An ecumenical event greeted by Benedict XVI
The common prayer of 29th December in St Peter’s Square, which brought together 45,000 young Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians together with the Pope, will probably remain the high point of the 35th European Meeting. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Benedict XVI recalled this prayer in the following words:
Very important in this regard was the prayer vigil I celebrated about a month ago in this square with thousands of young people from all over Europe and with the ecumenical community of Taizé: a moment of grace in which we experienced the beauty of forming one in Christ. I encourage everyone to pray together so that we may achieve “what the Lord requires of us” (cf. Mic 6:6-8), as the theme of the Week this year says. The theme was suggested by several Christian communities in India, who invite the faithful as brothers and sisters in Christ, to work hard to achieve visible unity among Christians, and to overcome every type of unjust discrimination.
Kiran, a young man who himself comes from India and who participated in the meeting, wrote:
It was a great pleasure to participate in the common prayer on the 29th December in St Peter’s Square with Pope Benedict XVI and thousands of young people from all over the world. Hearing these thousands of people singing together was like the joy of heaven on earth. And the time of silence was so impressive!
Meetings in all the parishes over the last few weeks
Following the Meeting, the brothers and young people of the preparation teams visited all the parishes and Christian communities of Rome which hosted participants during the Meeting. During these visits, those who had opened their doors were full of thankfulness. Certain parents mentioned that their children had at first been less than enthusiastic about the idea of welcoming unknown young adults at home – a feeling which quite disappeared as soon as hosts and guests began to get to know each other.
Brother Alois thanks the people of Rome
As a sign of gratitude, Brother Alois wrote a letter to all those who got involved in the preparation of the 35th European Meeting. Here are some extracts:
Thousands of people opened their doors to young people whom they did not know, in a period when people are often afraid of strangers: for Christians this highlights the communion of the Church and for everyone it helps to deepen understanding between peoples. Hospitality is a gesture that allows all to become bearers of peace in society.Before they left, so many young people expressed to us their gratitude for the days they spent in Rome. Even those who slept in collective accommodation found joy in being together, in helping each other in the simplicity of this pilgrimage.
Young people from all over Europe are now in contact
Another piece of good news concerns the links created between young people from various European countries, which could prove long-lasting thanks to modern communications and social networks. Beautiful signs of friendship have also arrived by post, like this postcard which was received by a parish in Rome:
More echoes received from young participants
Amongst the numerous messages received following the meeting, many spoke of the communion with God and with other people as the most beautiful fruit of the days in Rome. For instance, a young person from Belgium described, in the bus on the way home, “a privileged moment of trust, silence, meetings, communion with God who brings us all together in His love. It is good and beautiful to see the faces of so many young people who are not the future, but the present of the Church….”
Basia from Poland had taken part in several European meetings, but this one seemed to her to be different from the start:
“Rome: for many a city of historical monuments and magnificent basilicas; but for me, during the six days of the meeting, Rome became the source of faith, hope and love. Faith shared with 40,000 young people; hope that ecumenism and reconciliation are possible; and the love of God which never ceased to surprise my friend and me.”
Thomas from France was accommodated at “La Fiera” Exhibition Centre:
“Very beautiful meetings were also held in this atypical ’parish’. The Festival of Nations was a real success. Despite the difficulty of creating Church, a community was born. Before leaving, several groups had separately expressed their desire to organise a short prayer. Then, more and more young people joined in with this. Even in precarious conditions, and, I would say, above all in situations of great simplicity, grace is abundant.”
Robert – originally from Tanzania – also took part in the meeting. He stayed with a family who gave an example of very great trust, and he also remembers:
“It was amazing to see believers from different denominations (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and others) and languages gathered together in the unity of the Word of God. Many had travelled a long way, but all stayed, ate and prayed together. This is the power of faith in Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Concerning this, I retain these words of Brother Alois: “What unites us is stronger than what divides us.”
As for Marta, from Lower Silesia, Poland – she highlighted in particular the experience of “The Church as community” which the meeting represented, for her.
“It was great to meet people who were full of peace, simplicity and humility, One could really experience the unity that was made possible by the Holy Spirit. God was free to do big and small wonders, and He came in the silence, the singing, the prayer, in every person we met, through the beauty of Roman churches, through the mutual openness and help (from which I benefited a lot as I am a wheelchair user) – but also through our patience. Now I know for sure that peace begins in my own heart and is a pure gift, which does not depend on my efforts.”
During this time, in Strasbourg…
A large group of 150 young people from Strasbourg was present in Rome. The announcement that the next meeting would be held in Alsace and Baden was welcomed joyfully. During the past weeks, fifty places to stay with families have already been offered, to welcome the young people during the next meeting. This is an encouraging beginning!
Some echoes from the media
The list given here is not exhaustive but, rather, cites the articles or reports worthy of interest for those who would like to know more.
- The Italian television station RAI dedicated one report to the meeting, as did the French TV stations TF1 and KTO. In the Netherlands, there was the Catholic/Protestant TV programme.
- On the radio, the network of French-speaking Christian radio stations offered several broadcasts direct from Rome.
- The prayer at St Peter’s Square can be watched online.
- Finally, several articles were written about the Pilgrimage of Trust: in Italian in Città Nuova and Avvenire, an editorial in English published by Vatican Radio about ‘Youth and Ecumenism’, an article in the French daily paper La Croix: “Taizé fait vivre l’œcuménisme dans les églises de Rome” and also an account written in Polish about the Festival of Nations on December 31st.
To continue this search
In his letter of thanks, Brother Alois concludes:
“We all came to Rome as pilgrims. We are all on the way towards a more personal communion with God and towards a deeper communion with each other. At Rome the young people discovered traces of the continuity of the faith from the time of the apostles to that of today. Coming from different nations, from a variety of Christian denominations, they were also able to deepen their solidarity, at a time in history when material difficulties – on the contrary – encourage a retreat into personal identity.May we all continue to seek and strive for this solidarity where we live! We remain united to you, dear friends who live in Rome, in gratitude and in a deep fraternal communion.”