Pilgrimage of Hope
The Pilgrimage of Hope took place in Rome from 19th-25th of July. Almost 200 young people from across Europe participated. The pilgrimage was based in the Carmelite Conference Centre in Sassone, but the group travelled into Rome most days, to visit significant Christian sites. Over 5 days, the young people visited
St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, San Martino ai Monti, Castelgandolfo, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, the Catacombs of Priscilla, the Colosseum and, of course, St. Peter’s Basilica.
The work of the pilgrimage was structured around a letter from the Prior General, Fr. Fernando Millán, O.Carm., which was written specifically to the young people. Each day had a particular theme, and the pilgrims were invited to explore the various topics, through discussion, art, music, poetry, and drama groups. The aim of the pilgrimage was to encourage the young people to investigate the Carmelite tradition, within the context of both their own personal experience and the Christian tradition; to share their reflections, and to listen to their various perspectives.
In order to facilitate the young people in expressing their thoughts and hopes in different ways, a “clothes-line” was erected outside the main entrance to the Conference centre. This proved to be a great success, as it was soon filled with wonderful artwork and poetry which dealt with all the themes of the week. On reflection, the creative energy of the young people on this pilgrimage was remarkable. In their work, many of the young people showed a deep understanding of some essential aspects of Carmelite spirituality. One significant example might be this poem written by one of the participants:
God calls us to reach out to each other,
And Jesus walks with us every step of the way.
We fulfil this duty through obedience and self control,
While we look to the Word of God
for hope, guidance and strength.
We are united with the one God,
and our interdependence strengthens our sense of communion.
We gather to remember, to pray, and to give thanks to God.
And are reminded frequently as we journey through life:
That life on earth is a time of trial.
It is through our suffering, however, that we emerge as stronger and wiser people.
Many people suffer in silence, but silence is the way to foster holiness –
And this in its turn strengthens our connection with God.
Music, whether in liturgy or more informally; outside the entrance of Sassone or on the coaches, provided a universal language through which people from different countries could communicate. This creativity perhaps found its greatest expression during the final liturgy of the pilgrimage, a Mass celebrated by Fr. Fernando, in which both the entrance and recessional songs were composed by members of the pilgrimage group.
There was a great sense of fraternity among the young pilgrims and the Carmelites. During the pilgrimage, we overheard several people saying that the Prior General was “really cool.” This fraternal affection was highlighted during the concert in Sassone, when Fr. Fernando was lifted in the air for some crowd-surfing! Since the pilgrimage, the friendships, both national and international, have continued to develop, with the aid of the internet, Facebook and Twitter, many of the young people are in regular contact; sharing photographs, reflections, and their hope to meet again soon, perhaps in Madrid for the World Youth Day 2011.
At the closing ceremony of the Pilgrimage, each person was given a simple wooden cross made in a Carmelite-managed rehabilitation centre in Zaragoza, Spain. This cross symbolised the renewed commitment to following Christ, but also looks toward the World Youth Day in Madrid, and the hope that many of the members of the Pilgrimage of Hope will reunite there.
On the final day, there was a plenary session with Fr. Fernando, which was in the form of questions and answers. Many of the questions that were brought forward outlined the difficulties facing young people in trying to live out their Christian faith in today’s society. Fr. Fernando addressed the questions in a very open and sincere way, acknowledging the difficulties, offering encouragement and support. In looking to the future, each pilgrim was encouraged to write a letter to the Prior General, responding to his own letter and outlining their hopes and wishes. These letters will be collated and presented to the whole Carmelite Family in the weeks ahead. Each provincial group was also asked to make a commitment to how they would continue the work which had begun at the pilgrimage. All of them said they would like to meet up again. Most groups thought about having a concrete project: for example, walking together to Santiago de Compostella; informing the different provinces about the pilgrimage; finding new members to join the provincial groups; having an exchange with other countries and so on.
It is difficult to convey the energy, the enthusiasm, and the good will which caused this pilgrimage to be a great success, and a truly memorable experience for all who participated. However, Fr. Hung Tran’s video, which he made for the closing session of the pilgrimage, provides a wonderful glimpse of this spirit. The video is available on both the website of the Order and YouTube, and is definitely worth viewing.
To conclude, the Pilgrimage of Hope was exactly that; an experience of Hope. Drawing from the richness of the Order’s tradition, together, we sought new ways to express the Carmelite charism in the world of today. Many of the young people on the pilgrimage showed a genuine desire to know more about Carmel, and to find some way to live out the Carmelite values. As such, we think it is important for us, as Carmelites, to respond to these young people, not only by sharing our tradition, but by being open to new expressions and new ways of living that tradition. This will be a big challenge for us, but we think it is a great sign of hope that young people want to continue their way with us in the “Land of Carmel”. Now it is up to us to take this challenge and to go together into future.