Those planning the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage give a good deal of thought and attention to the way in which that sacramental life is presented to these young pilgrims. There is a vitality and an energy of delivery which would be beyond the possibility of most parishes churches Sunday by Sunday, and the setting of worship in a Big Top with a vibrant team of musicians does much to engage the imagination and attention of the teenager. It remains the single most important mission event to young Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England. What Catholic mission at a parish level can emulate is its commitment to mission through participation.
In the sacraments, the young participate on the same level as those of us who are older. They are treated as adults, and are extended the same respect, trust, and honour. For most Anglo-Catholic parishes, young people contribute to the parish mass as musicians, servers, and readers. Having a part to play in liturgical worship makes the experience of coming to church far more effective and engaging for most young people. “The candle holds the child, not the child the candle,” as the old Anglo-Catholic aphorism puts it.
Alongside this, good Catholic mission to the young provides opportunities for authentic conversations where they can talk about what is going on in their hearts and lives. One of the striking features of going on pilgrimage to Walsingham is the opportunity to make a sacramental confession. After a thought-provoking act of worship, this year’s youth pilgrims were invited to do just that, and experienced priests were available for them to talk to.
The number of teenagers who wanted to make a confession was remarkable. They knew they didn’t have to pretend that they were better than they are, or something that they were not. This was a context in which what they said would go no further, and they need have no anxiety about admitting fear or failure. They knew they would not be judged or censured, just challenged to grow. They left with a sense of being honoured, that radical forgiveness is possible, and that we are not defined by our faults but by our infinite potential.
This sort of Catholic mission transforms lives….
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