A few months ago Fr Paddy Hennessy forwarded me an email about a Conference that was taking place in Rome in March. The conference was specifically for young Catholics for Social Justice. I immediately became excited that this Conference aimed to bring about a platform for young Catholics to discuss issues of concern, and to make a link between the Holy See and young people. Ruth (who works with me on a retreat team) and I were given the opportunity, to travel to Rome to represent Ireland and the Salesians at the International Conference of young Catholics for Social Justice. The Conference was organised by the group ‘We4Benedict’. We are so thankful to have been present and to have learned and experienced so much.
Pascual Chavez Villanueva
From March 20th-24th, Ruth and I gathered with 130 other delegates from all over the world and over these few days we were blessed to hear from many inspirational keynote speakers, including Fr Pascual Chavez Villanueva (Rector Major of the Salesians). Fr Chavez spoke with great authority and passion about the great challenge that we face in the New Evangelisation- the fact that many young people fear that God will become an obstacle to their happiness. Some young people think that God can be a block to their happiness, we must give them reason to think otherwise, by the example of our own lives and the authentic living out of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He offered us much wisdom and shared some key foundations for evangelistion, namely that we (the evangelisers) must be disciples of Christ ourselves, we must yield fruit (love), need to listen more and pray more and our ultimate vocation is intimacy with Christ. From the very start of this Conference all of the delegates worked together and shared how we best we could show Jesus to other young people and help bring about the Common Good, ultimately creating a society where people are valued.
Young Catholic leaders
For the five days we looked at three main topics- the public role of religion, youth work and poverty, and the family. The desire of the organisation is to establish a direct link with the Holy See and young Catholics for Social Justice, and what wonderful news this is to hear as a young Catholic! This can only mean such positive news for the Church! During the Conference we spent time in prayer, heard from different guest speakers on the various themes and topics, participated in different discussion groups and ‘labs’ where we were given different tasks and assignments to work on and report back to the whole group. These working groups were invaluable as it was here that we really had an opportunity to share our own personal experiences in our home countries and the different initiatives and ministries we were involved with. As a young person involved in a full time capacity in the Irish Church I was so encouraged to meet several other young Catholic leaders and be inspired by their witness and boldness.
Pope Francis Inauguration
While Ruth and I were in Rome we were very blessed to be present for Our Holy Father Pope Francis’ Inauguration Mass and Palm Sunday Mass, both of which are memories that we will treasure for ever. To be present in St Peter’s Square for such beautiful moments in the life of the Church is a massive gift and I was so touched by the joy and excitement in all who gathered- young and old, different nationalities and backgrounds, but what united us was our faith. The Church is full of vitality and joy, our role as its faithful, is to be joyful witnesses in our everyday lives, where ever God has called us.
A little about me
Normal work must now continue! For the present academic year my full time work has been to coordinate the Youth 2000 Ireland full time Mission team, with our primary work seeing us lead secondary school retreats all over Ireland. It has been a truly blessed and wonderful honour to carry out such work during the Year of Faith. It has surpassed any expectation I could have ever possibly imagined and has really highlighted the great need that there is to raise up strong young Catholic leaders, ones who are not afraid to speak boldly for the Gospel message and make a serious contribution to the world in which we live, and ultimately impact the lives of other young people.
Having spent three years studying in St Patrick’s College Maynooth I became very at home in the Salesian family! St Catherine’s has been a massive blessing to me and I am very grateful for all of the support and encouragement received from the Salesian house there. The Salesian spirituality and charism has as its core, and rightly so, the mission of helping facilitate young peoples’ encounter with Christ. Following the example of both St Francis de Sales and St John Bosco, young people are offered friendship, love and acceptance. I finished up my studies in Maynooth last May (2012) and although I am now currently on the road a lot I still consider St Catherine’s as a home from home, a place where I know this friendship and support is always offered.
I found that same friendship and support at the Conference. On returning home from Rome many of the delegates have kept in contact and we are currently working on creating a forum where young Catholics can pull together resources, discuss different issues and ultimately a forum that will indeed create a link between the Holy See and young people. We worked tirelessly and enthusiastically to share with the other delegates our experiences and thoughts. On reflection I feel very much reaffirmed in the fact that we need to step out in our faith; we need to leave our impact on society, and that yes, the Catholic faith has a right to be heard and a message worth sharing with others! Authentic Christian culture will impact all of the different cultures it finds itself embedded in. The leaders that Christ is looking for must first have an encounter with Christ. We need to defend the primary things in this world and not be afraid to speak out in defence of these things, for example the protection of life in all its stages, the recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family and marriage, and the protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.
I pray that the delegates who attended the Conference will continue to encourage other young people to actively participate in the mandate of the Church and that, in the Lord’s time, we will see it bear much fruit, and fruit that will last.
Youth 2000 Retreat Team Coordinator,