I wanted to begin this chronicle with a quote from Saint John Paul II, directed towards the youth, which sums up the experience of our International Youth Gathering in Luxemburg, whose theme this year was “Do not be afraid”.
“Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.”
I arrived late Wednesday night May 23rd, two days before the beginning of the Youth Gathering on Friday. On Thursday morning, I began to help with all the proximate preparations. From the beginning, there was an unmistakable atmosphere of joy and joyful expectation, with everyone working together as a family towards our noble goal.
“Our Constitutions say that, ‘bodily danger does not threaten those who with the intention of following Christ, abandon all their possessions and entrust themselves to Divine Providence.’ In a particular way, God has determined that for the Servidoras, as spouses of Christ, this Providence would bear the seal of the Guardian of Virgins.”
Throughout the months of preparation, the sisters relied on God to provide for the many needs of the Youth Gathering, and we could see how Divine Providence took care of so many details. The sisters had been begging for months, and through the intercession of St. Joseph and the generosity of benefactors, we saw the convent filled with donations of all kinds. Not only were there benefactors for all the material needs of the Youth Gathering, but Divine Providence also sent so many volunteers and Third Order members to help prepare, to work during, and help afterwards – to clean, put up and take down tents, to cook and take care of service. This all began in an atmosphere of festivity that only increased as our missionaries and youth poured in from our missions in Northern Europe – Germany, Holland, Luxemburg, Lithuania, Scotland, and with youth who come from other countries such as Finland, Denmark, etc.
Throughout the weekend, the spirit of joy kept growing, fed by the recreation times, singing, skits, stage games and sports time. On our way to sports time in a gym, we took the words of Pope Francis to the youth in Brazil seriously, “I would like us to make noise… I want the Church to be in the streets”. We walked for about twenty minutes through the streets of Luxemburg, with a guitar and microphone: more than 100 youth, priests and sisters, making noise in the streets!
Something new this year was a tent dedicated to Pro-Life issues which was aimed at informing the youth about the necessity to defend life in all its stages, and give them resources and contacts in order that they could get involved back in their own homes.
Of course, the whole weekend was markedly Marian as well, with the main image on our backdrop of our beloved patroness, Our Lady of Luján, as well as the hymns in her honor during the liturgical celebrations, the well-known shouts of “Viva la Virgen!” and the rosary procession. This year, we received permission and help from the police who went before and behind, and we were able to walk through the neighborhood, carrying a statue of Our Lady of Luxemburg. From their apartments, the people came out on their balconies, they stopped what they were doing in the streets, and contemplated the scene: more than 100 young people praying and singing to Our Lady on a Saturday night, proclaiming to the world, “I am young, I am free, and I choose to follow Jesus Christ, and I´m not afraid to go out into the streets to manifest my faith”.
“To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance.”
Another central point of the weekend was the celebration of the Holy Mass. It was obvious that great importance was giving to the Sacred Mysteries. Booklets had been prepared well in advance to help the youth participate more consciously in the Holy Mass; the choir practiced beforehand; there were dignified vessels and vestments, twelve priests who concelebrated, and seminarians who served the altar along with the youth. How important it is for the youth to participate worthily in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in a world that is certainly losing the sense of the sacred.
It was wonderful to see the different ways in which the youth found their desires for a serious spirituality fulfilled throughout the weekend. It was a great blessing to be able to offer these young people concrete encounters with the grace of God. There were two tents for confessions in view, close to all the activities during the day. It was announced that the priests were always available for confession and spiritual direction, and it was clear that the youth were seeking these fountains of grace and took advantage of the moment. It was quite moving to see the panorama during the breaks – youth playing sports, checking out the expo-congre and prolife tents, and in the background, youth confessing constantly. Also, knowing that the Eucharist is “both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit”, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the chapel throughout the day, giving the youth the opportunity to encounter Jesus present in the Eucharist at any time. There was even nocturnal adoration, and some of the youth stayed up late praying.
“…be coherent with your faith… be active members of the Church and builders of peace”
The workshops were also aimed at providing a solid spiritual formation, with talks about how to use the scriptures in our daily lives, trusting in God, using social media, and the vocation to marriage and to the religious life. We had also prepared pamphlets with dates for the Spiritual Exercises, and did our best to promote them, knowing that this is a most efficacious way to grow in holiness.
Like the theme – do not be afraid – the youth had shown themselves throughout the day to be unafraid of the adventure of holiness, having gone to confession, participated in the Holy Mass, publicly manifested their faith in the streets, and we celebrated together on Saturday evening in a spirit of freedom and joy at our traditional bonfire. As daylight faded, it was beautiful to see, by the light of the bonfire, so many young people singing, chatting, roasting marshmallows, and even attempting to play volleyball in the dark. Their songs and laughter filled the night´s darkness as they radiated this contagious, festive joy, fruit of a clear conscience and strengthened faith.
At the ending recreation after lunch, it has become a tradition for the groups from the different countries and language groups to present a song or two. As the different groups were singing this year, I could not help but remember our first Youth Gathering in Northern Europe, only five years ago, and marvel at how quickly this event has grown, and thank God for the blessing of being able to offer these young people a chance to experience this grace-filled weekend.
“Be contemplative, love prayer”
The Youth Gathering officially ended with a song to Our Lady, the final blessing, and the gift of a book we published about the existence of God. After the official end, we gave the youth the opportunity to visit the contemplatives, and we were all struck by their genuine interest, their questions, and their prayer intentions. When the sisters told them how they had been taking turns all day and night in adoration, praying for the fruits of the Youth Gathering and for the youth, they were really surprised and thankful. One girl said, “We want to thank you for praying for us. Please don´t stop!”
“The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity”
After participating in a weekend like this, of intense activity directed directly towards bringing souls to Christ, to the sacraments and providing an environment of charity, family and friendship, we can only give infinite thanks to God for the grace to be a part of our beloved Religious Family.
I would like to ask you to pray for the continued fruits in the lives of these youth and that we missionaries may respond worthily to the graces received during this Youth Gathering.
¡Viva la Misión!
M. Maria Porta Coeli, SSVM
Missionary in Iceland, Province Mary, Gate of the Dawn