As young people from all over the world prepare to travel to Madrid for World Youth Day 2011, 9-16 August, those involved in the Jesuit Magis intitiative will be packing their bags some ten days earlier. Magis Ireland have young people lined up to spend almost two weeks in preparation experiences in the areas of social service, art and creativity, faith and culture, spirituality, ecology and pligrimage. The motto for this year’s Magis is “With Christ at the heart of the world”. The Jesuits, along with other religious institutions and laypeople throughout the world who follow Ignatian Spirituality, have invited pilgrims to find Christ at the centre of their lives. In August’s Messenger, Noelle Fitzpatrick (pictured here), one of the Programme Directors with Magis Ireland, writes movingly of her experience at a previous Magis World Youth Day and you can read it here.
THE POPE’S INTENTIONS
Reflections on World Youth Day
This month the Pope asks us ‘that the World Youth Day taking place in Madrid may encourage all the young people of the world to root and found their lives in Christ’.
Not being one prone to intoxication by big spectacles, I had ‘sober’ expectations of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia. I also carried some unfounded anxieties, misconceptions and prejudices. These melted away under the blaze of the Southern Cross in that great and spiritual land.
Sixteen young people travelled to Australia as part of the Slí Eile (Jesuit Ministry to Young Adults) group. The group was truly international in flavour and included young people from Croatia, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA; and ome representing all that is good and to be cherished about the new Ireland.
They travelled, firstly, to take part in the MAGiS formation programme, organised and facilitated by the Ignatian Family in Australia. Secondly, to take part in the World Youth Day festival of learning and celebration of faith, together with half a million other young Catholics from around the globe.
What then is MAGiS? St. Ignatius used the word MAGiS (or ‘More’) to talk about a quest for the greater good. It is a esire and inspiration for us to seek more, be more and to let go of what holds us back.
The MAGiS ’08 programme is an immersion experience consisting of five elements: morning prayer, liturgy, activity, group reflection and a daily Examen. Central to the programme is the activity or ‘experiment’ component, which is taken from the formation experiences of religious congregations based on Ignatian Spirituality. It is designed to stretch and challenge individuals with the unfamiliar.
Practically, how did it work? In Australia, young people of different nationality were grouped together for a period of five days. In that time they are immersed not only in the melting pot of different cultures, languages and faith traditions (their new group), they are also immersed in a particular exercise or ‘experiment’ – pilgrimage, service oriented or creative in nature.
In our case half of the Slí Eile group were ‘thrown together’ with Indian and American nationals into a ‘Service Experiment’ to work in a homeless shelter in Melbourne.
The other half were split into two pilgrimage groups comprising of French and Australian nationals. They were dispatched to the southernmost point of mainland Australia, for a cold, windswept, sunny and rainy hiking and camping experience!
What emerges from this experience is uniquely personal to each individual and almost defies verbal articulation. It challenges on an intellectual, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual level – and almost all at once! Where one person is more physically challenged by the walking or manual labour, another is challenged by the daily reflections nd sharing. Where one finds difficulty with quiet contemplation, another is exhausted by constant conversation.
In the case of the pilgrimage experiment – make up came off, barriers went down, blisters rose up, and rain battered down, all in sympathy with the daily hoisting and dismantling of tents! There were no camp fires, no electronics, no frills. Simply the elements, ourselves, light, darkness, silence, nature, and God in all things.
What did we learn? For each the learning is different, trickling, and rarely immediate. Broadly speaking, we learned something about our strengths and weaknesses in situations unfamiliar. Present were excitement, fun, pain, compassion, acceptance, hope, doubt and an openness to growth and change, and to search out and be the unique persons we were designed to be.
On that outward and inward journey fear was utterly defeated. MAGiS ’08 was a school of prayer and discernment, with a focus on the outward oriented challenge of the Gospel to be men and women for others. It is one thing to have some awareness at head level that God is present in creation, and that too many people in this world live under a weight of ppression, pain and disadvantage. To experience it, and know it at a heart level is another thing entirely.
The MAGiS ’08 programme wrapped itself around the entire human person and challenged us in a gentle way to simply be; also to confront, to probe, to challenge and to check our own behaviours and motivations in the light of the Gospel message.The culmination of every day was the Examen prayer – designed to detect the movement of the Spirit in daily life. Created by St. Ignatius it is based on his certainty that God is at work in our lives in every thing and in every moment.
Over 1,000 young people experienced MAGiS ’08 through a wide range of experiments. These took them from sacred aboriginal sites to sheep farms, from tree plantations to mountain ranges, hospitals to museums, cities to deserts. After the five days, we all gathered bedraggled, tired but strangely re-energised at the Ignatian Gathering in Sydney. This gathering was designed to help distill and process, share and prepare for the coming World Youth Day event.
Flags and drums can hypnotise. The World Youth Day experience has them in abundance. There is something very humbling in the realisation that there may be fifty or more flags hoisted above the sea of people around you that you cannot identify. That in itself is a blessing, because it is an invitation to grow. The whole event was a feast of colour, pectacle and opportunity.
We chatted on park benches with young people from Micronesia, traded Mars bars for Maltesers with religious sisters on the harbour, and exchanged national flags with an African Cardinal ‘incognito’! What we witnessed in Sydney was not three worlds, not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ but a ‘we’ – one world, one Church. There was so much about these days that was mutually affirming. Mutual affirmation is so important in a universal Church that draws together ordained and lay people in a single mission – individual branches of the same tree.
Never mind Michael Flately and his ‘Feet of Flames’, the Holy Spirit led a merry dance in the streets and parks of Sydney! Young people were there because they really wanted to be. There was a nod of recognition, and a light of hope in every eye. They questioned, they probed, they laughed and (only sometimes) dozed off! There was a wonderful reedom to choose what events or workshops to attend and at what level to engage.
At any one time, part of our group could be found gathered in a circle debating some point or other from the morning’s catechesis, whilst another part was at a talk on ‘Prayer and the Creative Arts’, attending a Taizé service or learning about ‘Human Trafficking’ or ‘War and Reconciliation’. Opportunities for intellectual and spiritual engagement and growth were endless. People were filled with wide-eyed enthusiasm at this opportunity for meaningful access to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church – big scale.
The World Youth Day Festival hinged on four key events: the opening mass, reenactment of the Stations of the Cross, the Vigil and Final Mass. Pope Benedict was personable and challenged us all with a fierce humility and conviction. He spoke both of the ‘genius of human achievement’ and of the ‘scars which mark the surface of our earth’ – sexual xploitation and environmental degradation.
He spoke also of the place of new experiences in a culture of choice, and about how ‘Experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.’ (Arrival eremony, 17th July 2008)
The overarching theme for this World Youth Day was the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict spoke of how the Spirit ‘has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity’ (Vigil, 19th July 2008). He spoke of the power of the Holy Spirit loving, burning, awaiting only to be released and to release the untapped potential ithin each individual.
In truth, and on a personal level, my understanding of the ‘person’ and power of the Holy Spirit has at an intellectual level improved only marginally! At a heart level however, and through the concentration of catechesis, homilies and a raft of other inter-personal and personal experiences, both understanding of, and relationship with the Holy Spirit has improved significantly.
Bags were packed and the group withdrew from the experience. Even now we are still mourning its passing while savouring a new lightness of being, new relationships formed, and a certain reinvigoration of faith. As this outward journey comes to an end, so the inward one continues. To what end?
In Australia the ‘I’ bowed gracefully and took a step backwards to cede primary focus to the ‘We’ and the ‘Us’. A strong feeling of community reigned supreme. Could we carry that sense of community in our bones back to homes across the earth? Could we turn it outwards and light a stronger flame under our Social Spirituality? Would we breathe new life into this, a spirituality that ‘takes its focus beyond ‘me’ and how ‘I’ feel, and looks sideways, downwards, upwards … toward society, and the world, and all its gifts and all its injustices?
My prayer for all of us coming back from Australia was that we would not let this become just another new experience under which to bury ourselves. Rather, that we persist to find from it ‘More’ for our lives. ‘More’ for our world. Men nd women for others.
Heartfelt thanks to the Ignatian family and most particularly to our colleagues in the Jesuit Province as well as the wider Church in Australia for facilitating such a valuable experience.