Let us start from the beginning. I’m going to share with all of you, my personal thoughts and recollections about this spectacular meeting in Rome. First of all, I’m so grateful to the following people: Fr Gerry Briody SDB (my Provincial), Fr Martin Coyle SDB (my Rector) and Sue McDonald (Coordinator of the Youth Ministry) who gave me this opportunity to go to Rome. I was really surprised when Fr Martin asked me, ‘would you like to go… to Rome?’ This was on Saturday 6th October in the morning, and we were setting off on 15th October. I did not have to think about it and said yes straight away. It was very exciting to have been asked. Rome is my most favourite city. I just had nine days to go before setting out for Rome and I was so excited to have been invited. I went to Rome with some other people who had also been invited to attend this special meeting.
Monday, 15th October.
Early morning, at 6.30 am, Chloe, a Savio House volunteer, and myself went to Macclesfield to pick Sue up from her flat. She had just come back from London on Sunday night where she had been at the 125th anniversary celebration of Sacred Heart church. We drove to the airport where three young adults, Annie, Hannah and Jack, were waiting for us. We had plenty of time because our flight was not till 9.30 a.m. Some of us had breakfast or just coffee and we waited patiently in the coffee area for our flight to be called.
Our plane was on time and on it we met some other people who were going to Rome for the same meeting. It was a lovely surprise to see them there. Our journey to Rome took two and half hours which wasn’t too long. We were very excited to be going there. We landed at the Ciampino airport at around 1 pm Italian time, as they are one hour ahead of us. We decided to take a bus to the Termini Station which is the main train and bus station. When we arrived there we were quite hungry, so we went to the closest pizzeria and had lunch. We knew that Fr Bob Gardner SDB, Youth Ministry Delegate, was coming from London and we waited for him for about an hour. Then the seven of us who were gathered together at the Termini Station were ready to go to our accommodation, which was in one of the Salesian communities at the Catacombs of St Callistus. We went by taxi, which took us there directly although it was a long journey. The community welcomed us and showed us to our rooms. We had time to rest and to look around the place which we did. The eighth person of our small group was Jessica, Provincial Coordinator of the Salesian Cooperators, who arrived at 7.30 p.m. At 8 p.m. we sat down together in the dining room of the Salesian community and had a really nice supper. The first day of our pilgrimage went really well.
Tuesday, 16th October.
We had breakfast at 7.30a.m. and at 8.00 am. we left our accommodation to go to the CYMFed meeting which was located very close to St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Casa Bonus Pastor. We took two buses and we were almost in time, just five minutes late because of the traffic. The rest of the group was waiting for us, and our gathering was opened by the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Fr Dominic Howarth, Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Formation at Brentwood Diocese, who was one of the organisers of this event, presided this at Mass and also he preached so wonderfully. He mentioned the patron of that day, St. Teresa of Avila and other saints who gave their lives for the faith in Rome, where their bodies now rest. Finally, he encouraged all of us to use this time responsibly, by listening, sharing and making decisions. After Mass was coffee and tea time, then all participants went to a hall where we were welcomed to the meeting.
The first talk was given by Paul Jarzembowski who works for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington, DC, which serves as the key staff for the US bishops’ initiatives on youth and young adult ministries and World Youth Day USA. He spoke about his job and ministry in the USA as a member of the staff of Youth Ministry.
He shared openly and honestly about pastoral work in his country, on how they involve young people in the Church today and what the challenges are in the Church nowadays. He asked the question, “What can we do as Catholic adults responsible for the Youth Ministry in our areas”? He is also on the Synod as a delegate of the Bishop’s Conference of USA. He explained about the process of the Synod which began in 2016, by sending a questionnaire to each diocese in the world. After his talk, there was time for a question and answer session and he was happy to respond it. He answered the questions wonderfully, in a simple way that everybody could understand.
The second speaker was Dr Karen North who currently works for Southwark Catholic Youth Service as the Training and Development Coordinator for Youth Ministry and as a lecturer in Theology at St. Mary’s University and Maryvale Institute. Her doctorate ‘Disrupting the Limbo of Non-Belonging – An Analysis of Faith Transmission Among Catholic Young Adults in England’ and previous MPhil work which focuses on why young people do not actively practice their faith, reflects an ongoing passion and interest in the transmission of faith, particularly of young people.
She has done much research on why our youth today have lost their connection with the Catholic faith and with God as well. She asked “What are the reasons why young people are not interested in the Catholic faith and do not practice it”? She described in depth her research, giving some examples of today’s generation of young people who are not connected with their local communities and parishes. Karen mentioned her own experience of when she was a young girl. Her family was inspirational in encouraging her to become a member of the Catholic community and being fully part of it. She spoke of the great importance of the formation or the teaching of the younger generation about faith, about God and about the Church. She gave a good academic talk which would be useful to talk about and share with others when we get home.
After Karen’s talk it was lunch time and after that we were free until 5 p.m. when the whole group was invited to meet together in the Youth Office of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. We all gathered there and had evening prayer and a meeting with two ladies, Elizabeth from Ireland and Dorota, who is Polish, and they gave us a brief explanation about this place and what they actually do there. Mainly they spoke about the World Youth Day because Dorota was involved with the WYD in Krakow in 2016. After this event in Poland she was invited to come to Rome and become a member of this Department. We finished our time at the Youth Office with a question and answer session where Elizabeth and Dorota answered questions from the group. When the meeting was over we went for evening meal to a ristorante Romano close to the Youth Centre. Each of us chose whatever wanted to eat and it was a lovely way to end the evening in Rome. Then we went back home, to Via Appia Antica, St. Calixto Catacumbas.
Wednesday, 17th October.
Today was very special because we were going to an audience with Pope Francis. We had to get up earlier than the day before because a taxi was booked for 7 a.m. to take us to St. Peter’s Square where crowds of people waited to see Pope Francis. We were on time, at around 8 a.m. and some of us went for breakfast and the others went directly to St. Peter’s Square where we had to wait in a long queue because of the security. It was so great to see Pope Francis and listen to his message. As always, he spoke to everyone present from his heart and powerfully encouraged all of us to believe in Jesus Christ. He also reminded us about the Synod and invited us to pray for it and to be part of it through our prayers. For some of the group it was their first time in Rome, and wonderful for them to be at an audience with the Pope.
Following that wonderful experience, we had some free time and we divided into four small groups and visited different places in Rome. Some of the group simply sat in a restaurant, drank coffee, ate ice cream and watched the world go by. Later we gathered together in the Salesian community, at Sacro Cuore, which is located very close to the main train station – Termini.
Fr Fabio Attard, General Councillor for Youth Ministry, was informed that our group was coming to see him and he joined us in the dining room where we were given coffee to drink. He shared with us about the Synod and his responsibilities in the Youth Ministry Department.
We also met Lukasz Duminski who is studying theology in Rome and we went together for a walk to see a different part of Rome. Later we went to a restaurant to have supper. Some of us went exploring in this area after supper and finally we met together again at a bus stop, very close to the Colosseum. It had been a very busy and exciting day spent in the City of Rome and as were getting a bit tired, we wanted to go back to rest.
Thursday 18th October
Another beautiful sunny day and we wakened refreshed by a good night’s sleep. After breakfast, we got ready to go to the CYMFed meeting. As we did on Tuesday, we went to Casa Bonus Pastor. It took almost two hours to get there on two buses. Italians do not seem to worry about being delayed :). Fortunately, we arrived there only a little bit late so did not have to wait long for the beginning of the first session of Fr Paul Farren. He studied for six years at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth where he completed a BA and a BD. He studied for two years at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. where he completed a Master’s degree in Religious Education. He is currently Administrator of St. Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry, alongside his roles as Diocesan Advisor in Post Primary Education and Director of the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre, which is responsible for youth ministry across the diocese. Fr Paul founded the JPII Award in 2008 which is running throughout Ireland and beyond.
His talk was about, ‘Hope challenges us, moves us and shatters that conformism which says, ‘it’s always been done like this’. He prepared his topic very well and he spoke naturally and openly, and it was so easy to listen to him. He focused on his experience of being responsible for different sections in his youth and pastoral ministry. He gave two talks and when he finished talking there were some questions to which he delightedly responded. It was so wonderful to hear his answers because one of them was powerful and important. He mentioned about building the Church by renewing our personal contact, our relationship with God by regular prayers, making a good sacrament of reconciliation systematically and participating in the Holy Eucharist. He strongly emphasised that the Church needs to come back to the sacraments, particularly to the sacrament of confession. I was so happy to hear it because I know quite well that this is something many people do not do! At the end of the morning session we were told that he will be a speaker at FLAME 2019. He received a resounding applause and we are looking forward to seeing him again in London, at Wembley Arena, in March 2019.
Then it was lunch break for some of us and we were free to do whatever we wanted. After our break we gathered together again for the final session. It was slightly different from the other sessions as some people who had been chosen earlier had been asked to share with us.
Two ladies from one of the groups from Birmingham presented their project which involved young people across the diocese. The young people had been asked questions and were invited to answer them. The bishop was informed about this project and was happy with it, which was a big step forward. The ladies said that young people have great potential and they try to use this because they are so talented. Young people need to be accompanied and directed by faithful adults, people who may help them to discover the way to God through the Church. The ladies shared their experience of being part of that project and they expressed enthusiastically, thankfulness to their bishop.
Another group was the CAFOD group, which is known quite well by a lot of people across our country. Two young ladies joyfully expressed their experience of being members of it. They also shared with us some news from the Synod because they know someone who is there with the bishops. All together we can help those who are in need in various ways. As Catholics we have great faith in God who helps us always and we have to believe in Him.
Finally, we had Mass which was led by Fr John Moriarty, who is Director of Youth Service for Lancaster Diocese at Castlerigg Manor. He celebrated this Mass with eight other priests who work in different places in England and Wales. He preached really well, mentioning all those Saints and Martyrs who were buried in Rome or were killed there and their names are unknown. The whole congregation listened carefully and seriously because we are aware of those who had offered themselves up for God and their faith. That was the last collective session which closed our CYMFed meeting in Rome. Then each of us said thanks to each other after spending a few days together in this special place.
As we did every day, we went to one of the Rome’s restaurants where we sat down and had nice meal together. When we finished our super we went back to our ‘Salesian ‘hotel’ :) which was a really appropriate place for us to be. There we spent some time together playing games and drinking Italian wine. It was the last evening before we had to leave the Salesian community.
Friday, 19th October.
On Friday morning we slept a little longer than the previous day because breakfast was at 8.30 am. Fr Bob left immediately after breakfast because his flight was at 1 p.m. We thanked him for coming to Rome and for being part of our group. Then we went to visit the Catacombs as it was a great opportunity to do this. After that we went back to the Salesian house to take our luggage and go to Termini. We checked our train time to the airport and went to Sacro Cuore once again, this time to leave our luggage for a few hours. One of the Salesian Brothers took us to the church and guided us through it explaining everything and describing it in full detail. There was so much to tell us, he could have talked and talked for hours and hours… Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stay longer. So we thanked him nicely and we went to see more places in Rome. We spent a few hours walking around the city and buying small souvenirs. At 4 pm, we met together at the Salesian community and had coffee. Then we left there to catch our train which took us to the Ciampino airport. We had to wait for our flight almost three hours, but it was fine because we could talk and send greetings from Rome, using social media. The journey back to England was very good and we landed at Manchester airport at around midnight. Then we had to go to our homes in different places. Our time in Rome was a really good experience and one of being fulfilled spiritually.
Thanks be to God and to all those in our group, for a great time in Rome! Addio e arividerci. Grazie mille...