As leader of the Irish Magis group, Gerry Clarke has a unique perspective on those heady August days which culminated with the World Youth Day gathering in Marienfeld, Cologne, for Mass with Pope Benedict.
Many moments stand out for me as I reflect on the two weeks I spent at the Magis World Youth Day pilgrimage this summer. I’d like to mention just two because while in the next article Patricia describes the experience of a Lay pilgrim, these two stories illuminate the experience of a Jay pilgrim!
On the morning of the 21st August a weary group of 33 Irish pilgrims struggled out of their sleeping bags and headed for the Portakabin bathrooms on the Marienfeld, a converted open mine which hosted the final World Youth Day Mass with Benedict XVI. Unbelievably we had no rain during the night despite the lowering clouds. Only a heavy dew had settled on our little camp without tents and already a million people were on the move.
The question for myself and León Ó Giolláin was whether we could concelebrate the Mass. We had none of the required permits, no clerical garb, hardly an alb between us but plenty of enthusiasm and daring. León compares it to the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus Ch. 2. We made our way through the crowds of pilgrims with little trouble past all sorts of security checks to the priests enclosure. There we were able to concelebrate, admittedly behind the barrier but nevertheless right underneath the raised platform where the altar stood.
It was during the Mass that my mobile phone rang. My Dad was critically ill and it didn’t look as if he would survive the day. This was a terrible blow. I stood among one million jubilant pilgrims wondering was anybody else feeling the same way. Was there anybody else out there facing such a sad loss? But there really was very little to be done. We were scheduled to return home the next day. I had said my goodbyes to Dad before I left and there was no point in straining to come home a few hours earlier.
This is where León stepped in. He was praying that Dad would pull through just for the moment. And he did. And in the end I realized for an Alzheimer’s patient death could be a long delayed entry into glory and the festivity of the World Youth Day Mass an appropriate requiem. My father still struggles on. His journey is painful and difficult. It’s hard to share and hard to enter into and this brings me to the second moment that stands out for me.
It’s a story I heard after the pilgrimage about Antonio Lee, a Korean Jesuit who accompanied our group to Cologne. Anybody who knows Antonio will be struck by his contemplative way of being and his love of company. But in the most charitable way he can also be quite sharp. After three years in Ireland, his conclusion is that Irish people like meaning and craic – but evenly balanced. Too much meaning and we get bored; too much craic and we yearn for the meaning.
The story goes that Antonio was encouraging his group of Irish pilgrims to take things easy, to relax and reflect – to enjoy their daily walk, not just endure it. However, a certain leader wasn’t too happy with this approach. He wanted to push on at a faster pace. After a number of “pushes” Antonio squared up to this impatient leader (Antonio did two years military service with the South Korean Artillery) and in a typically gentle tone said “One goal, … many journeys, … enjoy yours!”
Perhaps these are good words to have in mind as we start into another year. Just as St Ignatius described himself as the pilgrim, we too are all pilgrim,s whether we walked the Camino de Santiago or the roads of Belgium this summer: lay, jay, pilgrims, Christians, humans, whatever. “One goal … many journeys … enjoy yours!”