A quarter of a century is not long in the history of the Church – but it’s long enough for a tradition to be established, and for something to become part of Catholic community life in Britain.
When Youth 2000 began, probably no one thought about its long-term plans. It was just a vibrant group of young Catholics who had experienced a revival of faith, and wanted to evangelise in the run-up to the Millenium – hence its name.
And in its early years, its style and ideas ran somewhat counter to the established youth ministry in many dioceses, which tended to focus on the hope that offering a discussion about peace and justice, with instant coffee in a church hall, plus the occasional fund-raising disco, would attract the young as a follow-up to Confirmation.
Youth 2000 swept in with a focus on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, vibrant teaching, Confession, and Marian devotions especially the Rosary. Its style was World Youth Day, its heroes were John Paul II, Mother Teresa and saints old and new including St Therese of Lisieux and St Maximillian Kolbe.
Now the movement is celebrating its 25th anniversary – although not with any sense of nostalgia, because most of those involved were either not born or were infants in those very early days. Some of the early enthusiasts will be at the big annual festival at Walsingham this weekend either as priests celebrating Mass and hearing confessions, or as religious sisters or brothers leading workshops and teaching sessions, or as families with their own teenagers and young children in tow. But most of those attending will simply have heard about the Walsingham event by word of mouth and arrived with a friend, uncertain of what to expect.
“The typical involvement begins by turning up simply because some one suggested it” says, Christina Lynas busy proffering hospitality at the movement’s London office at St Mary of the Angels in Morehouse Road, a short walk from Notting Hill Gate tube station. “The profile is usually that of a young Catholic who goes to Mass occasionally but hasn’t been to Confession for a long time, and who hasn’t really connected with what it means to encounter Christ in the Eucharist. You get a lot of life-changing things happening at Walsingham, a lot of people who get an understanding of what it really means to connect with Christ, to be part of the Church.”
The highlight of the annual gathering is an evening of prayer for healing, centred on the Blessed Sacrament. The language used is direct and personal “Is there any darkness or sadness in my heart or mind? Do I dare to bring this to Jesus?” Youth 2000 has been criticised for having an emotional rather than an intellectual approach, and the testimonies given by those who have attended often stress a strong emotional and spiritual message “A radical change happened to me that night” “Whenever I sit in Adoration now I am blown away by the Grace of God”. But there is also teaching, serious reflection, and a challenge to make decisions. Their booklet offers a thoughtful look at Confession through personal testimonies – “helping you get past your problems…coping with pain…talking out issues” and a slightly bracing approach “No one can make you go to Confession – it becomes a decision that you make: do you want a relationship with God or don’t you?”
There is episcopal support – every year at least one Bishop arrives, celebrating Mass, leading a walk down Walsingham’s Holy Mile, preaching, talking to the 1,500-plus pilgrims – and always a large number of priests. There are strong links with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and with the Sisters – members of each of these give testimony to their involvement with Youth 2000 as part of their answering a call to religious life.
For 25 years the movement has managed to stay solvent, relying on donations. There are parish appeals, and a popular black-tie ball, plus various other fund-raising events.
“It really is a story of God being good, of trusting in him all the way” says Christina, emphasising a commitment to welcoming all-comers to the Walsingham event and giving priority to mission over money. “We’re realistic, we’re grounded in what is possible – but so much more is possible than people might think.” The key, she says, is the enthusiasm and commitment of those involved “I love the amazing young people, they’re just so generous and inspiring.”
The annual summer event is matched with a New Year retreat which also draws large numbers, a range of other retreats, festivals and local activities, talks in schools, and teaming up with other Catholic groups to offer speakers or prepare for big international gatherings such as World Youth Day.
The 2015 Walsingham event is from August 27th-31st, and its theme is “The Promised land”. A new generation of young pilgrims is setting out on the journey.
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