RDS Youth Gathering 2016
Last Tuesday 19 April, the RDS hosted a gathering of more than 500 Transition Year students from all over the island of Ireland, along with teachers, chaplains, priests, religious and volunteers, who came together to celebrate their faith in this holy Year of Mercy. This is the third annual gathering of its kind, the last two years being held in our national Marian Shrine in Knock. Schools were invited to send twelve students, accompanied by two members of staff, and encouraged to return home, in apostolic spirit, as agents of evangelization. The gospel of the day provided the theme: that each one of us is known intimately by God, and called to follow Him, as Christ explained: The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me (Jn 10: 22-30).
Fr John Harris OP, as Master of Ceremonies, did a wonderful job of engaging students: welcoming them, introducing the different events, and explaining their significance, in a spirit of fun and friendship. A team of volunteers worked hard behind the scenes to ensure that things ran smoothly, and others were on the floor to assist students and speakers, and give all present a positive and joyful experience. Throughout the morning, Mother Theresas Missionaries of Charity and volunteer helpers were in a room adjacent to the main hall in continuous Adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, praying for Gods blessing on all those present. What a wonderful privilege! Another blessing was that the Poor Clare Sisters in Cork devoted their days prayer to the success of the event.
There were two speakers in the morning: Meabh Carlin and Richard Moore, whose personal testimonies were deeply moving, humbling and inspiring. Meabh, a young women from county Armagh, described how she suffered horrific injuries to her pelvis, groin and legs, when knocked down at World Youth Day in Madrid in 2013. The doctors feared that she would not live, and later, that she would never walk again, but Meabh stood before us in the RDS to witness to her conversion, and how her complete trust in God has transformed her life. Since the accident, she has dedicated her life to witnessing to Gods mercy. Emma from Clondalkin wrote: I found [Meabh] very inspirational because she went through such difficulties in her young life but overcame the obstacles when she found the true love of God.
Richard described how he was blinded by a plastic bullet fired by a British soldier in May 1972 when only ten years old, returning home from school in Derry. Second youngest of ten children, his family had suffered a terrible tragedy only months earlier when Richards Uncle was shot dead during Bloody Sunday. In spite of heartbreak, Richards parents were devout Catholics and prayed for Gods grace to help them. Their faith, and witness, he explained, helped Richard to accept his blindness without anger or bitterness. He has lived a full and happy life, setting up his own businesses, getting married and having children, meeting and befriending the soldier who blinded him, and in 1996, founding a charity called Children in Crossfire. Richards charity has raised tens of millions of pounds to help children in Africa, Asia and South America whose lives have been blighted by poverty. These projects include providing access to clean water, food, health and education. Richard spoke powerfully about the need for forgiveness in the world, and how, with Gods grace, we can each make a difference in the world if we look outside ourselves to the needs of others. One student from Dublin wrote afterwards: the message of the two speakers who overcame so much, turning weakness to strength and being able to forgive unconditionally, will stay with us long after this event finished(Eoghan, Dublin).
Following the talks, Fr John spoke about the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and all present were invited to welcome Him into their hearts in Eucharistic Adoration. To prepare, a teacher and student from each school were invited to process to the stage to place a candle on a stand beside the altar. A pupil from Holy Family Secondary School, Clondalkin, described how it became like the Burning Bush. The candles represented the light that Jesus brings to our lives and also symbolised our desire to offer our prayers for others. Another special aspect was the fact that the wooden structure was made by people in Cuan Mhuire Addiction Treatment Centre, this led us to remember to pray for people struggling with addiction and those less well off than we are. Students afterwards described it as a very moving time of prayer and reflection for them.
Confession was available all morning for those who wished to avail of the sacrament. The reverent and joyful atmosphere of the day was greatly enhanced by the beautiful singing of soprano Christine OFlynn, accompanied by pianist Bethan Lee, both during Holy Mass, and at different points during the day.
After lunch, students were given a short address by Fr Dan Baragry CSsR about the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Fr Dan explained beautifully the history and meaning of Icons, and then helped us to read and to pray with the Icon. St Clements Redemptorist school in Limerick brought their Icon, which was a placed on the burning bush stand beside the altar, and was a very special addition to the day.
His Excellency The Most Reverent Charles Brown, Papal Nuncio to Ireland, celebrated Holy Mass in the afternoon, joined by Bishop Francis Duffy, and seven priests. Girls and boys from different schools were involved in the readings, the prayers of the faithful, and the offertory. Archbishop Brown gave a powerful reflection on the gospel, how each of us are called by God, and it is up to us to respond to his voice. He reflected on the very different choices available to us in life, and gave the example of the three London schoolgirls went to Syria last year to become Jihadi brides. He then spoke about the life and work of Derry native Sr Clare Crockett, who spent the last 14 years of her life serving God and the poor, and was killed in an earthquake in Equador last Monday. Those who knew her described Sr Clare as a joyful, generous sister who had a special gift for reaching out to young people. Archbishop Brown urged students to listen God?s voice in their lives and to strive to live as children of God. Brenda Bannon, a Religion teacher from Omagh wrote: It really was a highlight for the students to listen to the Papal Nuncio. His homily was the subject of conversation all the way home.
At the end of the day, each school was presented with YOUCATs, a candle, prayer books, miraculous medals, confession leaflets, rosary beads and sweets for the journey home. We encourage students to continue to nourish their faith by studying YOUCAT as a group. (Every assistance will be given in this endeavour should schools wish to contact Mairin Ni Shuilleabhin about forming a study group: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Students were asked to submit a short piece about their experience of the day, and their feedback has been rewarding and encouraging. They commonly described the joy of meeting students from all over Ireland who were open to their faith; they described the profound impact the testimonies of Meabh and Richard had on them; they spoke of the peace in Eucharistic Adoration and in celebrating Holy Mass. Their words speak powerfully for themselves. Megan from Clondalkin described the day as a real eye opener as to how God touches peoples lives. I never realised how much people depend on the belief of God to get them through hard times in their life. Today I learnt that the best thing you can do is turn to God because no matter what, God will always be there.
To finish, I refer to Stephen OHara, Chaplain in Colaiste Choilm, Cork: Cork was represented at this gathering by St. Angelas College, Scoil Mhuire, Coliste Chriost Ri and Coliste Choilm. Our students who attended the RDS Youth Gathering really enjoyed the day. They were especially taken with the honesty of Meabh Carlin’s testimony, they were moved by the conviction of her faith and the way in which she described God speaking to us in the chaos of our lives. We must choose to let God in just a little and trust God will do the rest.
As their Chaplain who accompanied them I thought the day was a resounding success for a number of reasons. The students were exposed to a rich and varied group of speakers who all shared their faith story and I include in that the Archbishop who delivered a powerful homily. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and must always be central to a ‘Faith Day’, we should never hide our identity under a bushel but rather proclaim what we are about and I am glad this was so.
There are quite a lot of voices out there competing for the attention of our young people, and I thought Archbishop Brown’s words were timely in that it is the voice of Jesus that leads us to the light. Another highlight was Richard Moore’s testimony and his words on the impact that anger, hatred and bitterness has on us, especially as it hinders our ability to embrace the peace that forgiveness and mercy offer.
The gift of faith is such that it must be shared with others and I am convinced that the integrity of the sharing that took place in the RDS made an impact and will bear fruit in the future. My sincere thanks to all involved who gave of their time and talents to make the day what it was: a true experience of faith, hope and love. ‘