26 May 2023, The Tablet

On the move

On the move

Patrick Hudson looks back to Flame and forward to World Youth Day

He might not be considered papabile anymore, but Cardinal Tagle can still draw a crowd. There were 7,700 people in Wembley Arena on 4 March for Flame 2023, where he was the keynote speaker. In a characteristic twist on his brief, he looked told the young audience about “angels” apparently distant from their lives: his grandparents who were refugees from war, other refugees he has met around the world, street vendors in his native Philippines. “The elderly are not a burden – they are angels,” he said, and asked: “Who are the angels sent to you by God?”

If this theme surprised, then so much the better. Angels are a dissonant concept that rarely feature in our common parlance. In fact, Tagle was pointing out that they are not a concept at all – they are personalities, real people we encounter in unexpected places who don’t quite fit with how we’re used to seeing things. It’s a theme that chimed with Pope Francis’s message for the occasion:

“Dare to be different, point to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship.”

We would happily sign our names to these ideals, but which don’t always look quite as we’d expect. The mighty reception for Jenny Garzón Saavedra, who works with CAFOD in Colombia to support Amazonian communities, showed that the audience recognised these traits when they appeared on stage. But there was still a question for each individual pitched by Timothy Costelloe, the Archbishop of Perth: “What do I need to do?”

A precise 150 days before World Youth Day in Lisbon, Flame took its “Rise Up!” theme from the WYD motto chosen by the Pope. “Mary arose and went in haste” (Luke 1:38) begins the Gospel of the Visitation at pace – the pace of urgent, interested youth. Our Lady of the Visitation, the patroness of WYD, “is a model for young people on the move, who refuse to stand in front of a mirror to contemplate themselves”, says Francis. “When faced with concrete and urgent needs, we need to act quickly.”

It’s a message that could easily stray into familiar scolding, the voice of an older generation telling you to go and make something of yourself. “Life is real, not virtual,” Francis told Hungarian youth last month. “It does not take place on a screen, but in the world!” The difference (hopefully) from the nagging of any other 86-year-old is that he recognises the real desire to make a difference that lies buried in the troubled inactivity of so many young people. Doomscrolling is always haunted by a hope that something on the feed will provide an answer.

There aren’t any there. Instead, you’ll find them in the peculiar, dissonant questions – who are your angels? – and the most fundamental – what are you going to do?

What do you think?


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