The first thing that strikes you when you arrive for the first time for the Medjugorje Youth Festival is the heat. It’s hot and I mean roasting. The second thing you notice is the sheer diversity of young people gathered from all around the world for a week of prayer, testimonies and fun. You have pilgrims from Paraguay, Vietnam, Congo DRC and even the UK and Ireland.
Prayers offered in every imaginable language
There are even pilgrims from Syria and the Ukraine, who share on how their faith has helped them to deal with the challenges of life in their countries. This what the Medjugorje Youth Festival is about. The week is not about being some sort of holy huddle, separated off from the world. It’s about sharing stories and exploring faith. Above all it’s about celebrating what we feel and know to be true about God’s love for us and His invitation to share that message with the world. As part of the celebration pilgrims are adding their prayers to a hundred metre tapestry that will brought up during the final Mass on Tuesday. It represents the hopes and petitions of over 40,000 pilgrims, written in every language imaginable. During each of the youth Masses this week we have had over 500 priest concelebrating. Honestly we look likes clowns coming out of a mini there’s so many of us – if that’s not too irreverent!
Cenacolo Community’s production of Credo
Later tonight I’m going to see Credo, a musical and theatrical presentation by the Cenacolo Community. Cenacolo is an integral part of the Medjugorje experience. It is not simply a residential centre for people struggling with addiction. Rather it is a place of hope. Working without psychiatrists, doctors and social workers it bases itself on a Catholic ethos of prayer and compassion. The results speak for themselves and the community has spread and there are now 60 houses world wide. I’ll let you know how it went.
Travelling Light and The Journey are the themes of two of the biggest Christian festivals this summer. It seems that the idea of being a pilgrim is becoming increasingly popular in our world today. It’s not really a surprise, as many of the aspects of a pilgrimage echo that of life.
As part of our young adult ministry and vocations programme we ran two pilgrimages along the Camino in June. It was a perfect opportunity to leave everything behind, except for a sleeping bag, a small backpack and comfortable boots. There a freedom to The Way, that is difficult to find elsewhere. It’s about waking up before dawn each morning and heading off with the rising Sun at your back. As you walk to the first horizon, you know that when you get there you’ll simply walk on to the next one.
It’s another day in the Holy Family Centre ( HFC ) during the winter holidays. Along with the staff the MSC Volunteers took the kids out to Moholoholo Animal Rescue and Game Preserve. The children were roared at by lions, got chased by a cheetah and were able to pet a hawk. When you follow that up with a picnic in the park it makes for an amazing day and a typical one for our volunteers. This is the second year that we’ve run the MSC Volunteering Project in South Africa. It’s an opportunity to give a number of young adults from Ireland and the UK an experience of making a difference by sharing their gifts and talents in the developing world.
It’s going to be a busy summer for the MSC Vocations team. In addition to our volunteering programme in South Africa and our Camino Pilgrimage in June we’re going to hitting the festivals around the UK. The first up is going to be in the heart of London for Spirit in the City from the 12th to the 14th of June.
Spirit in the City is a celebration of Christian faith that welcomes people of all faiths, ages and walks of life in Leicester Square. It is the initiative of four inner city churches looking to reach out and share the Good News. It gives the opportunity to raise deeper questions about life. The festival features an open air stage with music, drama and art. There are also times of prayer, reflection and reconciliation.
“People are searching for something more significant in their lives with meaning and purpose. We all deserve a response to these deep desires and Spirit in the City aims to be one!”
It’s about freedom. It’s about walking to the horizon and when you get there you keep on going. It’s about taking part in something that is at the same time enjoyable and profound. For those of you who are looking for something a bit different this summer why don’t you join us as we walk the Camino. We’ll be leading a group of young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 from Sarria to Santiago de Compostella. Between the 3rd and the 10th of June we’ll cover the last 100km of The Way and have a few days to relax in Santiago itself.
The Camino of Santiago has been a site of pilgrimage for well over a thousand years. People have walked from all around Europe and more recently have journeyed from the four corners of the world to ‘abrazar’ or embrace the famous statue of St. James and pray at his tomb. But the Camino is about the journey as much as it is about the destination. The Camino meanders across the north of Spain through town, villages, fields and woodlands. It’s during this time that people on The Way take time to reflect on their lives and explore what’s possible. On top of all that it’s great fun as well. In all the years I’ve walked the Camino I have yet to meet a person who regretted coming.
The landscape is as varied as the people you meet. You’ll find pilgrims coming from everywhere, of all faiths and none. However they are all searching, very much aware that they are on a spiritual journey. Each morning as the sun rises we will start with a simple reflection. Then shouldering our packs we set off for the horizon, meeting people along the way or perhaps walking in solitude, depending on what you feel like at the time. In the evening there’s an opportunity for Mass if you wish ( or if not that’s fine too ) and then a meal with a glass of wine as the sun sets. It’s heaven in hiking boots!
The cost of the pilgrimage is fairly reasonable. People will arrange their own flights and transfers to Santiago and back home. Accommodation along the Camino is in Albergues or dedicated pilgrimage hostels. They cost around €10 / £8.50 a night. Then you need to account for food. The towns where we will stay offer pilgrim menus for around €10 /£8.50 for a simple three course meal. You can pick up other basics during the day in the many small stores along the route. Excluding flights and transfers about €35 / £30 a day should be more than adequate.
If you’d like some insight into the Camino check out the film The Way released in 2010, starring Martin Sheen. It gives a good flavour of what you can expect.
If you’re considering it and are not sure feel free to email me or give me a call on (086) 7857955 (Irl) or (075) 26764236 (UK). People may be concerned about the level of fitness necessary. You don’t need to super fit, but a moderate level is desirable. Again if you have any doubts a quick email or phone call can put them to rest.
It promises to be an incredible experience. Find yourself on The Way.
Peter Ng’ang’na MSC, from Kenya, celebrated his Diaconate Ordination earlier this month with his Missionary of the Sacred Heart broters. Here he tells us what happened.
Preparation for my Diaconate Ordination began with a six days retreat led by Fr. Nick Harnan at our house in Makhado. Fr. Jonas Mokoena continued with a final week of preparation to the ministry of Diaconate and practice. The Parish Youth from Vleifontein village prepared the Liturgy and hymns for the Mass. Fr Vince Carroll was very welcoming at the house and proved himself to be an excellent host in every way.
It’s 2014 and perhaps it’s time for something new. Maybe now you’re looking for a challenge. You want to push yourself, move out of your comfort zone and make a difference in the world. If that’s the case our MSC Volunteering Project could be just what you need.
Last year we sent our first volunteers out to South Africa to work alongside our sisters and brothers for ten weeks. They were based in the Holy Family Centre in the foothills of the beautiful Drakensburg Mountains in the Limpopo Province. Holy Family is home for up to seventy children who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS or TB. They range in age from babies and toddlers to teenagers. As you can imagine it’s a lively place! The kids are simply wonderful. They are so full of life, enthusiasm and joy. They love to sing and dance, run relay races with tyres and play football, go on outings and sit around and chat.
It’s been a busy year. There’s an understatement. It’s like saying that Pope Francis is doing a pretty good job. Strictly speaking it’s true, but it doesn’t do the year or our new Pope justice. Our MSC vocations ministry programme has taken us from all over Europe to the US to Brazil to South Africa to Venezuela and back. More than that though it has been an amazing year filled with countless opportunities to journey with people reflecting on their call to be a priest or brother with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. We’ve been at festivals, walked the Camino, took part in World Youth Day on the Copacabana Beach, and organised ‘Vocations Road Trips’ to name a few of our events. We also launched our hugely successful Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Volunteering Programme, with three volunteers working in the Holy Family Care Centre, South Africa.
While it has been busy, it has also been a graced time. Each of these events have created a space that allowed people to reflect on their lives and discern how God was calling them. They were about celebrating faith and reminding us that God has a plan of everyone, a plan that encourages us to be our truest selves. It can at times be challenging, even difficult, but it is the one that leads to the deepest joy and fulfillment that we can know.
Now we’re getting ready for 2014. It’s a new year and it’s full of promise. We’re already looking at new and exciting festivals, including the Spirit in the City in London and Kingdom Come in Walsingham. We are developing our work on the Camino by organising a young adult pilgrimage and taking part in a ministry of welcome in Santiago Cathedral. World Youth Day was the big event of last year, but this August we’re planning to take a group to Medjugorje for the Annual Youth Festival. exploreAway has begun in Dublin with seven people seriously reflecting on their vocation. We’re planning to set up a Samuel discernment group for the north of London. As usual we’ll be in Lourdes on pilgrimage over Easter with the HCPT / Irish Pilgrimage Trust. Finally we’re expanding our volunteering programme in South Africa for those who want an experience of missionary life in a range of challenging, but amazing projects that make a real difference.
If you feel that you might be called by God to explore a vocation to priesthood or religious life you would be most welcome to get in touch with us by phone or email. We’re always happy to have a chat and coffee and see where that may take us. That first step can be a bit daunting, but it could be one of the best decisions you ever made.
If you thought that 2013 was busy, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
This autumn, as part of our exciting new vocations programme in Ireland for the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart ( MSC ), we invite you to go on a journey of faith. It’s an opportunity to take a step back from the business and rush of your world and listen for that still, small voice of God. Where is God inviting you?
We all have a calling. For some it’s to married or single life and if that’s for you then that’s wonderful. For others though there is another possibility, that of religious life and priesthood. Maybe it’s been an idea at the back of your mind for a while or perhaps it’s something more recent. Whatever the case it hasn’t gone away. The possibility that you may have a vocation as a priest or a brother keeps on coming back to you in times of quietness and prayer. It’s not about certainty, but about openness to the invitation of God.
Fr. Vinnie Screene MSC celebrating a wedding in his parish in Maracaibo
It was an interesting experience. One of my first Masses here in Maracaibo, Venezuela was celebrated with a packed church in pitch darkness. I had an altar server with a torch, prodigious endurance and a steady hand. This isn’t a tradition or idiosyncrasy of the Latin American Church. The night before some robbed the copper cable that ran the electricity in to the church of Nuestra Senora de la Paz ( or Our Lady of Peace to you and me ). Apparently it goes for a hefty price around here.