It was 1990 and I was studying for my university exams when I received a phone call from a mysterious benefactor.
“I’d like to help you,” the caller explained. “Come to my flat in London. I have a car and some money for you.”
Two years before, I had experienced a powerful conversion at Medjugorje. The parish priest there, Fr Slavko Barbaric and Ernest Williams (who became the founder of Youth 2000) had been instrumental in my conversion. This prompted me to invite Fr Slavko to the UK in order to talk to young people and publicise the first forthcoming Youth 2000 festival in Medjugorje.
And that’s how I found myself, with only a month or so before my Cambridge finals, arriving at a random flat on the Embankment, accepting £2,000 in cash and the keys to a Range Rover from a generous stranger and spending the following two weeks with a friend, John Kirby, driving Fr Slavko around the country. A few months later, Youth 2000 welcomed over 15,000 young people from all over the world at its first festival in Medjugorje.
These were the very first seeds; over the following years, I and others worked to establish Youth 2000 in the UK. Our purpose was to respond to the Great Commission – “Go forth and make disciples of all nations” – by drawing young people into the heart of the Church.
Our first Youth 2000 retreat took place in the summer of 1990 in Ripe: about 100 people attended. Over the next few years, the organisation grew considerably. In 1997, I became the first national director (the office was established in my daughter’s bedroom), a post I held until 2006. In 1999, we decided to move the annual festival from Worth to Walsingham. I remember consulting one of the leaders, John Pridmore. “Which would be more difficult to organise? Worth or Walsingham?” he asked. “Walsingham,” I said. “Go with Walsingham then,” he replied.
At around this time, we decided to make the festival open to any young person: it would be funded on a donation-only basis. Despite the huge risk (we had no funds in the charity to fall back on) it proved to be the right decision. Numbers quadrupled and the Walsingham Festival is now one of the largest Catholic events in the country. Around 1500 people attend each year. Most of the work is done for love, by young people for young people. This, we believe, is the key to our success.
At the heart of our charism is devotion to the Eucharist, through perpetual adoration and daily Mass; to Our Lady, through the Rosary; to Sacred Scripture and fidelity to the Church’s teachings. We also offer the latest praise and worship music, inspiring talks and plenty of time for young people to socialise and have fun.
But the world has changed a great deal since 1990. Two decades ago there was no social media or smartphones, and culturally the UK was to a much greater extent rooted in fundamental Christian principles. Today, even the most basic truths about human identity seem muddled and transient.
So it’s time for a fresh approach. We have just carried out a strategic review: it concluded that, while we help many young Catholics who are already engaged in their faith (and some who are not), we need to do more to reach those who do not know Christ. This does not mean abandoning our charism. It means ensuring that our mission – going forth and making disciples of all nations – involves equipping young people to be missionary disciples, who will serve and evangelise their peers in today’s culture. From now on, alongside our core mission of Eucharistic retreats, we will also be running a mission and leadership training process.
We pray that as we commit ourselves to the future of our mission, Youth 2000 will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, help to raise up a new generation of missionary disciples and leaders to play their part in the Church’s mission to evangelise the nations.
As part of this new approach we are searching for a high-calibre CEO: a seasoned, dynamic and resilient professional to be responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the mission. If this sounds appealing please visit here. We are also looking for trustees and donors as we open this new and exciting chapter of our mission.
Please pray for us as we launch once again, out into the deep.
Robert Toone is chair of the trustees at Youth 2000
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