Tyrone man devotes himself to pilgrimage
As Catholics there are many ways that we can show devotion to our faith. Regular attendance at Mass and perhaps voluntary work in our dioceses are ways that spring to mind immediately. Then there are pilgrimages. Year after year Irish people flock to significant religious destinations on the far edges of the Earth for the sake of pilgrimage, and the chance to feel closer to God as a result.
For some people these pilgrimages are a once in a lifetime experience, maybe even twice or three times. For Tyrone man Matthew McFadden, however, pilgrimages have become a huge part of his life. For the last eight years of his life Matthew has been organising youth pilgrimages to Lourdes. This involves a huge amount of organisation to ensure the trips run smoothly, but for Matthew it is now almost second nature.
So committed is he to God’s work that Matthew expanded his outreach this year to organise the Clogher don Óige pilgrimage to Madrid for World Youth Day (WYD) 2011, while also partaking in pilgrimages to Medjugorie in August and the Holy Lands in October. When I spoke to Matthew he told me how he developed an interest in pilgrimage that has led him to become Youth Director of Clogher diocese. He also spoke of his first experience of World Youth Day, which was in Rome in 2000.
”Getting to see Pope John Paul II close up was wonderful, here was a man that I heard so much about and really admired, and to get to be near him was a spine-tingling experience. The icing on the cake was the vigil, we all [two million of us] camped out for the night and it was one big celebration of faith, everybody was chanting, singing, dancing into the early hours of the morning. This was a defining moment in my life and the beginning of a journey that has taken me to my current job as youth director of Clogher diocese.”
The experiences that Matthew had at WYD clearly moulded him into the active member of the Church that he is today, and one can only hope that the young people who attended WYD in August of this year will come away with the same desire to participate fully in the life of the Catholic faith.
Matthew also spoke of the organisation involved with these youth pilgrimages. It is no mean feat to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable trip: ”You really have to be on your toes when you’re out there – it’s a big responsibility looking after groups of 40/50/60 young people.
”I’m blessed in that I have worked with some great leaders who are dedicated youth workers and give of their own time to participate in these trips.”
The question is, is the work really worth all of the effort that Matthew and his fellow youth workers put in?
Without a doubt in Matthew’s opinion: ”They definitely come away from it viewing life differently. I’m not one for getting carried away with major transformations and life changing events but I think that pilgrimages challenges young people at a time when they are starting to question what life is all about. It definitely makes a difference to them and has the potential, by their actions, to make a difference to other people that they meet.”
In an era where social media is king, and technological advances are leaving many out in the cold, it is so important to involve the next generations within the Church.
One way to get the youth involved is through pilgrimages. They offer the young person the chance to make lifelong friends, have a good time as well as developing their faith in a most profound way.
This is why Matthew and other youth workers in dioceses all over the country put in the hard work in organising these trips. The benefits are clear to see.