Columbans at Flame 2017

14th March 2017 - by Ellen Teague

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The Columban JPIC team, mission office and lay missionaries were represented at the gathering of 10,000 young people and their youth leaders at Flame 2017 at Wembley Arena, North London, on Saturday. We listened to witness stories, joined in the joyful singing along to the music of Matt Redman and participated in a vibrant Mexican wave encircling the Wembley Arena.

The Redmond song, ‘10,000 Reasons’ was a theme of the day, referring to God’s blessings and reasons to be hopeful for the future. The quote from St Paul, ‘Fan your flames into a gift’ stood out on the screen.

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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, and from Scotland. Colourful groups could be seen having their group photos taken outside before moving inside the venue, where they were soon joining in the mobile phone light show and swaying in time to the music. Many were joined by their diocesan bishops who were there in force to accompany their young people and youth leaders.

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 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. He 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”.

During an interview with Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC Cardinal Bo warmly congratulated Columbans on their centenary (in 2018) and said, “in the name of the whole Church in Myanmar and the people we are very grateful for the Columbans, for their missionary zeal and the good example they have given and the good work of evangelisation”. His photo was taken holding Fr Sean McDonagh’s book on Laudato Si’.

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In addition to our media presence at Wembley, the Columbans were also involved in providing opportunities for the young people at Flame to deepen their understanding about challenges faced by refugees. This started the night before the event, when participants received a message through the Flame app: “Imagine… you need to flee for your life, setting off tomorrow morning on a journey to find safety. You have only 30 minutes to pack, prepare and say your goodbyes. What do you do?”

A second message, inviting people to reflect on attitudes towards refugees, was sent as people travelled to Wembley. Over the lunch-break teams chatted with young people, sharing experience of living cross-culturally, migration and asylum processes, challenging the young people to try on situations for themselves, developing empathy.

Many thanks to all involved – James Trewby of Columban JPIC and Mission Awareness staff, a Columban Lay Missionary, participants in our ‘Invitation to Mission’ Programme, and Salesian and Assumption volunteers.

Stephen of the Columban Mission Awareness Team said: “It’s a sunny day and you’re eating your lunch with friends, how hard can it be to imagine you are a refugee? Well, pretty hard actually, but the young people at FLAME didn’t shy away from the task. One young woman living in foster care identified straight away with how refugees must feel when separated from their family, while others realised how dependent they would be on others for their basic needs… but can they rely on being welcomed?”

Throughout the day, a migrant boat from the Italian island of Lampedusa was lit up on the stage. The boat was a symbol of the thousands of boats that have crossed the Mediterranean and Aegean seas in the last five years. Some have made the crossing intact, some have not.

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 (JRS), who showed a powerful video of “refugee friends” speaking about their difficult lives in the UK, where many are not permitted to work and feel they have lost their identity. “JRS has been my home” reflected one.

Another witness speaker was Fr Augusto Zampini, a CAFOD theological advisor who hails from the same city – Buenos Aires – as Pope Francis. He spoke about the message of Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis, adding “always try to see reality through the eyes of the poor; the Holy Spirit will help us with this”. He urged the huge gathering to make a difference by working together as a community.

Columban Interview with Cardinal Bo