Today sees over 700,000 young pilgrims returning home to the four corners of the globe after attending World Youth Day 2019 in the Central American state of Panama.
“Go back to your parishes and communities, to your families and your friends, and share this experience, so that others can resonate with the strength and enthusiasm that is yours,” said His Holiness Pope Francis to the young pilgrims at Sunday Mass, 27 January.
In this week’s Scottish Catholic Observer, Father Jamie McMorrin, Assistant Priest at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh, suggests that young people are, indeed, responding to the message of the Catholic Church which is now being transmitted in numerous and sometimes new ways.
“Our experience at the Cathedral is far from unique: more and more young people are coming to faith in Christ in their late teens and early twenties, finding Christ and the Church through traditional parish structures, but also through university chaplaincies, new ecclesial movements, prayer and study groups, pilgrimages and retreats as well as through national and international youth events, such as is taking place right now in Panama,” writes Father McMorrin.
He also holds up the Holy Father himself as a model for anybody – or any parish or group – seeking to be more effective in their apostolate towards the young.
“Like his predecessors, this eighty-two-year-old man, who is never seen wearing anything other than a cassock, will this weekend attract crowds of young people which would be the envy of any pop star. Why? Because, like all good priests, he talks about Jesus, “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13: 18), the one for whom our restless hearts – young, old and in between – are all longing and searching.” Father McMorrin’s article is reproduced in full below:
- Young People by Rejuvenate the Church, by Father Jamie McMorrin, Scottish Catholic Observer, 27 January 2019.
This weekend, hundreds of thousands of young people from all across the world will converge on Panama to take part in the 31st ‘World Youth Day’. You probably won’t read about it in the mainstream media, but these events are remarkable by any measure. An initiative of Pope St John Paul II, these events are a testament to the enduring capacity of the Catholic faith, in all its fullness, to attract and inspire young people to follow Jesus Christ. As the internet meme put it last time around, ‘I couldn’t hear what you were saying about religion being irrelevant because of the noise of three million young people cheering for the Pope.’
I’m sorry to say that I won’t be looking out my travel pillow, mosquito repellent and factor two-hundred this time around: like most Scottish young people, taking an extended break in the middle of January to travel to the other side of the world wasn’t really a viable option. Instead, while Pope Francis celebrates Mass with large crowds in Panama City, I’ll be travelling with a slightly smaller crowd to Pluscarden Abbey, for a retreat weekend with our Cathedral young adults group.
The journey north is a little less arduous, and heat exposure is unlikely to be an issue, but I’ll be uniting my own prayers with those of the Holy Father, that the participants, both in Panama and at Pluscarden, will encounter the Lord Jesus in a real way and be inspired to go deeper in their relationship with him.
Many in our parishes lament the undeniable fact that young people are not attending Mass in as large numbers as in times past, and we as a Church could undoubtedly work harder to reach and connect with them: the Synod on Youth last autumn provided much food for thought in this regard. Nonetheless, already groups like ours are springing up all over Scotland: they surely represent encouraging, green shoots of budding new life and, please God, signs of a rich harvest to come in future years.
Our experience at the Cathedral is far from unique: more and more young people are coming to faith in Christ in their late teens and early twenties, finding Christ and the Church through traditional parish structures, but also through university chaplaincies, new ecclesial movements, prayer and study groups, pilgrimages and retreats as well as through national and international youth events, such as is taking place right now in Panama.
Some discern specific vocations within the Church but much more importantly, these groups are forming what the American lay evangelist Sherry Weddell calls ‘intentional disciples’: people who, regardless of their upbringing or background, and no matter what they go on to do with the rest of their lives, have at a certain point made a conscious, deliberate choice to take their faith seriously. Whether or not they are ‘converts’ in the strict sense (and are we not all in constant need of conversion?), these young people have, like the first disciples, met Christ as he passes by and made a decision to follow him.
I say ‘they’, when I should really say ‘we’. As I’ve written in these pages before, although I was baptised as a baby and raised as Catholic my whole life, my own experience of deciding to follow Jesus was tied up inseparably with my experience of inspirational priests and the fellowship of other young people.
World Youth Day, like our own young adults group, sets the thirty-fifth birthday as the point where one is no longer ‘young’. As that slightly devastating realisation dawns, I’m consoled by the fact that many of the priests I’ve known who are most beloved by young people have been themselves long past the first flush of youth. What is attractive about them is not their attempts to be cool, their social media savvy or their (inevitably tragic) imitations of pop culture. It is their authenticity, their integrity, and their generous, fatherly love.
If you want an example, take Pope Francis himself: like his predecessors, this eighty-two-year-old man, who is never seen wearing anything other than a cassock, will this weekend attract crowds of young people which would be the envy of any pop star. Why? Because, like all good priests, he talks about Jesus, “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13: 18), the one for whom our restless hearts – young, old and in between – are all longing and searching.
The Pope has, as always, asked us to pray him and for the success of his trip: let’s pray that the young people in Panama and across Scotland will come to hear the call of the Lord, in whatever way they encounter him, and that their enthusiastic response will rejuvenate, reinvigorate and renew the whole Church, here in Scotland and throughout the world.