Released Friday, August 12
Up to a million Catholics are due to descend on Madrid to see the Pope next week. I understand why, after attending a school where teenagers shared the Christian faith with younger pupils
My personal experience with the Church began at the age of 9 when I attended a Benedictine School in Santiago, Chile. This was no ordinary Catholic school, it was run by a community of young lay Benedictines known as the Manquehue Apostolic Movement.
At the time these lay Benedictines were in their twenties and thirties, and were driven by their vocation to serve God in everything they did. I can still remember the school motto: UT IN OMNIBUS GLORIFICATUR DEUS – May God be Glorified in All Things.
To me their witness of life made a great impact on my path of faith. Their educational vision went beyond academic excellence to a determination that every single pupil should have a personal encounter with God.
This was possible because everyone up to the age of 14 had Tutoría – a 45 minute weekly session within the school timetable, but separate to RE, in which one of these young lay members would set out to tell us about their personal experience of the living God. This inevitably led us to a deep friendship in Christ as tutors were always there in break time, retreats and after school hours ready to ‘waste’ time on us.
This environment was fantastic, fertile ground for me to put down spiritual roots and by the time I turned 14, my year group had been invited to join a Lectio Divina group – a prayer group where we met to read and meditate on the word of God.
After joining, I was thrown into the deep end providing Tutoría for the seven year-olds at the school. DoingTutoría was great, not only because it made my popularity amongst seven year olds go up instantly, but also because in order to transmit my faith to them I had to reflect on it and then apply it in a language suitable for this age group.
In my last year at school I started questioning my vocation. At the time, I was very much enjoying being part of the movement and community life. At the same time I knew the following year at university would be completely different. During this time of discernment I met my husband, a gringo – as we called the old Amplefordians who go out to Chile to experience the Manquehue movement.
Eventually we moved to England and during university, we participated in a great Lectio Community which unfortunately fizzled out after everyone graduated. In our desert, we searched for a movement which could provide us with spiritual food as well as a Catholic network of friends, we found the parish important but it did not deliver to us the depth we had experienced in our Lectio group or back in Chile.
One summer, we were invited by an old friend to meet Verbum Dei, an international Catholic movement. I was immediately drawn to their young charism, the way in which they convey the message of God rooted in the Bible, the music, beautiful chapels, warm welcome and international character.
Since my experience of a young Church through movements has been pivotal to my faith, I have for a long time struggled to understand why this youthfulness cannot be translated into parish life in this country.
There was a turning point last year, when Pope Benedict XVI visited England. First there was Westminster Cathedral and I knew instantly that we were all in for something big, because the electrifying energy between the Pope and the young people and his message were very reminiscent of what I received in my school days. After that, came the Hyde Park Vigil and then the Beatification Mass of Cardinal Newman at Cofton Park. Why can’t going to Mass always be like this? So, drawing on the spirit of the Pope’s visit, I signed up to attend World Youth Day.
World Youth Day is the largest international gathering of young Catholics. It’s held every 2-3 years in different cities around the world and for the past 26 years it’s been celebrated in Sydney, Cologne, Toronto and so on… Some 3,800 young Britons will be attending and the expected total for Madrid is around 2 million young people. As a comparison, WYD is expected to be larger than the last World Cup in South Africa.
I have never attended a World Youth Day before and am very excited. Since I signed up for the event, I have had the opportunity to know so many people from the UK and abroad who are committed to their faith and are so inspirational. Again, many are involved in some sort of lay movement . This reflects that the fruit the Church is bearing from the Second Vatican Council, is far from over.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) initiated many changes for the Church. Particularly significant was a change in the concept of what it means to be an ordinary lay person and, by this, the Church means anybody who is not ordained to the clergy, or living a consecrated religious life. Essentially, the vocation of an ordinary lay person was elevated to an equal status by our baptism. This was not a sort of ‘equality bill’ within the church, but rooted deeply in the teaching of scripture in that we all, as different as we are, have our own mission, vocation and part to play within God’s story of salvation and as members of the same Church.
In my personal experience, this new definition for lay people has given strength and weight to the meaning of being young and lay in the church which is given form by lay associations, groups, communities and movements. In these we are active members, the Church belongs to us!
I hope World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid will be an encounter with Christ and with the rest of the universal Church. I hope that the message conveyed to us will transform our hearts so we can come back to England united, inspired and motivated to transform the Church here at all levels… but always in prayer.
Paula Mendez is an official communications officer for World Youth Day Madrid 2011 and blogs at http://ukpilgrims.com/