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Jesuits experience the joy of Youth 2000

Over 1,200 young people aged 16-35 from all over Ireland attended the Youth 2000 Summer Festival in Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea from 7-10 July. Among the many priests and religious who attended the event were five Jesuits, Kevin O’Rourke SJ, Leon Ó Giolláin SJ, Edmund Grace SJ, Myles O’Reilly SJ and Niall Leahy SJ. The Jesuits heard Confessions during the Reconcilation Service as well as helping with the facilitation of small discussion groups, while Kevin O’Rourke also facilitated two workshops on ‘How to pray? – The Basics’ which were well attended and positively received. Jesuit apostolates were also were well represented in the exhibition marquee where Caitríona Maher and Sarah Brady of Messenger Publications promoted Re-link, the schools supplement of the Sacred Heart Messenger, while Patrick Muldoon of Jesuit Communications disseminated information about the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and prayer cards of Blessed Elect Fr John Sullivan.

The theme of the weekend was ‘Receive my mercy, inherit my kingdom’ (Acts 26:18) and a moving Reconcilation and Healing Service on consecutive nights was the highlight, as young people queued for three hours to receive Confession. Fr. Patrick Cahill from the Community of the Family of Mary was the keynote speaker and he delivered a series of engaging talks on ‘Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist’, ‘How to receive God’s Mercy’, and ‘Mary Our Mother’. The festival featured talks on true womanhood and true manhood for the first time while testimonies from young people on living out the faith, as well as a wide variety of workshops covering topics such as Love and Relationships, Faith in the media, Superheroes, Prayer and Adoration, Marriage, Vocation, Pro-life, and the dangers of New Age and pornography, were also were also part of the programme.

Niall Leahy said it was “a great joy” to be present at Youth 2000 “with so many wonderful people”. He compared the weekend to the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, “putting God back at the centre of your life and orienting your life, your heart, your mind towards God again, and experiencing the joy that it brings”. The common theme discussed by the Jesuits present at the festival was “how rich the confessions were”, he said. “People are very transparent and receive deep healing in the Sacrament of Reconcilation”, remarked Niall. “You can’t plan what happens on a Youth 2000 retreat or when the Spirit moves, it’s about being here and supporting people on their journey with the Lord”, he concluded.

In his workshop Kevin O’Rourke led participants through a number of sessions of guided prayer, concentrating on the ‘Jesus prayer’ and being still in the presence of the Lord. “Prayer from the heart is expressing your emotions and your feelings, and your needs, your joys and your sorrows very honestly”, explained Kevin, noting that this way of praying is “very much part of the Catholic tradition”. He said “it is about being in the present physically, spiritually and emotionally”, and that we can help ourselves to be immersed in the prayer by making the Sign of the Cross, undertaking a Stillness exercise and contemplating on some Scripture such as “’It is your face that I seek O’ Lord, hide not your face’, (Psalm 27:8), or ‘O God, you are my God for you I long’ (Psalm 63). That helps us to know that we are already in God’s presence, he remarked, before moving into the Jesus prayer, a prayer of very few words, where “we are encouraged to speak with Christ about what is uppermost in our heart”. Kevin encouraged the young people not to be put off by distractions but to go back to focusing on Scripture. “Everyone of us has a favourite scene in the Gospel…a set of holy words like ‘Be still and know that I am God’, he said, explaining that “the main thing is that you’re desiring God”.

Celebrating Mass at the festival, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown told the young people to open their hearts to God’s secret truth. “The secret is that he loves you with an infinite love, you are precious in his eyes…every aspect of your personality is known by Christ”, he said, explaining how with the eyes of faith they could “begin to see what perhaps other people can’t see, the gift of knowing the secret of God’s love…that God is present here in the Church, in the Mass, in the Blessed Sacrament, in Confession.” The Archbishop urged the youth to be courageous, ”don’t be afraid to pray, to show your faith and follow Jesus in the world”, he said, explaining they “received an amazing gift” during the retreat, the gift of knowing more deeply the love of Jesus.

He encouraged them “when you leave here, proclaim what you have received…the beauty of our God and faith”. Citing the example of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Saint Joan of Arc, and Blessed Charles de Foucauld, the Archbishop said that “the Church is built by young people, and that “we need young people to speak our faith”. Archbishop Brown also reflected on the beauty of the life of the late Sr Clare Crockett who died tragically in the earthquake in Equador earlier this year. “Look at the YouTube of her life, this beautiful girl from Derry who left everything for love of Jesus”, he said, explaining how her life was totally transformed by her faith. “She was changed, made radiant and beautiful…an example to be followed and perhaps a saint to be prayed to”, the Archbishop said.

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan also spoke at the festival. In his homily at Mass he congratulated the youth on their decision to come to the retreat, commending them on their courage “to accept the invitation from Jesus”. The Bishop said we live in a country where we can see opposition to the faith. He made a plea to the young people, “Ireland is a mess in so many ways and it needs people like you who love Jesus, to heal this country with Jesus’ faith, with his love”. The country “needs people of courage to work with Jesus”, the Bishop said, as he encouraged the festival-goers “to be co-workers of Jesus”, offering up their lives and work, so that they can be instruments of his mercy. That means “we must forgive from our heart”, he said and try to bring peace to difficult situations, with “words that don’t hurt but heal”, because “love grows when it’s shared, it is the only thing that when you give it away, it gets bigger”, the Bishop concluded.

In his workshop ‘Cost of Discipleship: martyrdom’, Fr. Vincent Twomey SVD said that Christianity “is not for the faint-hearted”. “To follow Christ, to be baptised, to opt to live your life trying to do the will of God, is to commit yourself into his hands, and he will carry us no matter where we are, no matter what happens to us”, explained Fr. Twomey. He said that to be a Catholic Christian “demands enormous courage, to stand up and be counted”. Our own particular mission will place demands on us, and so there’s a need “to cultivate the virtue of courage”, he stated.  According to Fr. Twomey our task is to bring the warmth and light of Christ to the rest of the world. “We are called to bear witness to witness to the truth, goodness and the beauty of Jesus Christ”, and “we do it in different ways”, he said.

Photograph: Kevin O’Rourke SJ introduces his workshop in the main hall during the festival.