LONDON first posted 27 August 2001 - 830 words More than 1,700 young people gathered in Walsingham over the Bank Holiday, for the tenth annual festival of prayer and evangelisation, organised by Youth 2000. Camped in fields opposite the Slipper Chapel, crowds of teenagers and twenty-somethings - some with tattoos and coloured hair - alongside several young religious and seminarians, couples and family groups, spent four sunny days singing and praying together, attending workshops, and daily Mass. Through the night they took turns in a silent vigil of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Speakers included ex-East End gangster turned evangelist John Pridmore, Fr Stan Fortuna FFR, a jazz singer-songwriter from New York, Youth 2000 national leader Robert Toone, Fr Bernard Murphy FFR, Fr Pat Browne, Vocations Director for Westminster, Mgr John Armitage, Sr Mirjana Clay and many more young people who gave testimonies. "Find out what you believe about the Mass, not what you feel," Mgr John Armitage, said in his first homily. The emphasis throughout the weekend was on prayer and exploring the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the teachings of Jesus. By the second evening hundreds had received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On the Saturday night, a healing service was held with a symbolic re-enactment of the Gospel scene in which the woman touched the hem of Jesus' garment. "Many people are quite tense when they first arrive" volunteer Emelia Klepacka said. They've often travelled a long way and are not quite sure what to expect. Many also haven't been to church for years. After a couple of days you begin see the joy on people's faces." Youth 2000 was set up ten years ago in response to Tertio Millennio Adveniente. Run by volunteers with a ten-strong core team based in East Keswick, Wetherby, they run retreats in every diocese, visit schools and colleges, and organise larger events at Easter, Christmas and the summer. During the past two years they have spoken to more than 100,000 people. Vivien Mc Donald, who joined the team last October explained: "Most volunteers stay for a year - often before going to college. We live together in three houses, sharing meals and praying together. Everyone is tremendously supportive. One of the hardest parts is doing the retreats and then not seeing the fruits of our work, as we keep moving on. But it is very rewarding knowing you're doing the will of God." John Pridmore, who is marrying volunteer Erin Flaherty next May, said "All of us have had a real conversion experience - a real experience of God." He said: "I think the retreats work because we make ourselves vulnerable - sharing the fact that we've struggled ourselves. I still have struggles but Jesus is there. It is such a privilege to do this work. Many Catholic schools tend to focus on academic results and don't devote much time to religious teaching, so they are a real missionary area for us. There is nothing better than seeing young people arriving with all the weight of the world on their shoulders and seeing them walk away with a spring in their step." Besides work in schools, John said the team is involved in the prison ministry - (although it can be difficult for John to get permission because of his past record). He said: "Its a real joy to be able to tell prisoners or young offenders: "I sat where you are sitting and God has got a plan for you. They often have alot of hopelessness and anxiety about the future." Youth 2000 is considering going to Ireland next year. John said: "This year God is definitely on the move. I feel it is a year of grace. Praying before the Blessed Sacrament is so powerful. You can't sit in the sun without getting a suntan." Volunteer Paul Bray, who begins his studies for the priesthood at Ushaw college in September, said: "I used to be very shy and retiring, but after having spoken to more than 20,000 people in the past six months I have gained confidence. It's been a great experience." On one day, Paul said, the team got to a school and discovered they had to give eight talks in a row - without any support from the teachers. "We just prayed for help and surrendered to God's will. Some months' later, a boy he'd met that day came up to him and said that he hadn't been to the regional retreat, but he had started going to Mass. He told me, 'I did it after what that Scouser said to us in school.' " Alex, a 16 year-old girl said: "Once you've tasted God, you don't want to go back." The tents are coming down now and people are travelling home. But Youth 2000 are continuing their work with a busy schedule of follow-up retreats around the country. They also have weekly prayers groups in many towns. For more information about Youth 2000 events contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 01937 579 700, or visit their website: www.youth2000.org.
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