When youth ministry works

Youth motivated by prayerful and faith-filled energy

Even though I’ve attended the Youth 2000 Summer Festival each August for the past 10 years, it’s impossible not to be impressed yet again by what they managed to achieve at Mount St Joseph Abbey in Roscrea last week.

This year the school sports hall at Cistercian College could barely contain the congregation of over 1,000 people who turned out for the festival’s closing Mass with the Papal Nuncio. And this was no flash in the pan. The annual summer festival has been consistently successful.

It would be a mistake to think that this gathering is a jamboree for the converted. There is a significant number of non-Churchgoers who attend out of genuine curiosity.

So, what is the secret? Different people will give different answers. But from what I can see there are three prominent factors. The first is evangelical zeal.

This is the prayerful and faith-filled energy that motivates the young people involved to devote hundreds of volunteer hours to tackling the logistical challenges of preparing a venue and a programme fit for 1,000 of their peers. Evangelical zeal is what drives them to go into the parishes and onto the streets to personally invite young people to attend the four-day event. Their work bears fruit each year: The number of first-timers at this year’s gathering was remarkable. It is certainly no cosy corner for the same old faces. Each year has a freshness and newness about it.

Secondly, the organisers trust in Providence. In practical terms that means they decide to run the festival and organise the 13 free buses long before all the funds have ever been raised. Maybe this is what distinguishes them most. Their trust in the generosity of God is more than perfunctory words. It’s real. And the fruit of this trust is the grace-filled annual gathering.

And, thirdly, Youth 2000 has a knack of empowering and enabling young people to become active participants in the organisation. Dozens of people help out in the unglamorous work of setting up the venue, catering, and stewarding. The model here is participation not passivity. As a result the young people become stake holders in the success of the project.

Finally, Youth 2000 deserves praise for its decision to maintain a ministry to the under 18s. The child abuse catastrophe has frightened some Church personnel away from having any contact with minors. Indeed, the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland has warned against this kind of paranoia.

However, Youth 2000 hasn’t shied away from this critically important age group. They have met the challenge by using a large number of trained and vetted “guardians” who attend the festival and implement the safeguarding policy and procedures.

As I’ve written here before, Youth 2000 is not the perfect product. It has its own flaws and weaknesses; what group doesn’t? But at this time in the life of the Church in Ireland Youth 2000 is modelling a ‘can do’ attitude that should challenge and inspire us all.

Sowing seeds

The tragic loss of two Presentation Sisters who drowned in a swimming accident in County Kerry triggered a wave of tributes from past students and colleagues of the women.

I saw some of the most touching tributes on Facebook where several past students posted comments. One woman described how one of the sisters had given her significant advice at school that had changed the course of her life for the better.

In this era of organisational decline some religious might wonder what effect, if any, they've had. But in the words of Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, 'How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.' That is true of the lives of many of our religious sisters, brothers, and priests.

All Ireland honours

A few months ago I addressed a clergy conference in England and met an Irish priest who had an All Ireland senior football medal. It made me wonder how many clergy have earned All Ireland honours in either code over the years.

I consulted some wiser and older heads and weíve come up with a list. Maybe in the month of September when the All Ireland series reaches its climax weíll print the names weíve been able to identify.

If you know of priests or religious brothers who have won All Ireland honours for their counties at senior, minor, U-21 or junior level let me know and Iíll add them to the list!