A group of about 50 young people took to the streets of Germany this summer on a pilgrimage said to be an “integral part” of youth ministry in their diocese.
Living Youth, developed by the Diocese of Down and Connor, brought the young pilgrims to Bavaria from July 28 to August 3.
According to the Director of Living Youth, Pauline Dowd, there is a “clear relationship” between summer pilgrimage and ongoing faith development programmes such as Youth Alpha, Altaration, Nua and the John Paul II Award.
“Many of our young pilgrims have completed these in recent years and they provide a pathway to peer leadership and increased parish involvement,” she says. When they reach the age of 19, they’re invited to take part in their leadership-training programme which includes safeguarding, group work skills, music ministry, leading groups in prayer and more.
Ms Dowd says: “What has been particularly pleasing has been the number of young people who began the Parish GIFT programme as 12-year- olds and now travel with us as leaders.”
She says Bavaria has “close connections” to Ireland, as St Killian established the faith there in the 6th Century and that “Blessed Rupert Meyer whose shrine is in Bürgersaalkirche in the centre of Munich, led the Catholic resistance to the Nazis”.
“Our itinerary drew us to many of the places of religious significance in the region and we shared our celebrations of the Eucharist with Catholics from across the globe,” Ms Dowd says.
“From Munich with Mass in Old St Peter’s to Altötting, the ‘Lourdes of Germany’ with its spectacular shrine to Our Lady. We gave a great rendition of Our Lady of Knock at the end of Mass.”
The group travelled on to Regensburg and the oldest church in Bavaria, the Nativity of Our Lady, and celebrated Mass in the Chapel of Grace.
“The trip to Dachau was a sad but interesting day. We celebrated Mass in the Carmelite Convent and saw the vestments of the priest ordained in the camp. These had been handmade by fellow prisoners from their prison clothes. Our guides were informative and very knowledgeable and enriched our experience,” said Ms Dowd.
Mark Chernek, one of the pilgrims, said: “Before going to Germany I was questioning my faith but with the great work that Living Youth do and the great people that I am surrounded by, whilst we are away, I am more comfortable with my faith and I feel like a lot of my questions have now been answered!”
Another young pilgrim, Jessica Webb, said: “Living youth provides young people with the opportunity to build friendships with people of like mind. “You learn that in a world that appears to have turned its back on religion, that there are still young people willing to openly celebrate their Faith. Living youth restores pride in our beliefs, and the summer pilgrimage fuels our Faith for the year ahead.”