From Christopher Howse in Lourdes THE YOUTH delegation from England and Wales to the Lourdes International Eucharistic Congress have won through terrible conditions to end up as leading animators of the week.
The teenagers with whom I travelled on an all-night coach from the South of England arrived at the Congress well prepared by sessions in their own deaneries and dioceses, which is more than could be said of many adults. They were met by 48 hours of continuous rain and a breakdown of organisation.
The 8,000 young people at the Congress were housed in 12 tent villages on the hillside. They suffered the hardships of lack of shelter, cold and meals consisting of cold vegetables and bread. Yet even after the group from Scotland were given the chance to come down into covered lodgings, a number decided to stay on to help the others -and could be seen in their kilts about the camp.
The French organisers seemed addicted to abstract thought. A night climb up the Pic du jer mountain was planned to bear witness to the beatitudes. After doctors estimated the casualties would be 50, it was delayed to the daytime. If nothing else, the English youth contingent brought a little reality into the business of living in a community. The goats had been stationed with the English group, as the nearest thing available. The Southwark group kept up a constant supply of vigorous songs.
But the young people had more to offer than energy. Half the success of the masses for the whole Congress was attributable to their openness in breaking down barriers. After the Mass organised by the Africans on Monday, one girl said that she had really appreciated the mixture of national music and traditional Latin hymns that they had used.
In a way the influence of the young people was the same. Both tend to be the victims of distrust and condescension. Both brought vitality and spontaneity, without despising the benefits the Church's tradition had to offer.
At the beginning of the Congress when nothing seemed to be going right, a youth delegate from Arundel and Brighton said: "When I write my report For the bishop I'm going to say it wasn't worth coming."
By the time the Congress closed there would be few who could not return home with something to bring their own deaneries.