To work in the area of youth ministry today you have to be inherently an optimistic person. It’s not just recommended, it’s a necessity. The prevailing narrative we hear from our media is often one of doom, with a bit of gloom thrown in for good measure. One could easily be forgiven for becoming a little weary and resigned. However, we are an Easter people and hope lies at the heart of the faith we profess.
In February, I was blessed to lead a day of reflection in a local school in Cork. They were an amazing group of sixth year students with vibrant curiosity and open minds. After spending half an hour fielding questions that were close to their hearts, I had the opportunity to ask a couple of my own. It was simply, did they know what the largest gathering of young people in the world was and where did the last one take place? Glastonbury, Electric Picnic, and Coachella were some of the answers suggested. They weren’t even close. At their best these festivals had 175,000 people, against the 750,000 young people who attended World Youth Day in Panama in January last year.
I was fortunate to be there with a group of twenty young people for the week. It was an extraordinary experience to have so many people from all around the world gather together to celebrate their faith. On the evening before the final Mass it’s traditional to camp outside, to be ready to celebrate the Eucharist with the Pope the following morning. That night we were surrounded by pilgrims from France, Guatemala, the USA, Cambodia, and South Africa. There was very little sleep, but plenty of football. It is after all the international language! The following day, Pope Francis reminded the youth that that they were not the future of our Church, but were in fact ‘the now of God’. Drawing on Acts 26:16, the Pope told them to “Arise, for I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen”.
With this mission in mind Catholic Youth Ministry Ireland, of which the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the Dominicans are a part of, planned an event for young people over the age of 18 in Knock. It was to be a day where we answered the call of Pope Francis to Arise, to remind ourselves of our identity as children of God and as witness to the faith. And so it was at 6:00am on the dot, on a dry morning, almost thirty of us left Cork to join young adults from dioceses, movements, and religious congregations from all around Ireland.
The day had two keynote speakers, including Sr. Susan Jones CHF, chaplain to one of the country’s largest homeless charities. She spoke to the group about what compassion in action looks like. Fr. Brendan Kilcoyne, from the Archdiocese of Tuam, talked about the legacy of our Church in Ireland. In addition to the talks we also had lively music ministry, some drama, and a range of workshops that included drumming, prayer, overseas development, music, and faith development. When our bus pulled back into Cork at almost 9:00pm that evening everyone was both exhausted and energised.
WYD Lisbon 2022
As we look to the future, it’s abundantly clear that in Ireland we have our work cut out for us, but we have amazing people who have answered the call to give an account of the hope that is within them and to do it with gentleness and humility. From my experience in our schools, there is an innate curiosity and openness in our young people that needs to be encouraged and fostered. We need to see faith formation as something more than the responsibility of our teachers. As Pope Francis reminds us, we need witnesses filled with the joy of the Gospel who are unafraid to share their faith by what they say, but more importantly what they do. Looking to the next World Youth Day in Lisbon in 2022 we are going to have an even larger group from Ireland. It’s time for us to Arise.