mas magkaroon pa ng mas maraming Pilipinong tumulong sa mga bata, kasi yung mga bata posible pang tulungan. Mas mahirap pang tulungan yung matatanda. Kasi living testament sila (Tetchie and Jun) na posible pang magbago, and hindi lang magbago; na posible pang mag-improve ‘yung life ng bata.

(READ: Weeping girl before Pope Francis wants to be social worker)

(Tetchie is inspiring. Those two kids are the first youth I’ve encountered that are problematic but turned positive. Those you see inside jeeps asking for alms, you know they’re just going to use the money to buy rugby [solvent] and you won’t give anymore because you know it would be wasted. But those kids, they changed, especially Jun. I hope we can help Tetchie. I hope more Filipinos will help children, because kids can be helped. It’s harder to help adults. Tetchie and Jun are living testaments that it is possible to change, and not just change; it is also possible for a child’s life to improve.) 

What should the Philippines do in order to help children like Tetchie and Jun?

Feeling ko ‘yung bureaucracy kasi ng government mahihirapan eh. Ang take ko kasi sa growth ng government ay gradual yan eh. And I don’t think we could manifest changes na pwede nila ma-develop para outright matulungan or ma-address ‘yung needs ng mga street children. I think kung gusto talaga natin ng outright changes, more of private institutions dapat or private persons. Let’s make more of Tulay ng Kabataan. Na-realize ko talaga sinasapul nila ‘yung direct cause of poverty eh. Kasi they’re plucking out children out of the streets eh, na pinupunlaan nila ng better future. Itong isang bata, parang isang bulok na kamatis na tinanggal ko na doon sa basket and ginagawa ko nang maayos ngayon. So talagang corrective ‘yung approach nila. And many people should do that. Talagang tinanong ko sila, I think every day ‘yung pagpupunta sa streets. Nakakatuwa lang din na na-expose ako doon, na nalaman ko na posible pala. Hindi pala hopeless case ‘yung situation ng street children. Kahit kaunti, nababawasan sila. 

(I think it will be hard for the government’s bureaucracy. My take is the government’s growth is gradual. And I don’t think we could manifest changes that they can develop to outright help or address the needs of street children. I think if we want outright changes, it should be more of private institutions or private persons. Let’s make more of Tulay ng Kabataan. I realized that organization really hits right at the direct cause of poverty. They’re plucking out children out of the streets, and helping them build a better future. They take one kid, which is like taking a rotten tomato out of a basket, and making that tomato fresh again. It’s a very corrective approach. And many people should do that. I really asked them, I think they comb the streets every day. It’s nice to be exposed to that, to know that it is possible. Street children are not hopeless cases after all. Little by litte they are lessened.)

What should change in the Filipino culture to help these children?

Kasi superficial ‘yung Pinoy eh. Mas maintindihan lang sana nila ‘yung worth nila. Kasi yung mahihirap rin, they don’t understand ‘yung political rights and civil rights na meron sila eh. Like yung sinasabi ni PNoy na “Boss ko kayo,” they don’t appreciate it kasi superficial ‘yung pag-take nila. Hindi nila alam na sila ‘yung nagluluklok ng mga opisyal na pwedeng magbago ng buhay nila eh. So more of seriousness and taking time to actually learn what their rights are. ‘Yung karapatan nila hindi lang available kapag gutom sila or undecided sila. ‘Yung rights nila ever present ‘yun, nasa kanila parati ‘yun.

(I think Filipinos are superficial. I hope they better understand their worth. The poor don’t understand their political and civil rights. Even when PNoy says, “You are my boss,” they don’t appreciate it because they take it superficially. They don’t realize that they put in office the officials that can change their lives. So more of seriousness, and taking time to actually learn what their rights are. Their rights are not available only when they are hungry or undecided. Their rights are ever present, it’s always with them.)

JAR OF LOVE. After his speech, Leandro presents Pope Francis with a jar filled with messages and notes from UST's youth volunteers for the event. Screengrab from Rappler

What are the lessons  you learned from Pope Francis through the encounter?

Una ‘yung learning and helping should always be on a personal level. More than theoretical, personal mo dapat gawin. Kung gusto mo or iniisip mo tumulong, pero hindi ka tumulong, wala rin. You should do it personally. Kapag ginawa mo siya personally, you relate to people, you communicate. Which leads me to the second lesson: yung pagkakaiba ng mercy sa pity. Magandang lesson din ‘yun na hindi kailangan ng awa ng tao eh. Kailangan nila ng tulong mo. ‘Yun yung mercy eh, na for you to appreciate kung ano ‘yung kulang nila, tulungan mo sila. Be in their position, be in their shoes. And then my third lesson is what Pope Francis said that “do not be youth museums.” When you take in information, it should always undergo the 3 languages which is to think, to love, to do. Bakit mo gagawin yung bagay na labag sa kalooban mo? Bakit mo gugustuhin yung bagay na gusto mo pero hindi mo naman pala kaya i-manifest sa reality? So very striking ‘yun. It comes full circle, that you should do it. 

(First, learning and helping should always be on a personal level. More than theoretical, it should be personal. If you want, or are thinking, of helping but you didn’t do it anyway, then that doesn’t change anything. You should do it personally. When you do it personally, you relate to people, you communicate. Which leads me to the second lesson: the difference between mercy and pity. It’s a good lesson, to know that people don’t need pity; they need your help. That’s mercy – for you to appreciate what they need, help them. Be in their position, be in their shoes. And then my third lesson is what Pope Francis said that “do not be youth museums.” When you take in information, it should always undergo the 3 languages which is to think, to love, to do. Why would you do something you don’t want to do? Why would you want to do something but you can’t make it a reality? It’s very striking. It comes full circle, that you should do it.)

What do you plan to do after graduating from law school?

Ever since naman gusto ko talaga mag-public service. Not necessarily appointive position or elective position. Gusto ko mag-work sa government kasi na-e-enjoy ko ‘yung lessons regarding bureaucracy, ‘yung sa pagpapatakbo ganoon. Pero most definitely before ako mag-government magli-litigate muna ako, which is ‘yung ginagawa ng abogado na nag-a-appear sa court, nagfa-file ng pleading, etc. Kasi feeling ko ‘yun yung battlefield ng lawyers. For me hindi ka matatawag na lawyer until ma-experience mo ‘yung litigation. Pero eventually, if there’s an opportunity gusto ko talaga public service.

(Ever since, I’ve always wanted to go into public service. Not necessarily appointive position or elective position. I want to work in government as I enjoy my lessons regarding bureaucracy or how to run things. But most definitely before I work in government I will go into litigation, which is what lawyers do when they appear in court or file a pleading, etc. I think that is the battlefield of lawyers. For me, you can’t be called a lawyer until you experience litigation. But eventually, if there’s an opportunity I want to be in public service.)

How would you specifically like to be involved in public service?

Medyo cliché pero gusto talaga mag-barangay captain. Kasi feeling ko ‘yun yung part ng hierarchy ng government where you can affect the most change. Grassroots level eh. Kung si Binay may model city, feeling ko mas madali i-implement ‘yung model barangay, kasi family level ‘yun eh. Lahat ng tao magkakakilala doon eh. Feeling ko ‘yung transformation mas possible on a barangay level. 

(It’s a little cliché but I want to become a barangay captain. It’s because I feel that’s the part of the government hierarchy where you can effect the most change because it’s on a grassroots level. If Binay has a model city, I think it would be easier to implement a model barangay because it’s on a family level. Everybody knows everybody. I think transformation is more possible on a barangay level.)

Is there anything else you would like to tell Pope Francis that you weren’t able to in your speech?

Kuntento naman ako doon sa nasabi ko. And may hindi man ako nasabi, na-address niya naman lahat eh. Tinatahi-tahi niya kasi yung tanong nung 3. Sobrang exhaustive nung binigay niyang sagot para sa kabataan na mabubusog ka talaga doon sa sinabi niya. Yung sa akin extensive talaga yung sagot niya. Ang striking pa kasi bumalik siya sa amin. Tapos na ‘yung message niya eh, nag-goodbye na siya. Pero bumalik siya sa amin tapos ni-reinforce niya ‘yung sinabi niya. Yung summary ng mga sinabi niya, sinabi niya ulit sa amin.

(I’m contented with what I said. And if I was not able to say something, Pope Francis addressed all of it. He stitched together all our questions. He gave exhaustive answers for the youth that you would not be hungry for more. He gave a very extensive answer to my question. What’s striking is he came back to us. He was already finished with his message, he already said goodbye. But he went back to us and reinforced what he said. He repeated to us the summary of what he said.)

– Rappler.com

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