On Thursday morning April 23rd 180 boys and girls, aged between 15 -18 gathered in Knock for the day. Nearly all secondary schools in the diocese were represented, from Louisburgh to Tuam, from Athenry to Achill. All began at 10 with coffee and muffins. As the students gathered, they stayed in their own groups, nervously wondering what they had let themselves in for. On the other hand, for the organizers, last minute nerves were beginning to take hold and they wondered what had possessed them to organize the day.
At 10.30 the students took their places in a large semi-circle and were briefly welcomed by the Archbishop. We had begun. The last remnants of awkward silence were shattered with Samba Drums. Students from Tuam and Claremorris had come together during the week to practice and they now put on a 15 minute presentation which got feet tapping, hands clapping and most importantly faces smiling.
There followed a series of ice-breakers which saw the young people mixing and chatting and laughing. The silence had been shattered and the ice was beginning to break. In the space of an hour strangers were becoming friends, confidence was growing and from the many different school groups we were beginning to form one group.
By mid-morning a version of the Emmaus story was the basis for our 10 minutes of quiet prayer together. The students entered into the time of prayer with enthusiasm and openness. Could these be the young people who had no interest in Church, or in God or in Prayer?
After the prayer time we began the real work of the day. A brief input set up the question ‘What is Jesus’ dream for the church?’ We split the big group up and asked them to suggest what purpose the Church has in our world. The answers were enlightening… and challenging; to build community, to help people find God in their lives, to explain about God to people, to celebrate God’s presence in our world, to teach people to pray, to help people find happiness and fulfilment, to care for those who nobody else will care for.
After lunch the evening saw the process develop. We imagined that the Tuam Diocesan Youth Council was up and running and asked the two simple questions: ‘What is happening for young people in the Diocese?’ and ‘How has your parish changed?’ The answers were both creative and challenging. We imagined a diocese where every young person had the opportunity to be part of vibrant and meaningful liturgies, where they could gather together in a faith context and have fun, where they grew in awareness and understanding of what their faith means. Our parishes were places of welcome for young people, where not only were their voices heard but encouraged, where young people led liturgy as opposed to playing token roles and where it was ok to be proud to believe. Much food for thought there!
For our closing Mass we were joined by a school choir from Headford and by a group from Castlebar who performed a liturgical movement after communion. At mass the students sang and clapped, they swayed and they prayed. In place of a sermon each student placed a lighted candle on a on a specially prepared screen. The 180 candles formed in big 4 ft high letters the word Hope. And that’s what our young people are – the hope of our Church and that’s how Thursday left all involved feeling: full of hope.
Sure there is disinterest among young people, sure there is apathy. Yes our Church seems and often is irrelevant for them. But there is a huge amount of good will and there is a hunger and a need waiting to be satisfied.
On that Thursday in April our Young people challenged all of us! Surely we owe it to them to take up the Challenge!!