freshly-harvested Norfolk fields, and a little brook bubbling along nearby. We are walking down the lane saying the Rosary, a group of people, strangers till this evening, now united by our prayers as we make our way from the village to an ancient site of pilgrimage.
This was a personal highlight of my visit to Youth 2000 at Walsingham this summer. Of course this quiet walk was not the main event — just a happy bonus for a small group of us who had decided to walk along the Holy Mile one evening, and were joined by others as we made our way back. But it was indicative of the whole atmosphere of the Youth 2000 event.
Hundreds and hundreds of young people had converged on the site a meadow immediately opposite the National Shrine of Our Lady. There were various marquees — the biggest one housing the Blessed Sacrament where adoration was maintained throughout the four-day pilgrimage and where all the main Masses and other services were held. One adjoining field was reserved for girls' camping accommodation, another for boys, another for families.
Everything centres on prayer, the Rosary, Confession, and above all the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament. I have never seen so many people going to confession, or heard it preached about more powerfully, or been so well equipped with
leaflets on the subject or with spiritual preparation in the form of prayers and meditations and testimonies. During the afternoons where were talks and workshops on a variety of subjects — I was giving one on Catholic traditional feasts and seasons — alternating with games and sports. Mornings and evenings were given over to Mass, to lectures in the big tent, or to special times of prayer. We were roused at 7 am and reminded that morning prayers would be held at 7.30 — these always included music and the Rosary.
g ince coming here, I've
begun to understand a lot of
things I hadn't really thought about properly before" one girl said, in a moving personal testimony given one evening "I went to confession for the first time since my First Holy Communion." A priest told me "I feel that here, my priesthood has been renewed. I cannot tell you what it has meant to me and I know this goes for others, too."
The formula is simple — a blend of Catholicism with something of the tent-preaching methods of evangelical crusaders, minus the ranting and with a complete absence of any dominating cult of personality. Being at Walsingham, a shrine dating back almost 1,000 years, lends a sense of stability and a strong Marian theme. There is a very powerful sense of being at the heart of the Church — posters quote the Scriptures, Pope John Paul, Mother Teresa and saints such as Maximilian Kolbe and Therese of Lisieux.
The tone is informal — Christian names only on the badges, children milling around everywhere, bookstalls and displays showing the work of various apostolates at home and abroad.
There is nothing inward-looking or narrow-minded about the message: pro-life groups and others were finding willing listeners to their message of social concern and neighbourly charity, and workshops tackled everything from the theology of the body to "How do we share the faith with others?" The most notable thing about the crowd was the huge number of young.religious Brothers and Sisters, all from the new orders such as the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal or the Brothers of St John, or Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity . They wear traditional habits — the sisters' veils fluttering in the breeze, the Brothers with robes that swept to the ground to meet bare toes and squashy sandals. Exuding youth and enthusiasm, these young religious were rarely seen without groups of young people, talking, laughing, praying, singing.
If all this sounds too idyllic, it's important to add some balancing comments. The emphasis on personal testimonies carries some risks — people might blurt out some private sorrow in the emotionallycharged atmosphere of an evening service, and realise later that it might better have rested quietly in Christ's ear and not been widely shared. And there is a danger of assuming that conversion can be the work of one evening — while the reality is that it has to be lived out in the months and years ahead. But these are things which are, I think, probably being recognised and discussed.
The organisation was superb meals were provided in large marquees with wide wooden tables, announcements were audible, programmes for various events clear and well-presented, facilities for children good and the general atmosphere extremely pleasant and welcoming.
Goodness alone knows what all this costs. The fee
charged per person was minimal, and Youth 2000 has not yet been going long enough to have attracted huge donors or legacies. In my view, any money donated to the venture is a real investment in the future of the Church in Britain.
While many of our Catholic schools just don't seem to be communicating the Faith in a way that sticks, here is something that is healing the damage and pointing the way ahead. I was one of those who cheered and called out "Yes! Yes!" when we were asked if the Walsingham gathering should be held again next year.
Youth 2000 can be reached at PO Box 176 Leeds LS17 9XU