By: Ellen Teague and Jo Siedlecka
The largest gathering of Catholic youth happens every two years and is organised by the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation (CYMFed). Trains and coaches were travelling to Wembley from the early hours of Saturday morning from every Catholic diocese in England and Wales. Some also came from Scotland and there was a contingent from Norway. Colourful groups - some from Nottingham sported Sherwood green Robin Hood hats - posed for photos outside before moving into the venue, where they were soon joining in the mobile phone light show and moving in time to the music. Many diocesan bishops sat alongside their young people and youth leaders. Fast-moving presentations were well-planned and varied with multi media backgrounds and lighting effects.
The Opening Liturgy was full of dance, movement and time for reflective prayer. The official welcome from CYMFed was given by Fr Dermott Donnelly of Youth Services in Hexham and Newcastle Diocese. "Wow, what a sight!" the brother of celebrity Declan Donnelly exclaimed from the podium. Cardinal Vincent Nichols brought a message from Pope Francis - who was cheered every time his name was mentioned - and especially when he called on the young people "to help vulnerable migrants and our neighbours who feel abandoned." Cardinal Vincent urged the young people to feed into planning for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on 'Youth, faith and vocational discernment'.
Cardinal Charles Bo from Myanmar was warmly received when he urged the young people to "carry the flame of hope" in today's world, particularly bringing hope to those less fortunate." Smiling throughout, he said: "I see beautiful faces and colours and this is the diversity of the Catholic Church." He spoke of the suffering in his country, particularly the 200,000 Muslim Rohingya displaced in the north and the Karen who are plagued by human trafficking. Cardinal Bo reported that he has been calling 2017 a Year of Peace although "everywhere the voices of hatred are becoming stronger and all of us must counter this." He reported that Catholics are working for justice in Myanmar's slums, camps for displaced people and in projects that promote education, health and build bridges between faiths. His phrase that "hope has no expiry date" was very popular on social media. Cardinal Bo also mentioned that he had wanted to look inside Wembley Stadium - but he he was shocked to see that the ticket cost £20. "That's a month's salary for me," he told the crowds.
Throughout the day, a migrant boat TO6411 from the Italian island of Lampedusa was lit up on one side of the stage. This tiny vessel, which originally came from from Turkey crammed with over 100 people, including several babies, was sailed to London from Lampedusa by artist Lucy Wood in 2013 to highlight the plight of refugees who risk their lives trying to get to Europe. Last year the UN report that more than 2,500 people drowned in that dangerous journey. This focus on migrants was followed by prayers for those displaced from their homes and those seeking to find shelter and safety in Europe. It was picked up in the afternoon by Sarah Teather, head of the Jesuit Refugee Service, who showed a powerful video of 'refugee friends' speaking about their difficult lives in the UK, where asylum seekers are not permitted to work and feel they have lost their identity. "JRS has been my home" reflected one. Sarah asked the each of the 10,000 young people in the arena to think about doing "one thing" to support refugees. "If each person does just one thing - what a difference that would make" she said.
Two young CAFOD volunteers - student teacher Leah Fox and Ryan Wilkinson, a volunteer with the Salesian retreat centre in Sheffield - described meeting refugees in the Lebanon. They said they felt the Church is a global community reaching out to the vulnerable.
Fr Augusto Zampini, a CAFOD theological advisor who hails from the same city - Buenos Aires - as Pope Francis, spoke about the message of Laudato Si' and Pope Francis. We must "always try to see reality through the eyes of the poor; the Holy Spirit will help us with this." Fr Augusto urged the huge gathering to make a difference by working together as a community.
Several times during the day the hashtag #Flame2017 was trending on Twitter. The young participants in the arena were encouraged to write messages to refugees and to support by fundraising, campaigning and praying. Tweeting and texting went on throughout the day, and an app on mobile phones encouraged young people to imagine what it must be like to flee for your life.
Creative activities took place outside during the lunch break, where young people had to imagine trying to engage with the British public as refugees from overseas. Rise Theatre led some improvisations. One CAFOD stand encouraged volunteers to generate energy by cycling.
There was a closing liturgy with quiet Adoration and Benediction - before Flame2017 came to an end and the crowds began to head for their coaches and the long journey home.
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