Tag Archives: young people

Pope Francis Gold Dust I – “Warming Hearts”

World Youth Day Rio

I almost felt like I was in Rio the past week, what with the unstoppable tweets, friends’ Facebook updates, and all of Pope Francis’ words being so readily available. From my experience of previous World Youth Days, you can almost follow better if you’re not there. (Let’s face it… the moment you hit 25 (and you’re not of a Latin American temperament) WYD gets tough! As one wonderful Sister (whose youth ministry is very fruitful) commented, any enthusiasm she had died in Madrid two years ago. I know the feeling…)

Back to Pope Francis. Just about everyone I know has been wow-ing and ahh-ing at his incredible words over the past week. For me, one of the highlights was his address to the Brazilian bishops. I’ve been through this absolutely remarkable speech a few times and have pulled out some truly genius gems. Each one of them needs its own post – so let’s see how I go.

To kick us off, I wanted to start with this:

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles… Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

“A Church capable of warming hearts…” It reminds me a little of a book I’ve written about here: Bill Hybels’ Courageous Leadership. In chapter 2, Hybels speaks of leaders having such a “white-hot” vision for what their church is about that they impassion and enflame the hearts of those who hear them. Remember that “enthuse” comes from “en-theos” – literally, to be possessed by a god. The passion in our hearts sparks a flame in another’s.

There is lots to reflect on with regard to how well we, the Church, “warm hearts”. Bishops and priests have responsibility for this in their ministry and communication to the faithful, those who work with the poor “warm hearts” through their love and charity; contemplative religious “warm hearts” through their earnest and profound intercession; those who visit the sick or those who are in prison have a special apostolate of compassion to “warm the hearts” of the suffering and the lost.

However, as this blog is especially for catechists, let’s think about how as catechists we need to “warm hearts”. Here are some questions that may help:

  • Before we teach, do we pray fervently to the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of those we’re teaching? It is He who will stir hearts as we speak (or even in spite of us!)
  • When we teach, do we speak with passion? Not a contrived liveliness or excitement, but with a profound love for the Lord which naturally spills out in impassioned words?
  • If we struggle to feel passion about our topic, have we spent enough time in silent prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Have we asked earnestly enough for the Holy Spirit?
  • Do we love not only Christ who we’re teaching, but also the people receiving the teaching? Our authentic love for these people – that they know Christ, experience life in him, receive the joy of the Holy Spirit in their hearts – will also come across.

As I’ve said countless times before, let’s promise ourselves: the day we stop praying must also be the day we stop giving catechesis.

Young People and Confession


“We must never masquerade before God.”

These are the wonderful words of Pope Francis on Confession in a homily Tuesday morning on Confession. Confession is where there is no room for half-truths or tricks. This is where we personally meet Jesus Christ, from whom we can hide nothing, and who always receives us with great, tender mercy.

How delighted I was to see this after coming from a weekend where we witnessed precisely this power of the sacrament with young people.

Last weekend was the weekend-of-the-Confirmation-retreats. I helped out with two different retreats which happened to fall on the same weekend. The first was helping out a priest friend of mine, the second was seeing my old Confirmation group in Balham, due to be confirmed this Sunday. They have been preparing since September and it was wonderful to see them all again.

It was interesting to spend the weekend with two different groups: the similarities among teenagers are many. Furthermore, both groups have been following the same programme (one that I wrote for the group in Balham) so for me it was insightful to see them at different stages of it. With the first group, I led the same retreat that we do in Balham right at the beginning of the year. The idea behind it is that it is an evangelisation retreat, proclaiming the central Gospel message (or kerygma) and starting the young people out on a process of conversion. You can read about this retreat here and here and watch a video here. For the group last weekend, the retreat fell in the middle of their programme. However, we decided to do the same evangelisation retreat, as it is impossible to hear the Gospel message and call to conversion too much, right?! In the event, it worked brilliantly.

I think the entire fruitfulness of a retreat like this rests on the sacrament of Confession. You can have the most dazzling, entertaining, polished, non-stop fun youth retreat in the world, and the kids can leave buzzing, but unless they have made a good Confession, let me be bold and say I don’t think it is worth spending so much time and energy. For me, the entire retreat is about this. The retreat begins with God the Father’s love for us, progresses through the mercy of Jesus, God the Son, and finishes on Sunday morning with the power of God the Holy Spirit. Simple. The climax is the Saturday evening Reconciliation Service.

On this particular Saturday evening, the candidates seemed so ready to receive the grace of Confession. Many admitted they had not been to Confession for years. Opportunities for Confession had been offered during their Confirmation sessions and not taken up. So we needed to make this work! We spent a good chunk of time on Saturday afternoon on how to go to Confession, and spent time in small groups addressing concerns. I took my group off for a girlie chat, and we ended up going in detail through an examination of conscience. No stone was left unturned – we talked Sunday Mass, laziness, gossiping, purity. I discovered that the girls simply didn’t know the kinds of things they should confess. One girl said she just made things up when she went to Confession at school. I discovered I needed to spell things out to them – step by step – how to say things, what information to give, what to leave out. How often do we take time to do this with our young people? On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of our girlie chat, I found these teens soaking everything in, and, to my amazement, writing everything down. Incredible. They had a deep desire to make good Confessions but didn’t know how.

It was a long night for our priest! But very, very fruitful. What a grace to be able to lead people to Jesus’ mercy. I would not have wanted anything else to have filled last weekend.

Confirmation Retreat

Well, we are gearing up for our Confirmation retreat this weekend. It is a busy time of year to organise a weekend retreat, but I think it works. It is part of the initial period of evangelisation at the start of our programme. We only have twenty 13-year-olds so it is possible to do this. We’re going to a youth retreat centre just outside London. The whole weekend is about EVANGELISATION!!

Youth 2000 retreat - a blueprint for effective youth evangelisation

The basic Gospel message. The reason we are taking them away for the weekend is to give them the space to hear it (between the homework slots 😉 ) We have planned everything as best we can to lead these young people to an encounter with Christ. This is what the whole weekend is about. My forte is sadly not youth evangelisation, and we no longer have a youth coordinator, so it has somewhat fallen in my lap. (A catechetical coordinator has to be all things to all people! PA, catechist, youth minister, counsellor, catechist trainer, diplomat, administrator, cook, liturgist, technician, babysitter, housekeeper…)But God is good (all the time!) and we are really blessed to have a great team leading this retreat, including a fantastic girl who has worked with us this month in the parish and two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and some great priests who will be dropping in at different points. Thank God for great youth evangelists 🙂

I recently came across this excellent article by Amy Welborn on the foundational and effective steps of youth evangelisation. She is basically saying, forget the gloss, the gimics, the “window-dressing” – the Holy Father shows us how it’s done. She identifies five key points which are at the heart of our evangelisation of young people:

1. Teach them who they are
2. Continually hold up Christ as the answer
3. Seeking Christ? He gave us the Church so that we could find him
4. The way of the Christian is the way of the Cross
5. Go out to all nations

This weekend, we will focus on 1 and 2. Who they are and Christ. Jesus and you. He loves you and wants to have a living relationship with you. That is the core message.

St John Bosco - patron of youth

So, we have lots and lots planned hopefully to facilitate this happening. For many of our teenagers it will be the first time they have been to Confession in a long while. For many of them, they will encounter Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament perhaps for the first time.

I pray for an awakening in their desire for God! This is the foundation that is needed for them to receive this year’s catechesis with open hearts.

At the same time, I know that evangelising young people is tough. I know it’s going to be a difficult weekend with not much sleep and goodness knows what other problems, but… call me mad, but I think it’ll be worth it 🙂

World Youth Day Madrid 2011

Welcoming the Holy Father to Madrid

Where do I begin?! 

I’m back from the most unforgettable ten days of my summer 🙂 

Let’s be honest – part of me thought that, at twenty-six, I was a bit old for World Youth Day, but Christ ALWAYS surprises. 

WYD has been full of so many diverse experiences. One of the best things was our group: we had a group of 85 amazing, talented, generous and fun young people. They came from many different backgrounds, schools and universities, and it was beautiful to watch friendships developing over the week and the group becoming really close. On the one hand, WYD is an inspiring experience of the universal, worldwide Church. But on the other hand, our group shared a more intimate experience of the Church each morning – we were blessed to have our own chapel in the crypt of the church where we stayed, and here we had a half-hour meditation each morning, followed by Mass, and on some days, catechesis. For me, these were really worthwhile moments of the day – it ensured that World Youth Day was an interior experience for us, as well as the more dramatic, external, exciting experience…

It might seem incredible that, as one person in a crowd of 1.5 million, you can experience the personal call to conversion. You might think that in a crowd that size, you feel pretty anonymous and insignificant. But amazingly, the experience of World Youth Day is the opposite. I was aware, without a shadow of a doubt, that Christ had called each one of us personally to be there. He was intimately present to each young person’s heart, knowing and loving us more deeply than we know and love ourselves. That love is experienced too through the great love of the Holy Father for the youth, who stayed with us in the rain, who did not abandon us. The depth of the call to personal conversion definitely takes you by surprise – Christ wants total holiness from us, not mediocrity, nothing half-hearted. He showed the completeness of his love, and invites us to give our complete selves too.

Finally – the role of suffering in World Youth Day! Yes, the Holy Father offers a plenary indulgence to the pilgrims, surely because the sacrificial aspect is like Purgatory itself! One of the life-giving things about the penitential parts of World Youth Day is that you are all in this together. Nowhere have I felt this more than in Madrid. On the five-hour walk in blazing heat to Cuatro Vientos, there was a severe shortage of water and shade. When we arrived at Cuatro Vientos, there seemed to be even less water and shade and, to top it all, a shortage of toilets. And stampedes of people crushing together whenever you wanted to get anywhere. Several people in our group fainted. Extreme conditions bring out both the worst and the best in people. It humbles you, because you realise how much you need the people around you, and how much they need you. World Youth Day forces you to forget your independence, your needs, and the standards of comfort you expect in your normal life, and to stay in solidarity with others. You have a choice – either you can fight for your own needs over others; or you can let go and realise your solidarity with everyone else who shares the same needs you have. 

I believe that somehow, this element of sacrifice and suffering heightens the joy that is characteristic of WYD. The same goes with sleeping on the floor and cold, communal showers for ten days – I am sure our group was closer and stronger because of these things.

Thank you, Holy Father, for being with us, for loving us! ESTA ES LA JUVENTUD DEL PAPA!!!

“Humanity is loved by God!…”

…This very simple yet profound proclamation is owed to humanity by the Church.”


This line is from a document issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1995, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. Clearly it is a message thousands of young people need to hear urgently given the events of the past week in the UK.

Blessed John Paul II knew that young people needed to know the love God has for them, which is why he started the World Youth Days.

How timely it is that at this time millions of young pilgrims from around the world are getting ready to go to Madrid for World Youth Day, to hear of and experience the love of God.

At the end of August, there is another, more local, event to which young people each year gather to learn of and receive the love of God into their hearts: the Youth 2000 summer festival at Walsingham. Sometimes it seems like the Church is merely whispering the reality of God’s love to young people who are asleep, when we really need to enter their reality and proclaim it loudly so that they can hear. This is why events like the Youth 2000 festival in Walsingham are so important.

Here are a couple of clips: One about World Youth Day and one about Youth 2000. It’s not too late for young people to book for the Youth 2000 festival.