Young people are receptive to the Gospel when presented in a manner that reaches them, according to Filipino-born Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation.
He was speaking to The Tablet last Saturday after addressing 8,000 young people at Flame 2023 in the OVO Wembley Arena. The huge audience had responded enthusiastically to his stories on the theme of “Rise Up!” an echo of the scripture passage describing how Mary, after her visitation by an angel, “arose and went with haste”.
“Who were the angels sent to me?” he asked and smiled as he shared his personal story on how angels such as his grandparents and parents guided his faith and gave him the power to rise up.
His maternal grandfather was a migrant from China and his paternal grandmother raised five children after being widowed in the Second World War.
“For migrants who can contribute to their new society, I say rise up, for widows I say, no more war.”
Of his parents, now in their 90s, he said: “The elderly are not a burden – they are angels.” And he talked about those “angels” he has met in refugee camps “whose lives have been destroyed by conflict and poverty” as well as humble street vendors, “reminding me of God’s presence”.
The audience applauded when he challenged them to consider “Who are the angels sent to you by God?”
Cardinal Tagle told The Tablet that, despite the serious dilemmas in today’s world, “I hope the young people will discover how to respond and survive.”
In a special message to the conference, Pope Francis encouraged young people to develop a sensitivity to those around them.
“Be known for prayer, pursuit of justice and common good, love for the poor and social friendship and dare to be different,” he said.
Flame was a noisy and colourful event, with young people clapping motivational speakers exuberantly and waving scarves in time to lively music from Adeniké, Guvna B, Faith Child and One Hope Project.
Cafod’s Director Christine Allen wrote on Twitter: “You brought deep spirituality, passion and uplifting contemporary music!”
Over lunch, Cafod, Columbans, HCPT, Pax Christi, Aid to the Church in Need and SVP organised creative activities.
Back in the arena, the young audience gently sang “Father we adore you” in a round and engaged with a service of devotion to conclude the event led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
“That was a beautiful and powerful stillness” said Fr Dominic Howarth, the current chair of CYMFed, the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation, before thanking all participants.
All day, cameras were lit up around the arena from diocesan youth groups – 500 attended from the Archdiocese of Southwark – schools and confirmation groups, and young people with Catholic agencies.
The first gathering of Flame since 2019 was organised by CYMFed and key supporters included the Catenians, Religious of the Assumption, Salesians, Jesuits and CCLA Good Investment.
The Australian Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth walked on stage wearing his Salesian scarf. He urged the young people to build bridges not walls and to be active in the Church and the world.
“On the way home from Flame,” he suggested, “ask, ‘What do I need to do?’”
Inspirational words came from Robert Bilott, a Catholic attorney from Cincinnati who stood up for communities injured by chemical contamination. Bilott highlighted the poisoning of water sources by the DuPont company and the dangers of corporate greed. The crowd cheered a clip of a 2019 film about his campaigning work.
“One person taking a risk can change the world,” said Bilott. He felt his campaign “was the right thing to do” and was proud to play his part in getting dangerous chemicals regulated all over the world.
Cafod partner Jenny Garzón Saavedra from Colombia beamed when she heard the tremendous cheer to welcome her as she walked onto the stage in indigenous dress and with flowers in her hair. Working for a diocese in the Colombian Amazon, she supports communities on projects “collecting native seeds, protecting water and planting trees”.
She has witnessed the deforestation of the Amazon but said: “I dream that our land, our Amazon, will not disappear. I dream that we continue to take care of it, defend it and love it.”
Fr Dermot Donnelly, a priest of Hexham and Newcastle who died last July, was remembered throughout, especially in a video message from Ant and Dec, speaking from the Saturday Night Takeaway studio.
“He was passionate about young people,” said his brother, Declan Donnelly. Fr Dermott was a key player in the development of CYMFed.
Many of the 17 bishops present sat with groups from their dioceses, such as Bishop Alan Williams of Brentwood and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham.
Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham wrote afterwards on Twitter: “After a fantastic day at ‘Flame’, 200 tired but spirit-filled young people are beginning their journey back to the Diocese of Nottingham.”
The RE and chaplaincy team at Thornleigh also wrote: “Journeying home from Flame we leave inspired and energised, renewed in faith and friendship!”
Wimbledon College chaplain thanked Flame “for such an amazing, inspirational, faith-filled, uplifting day; it was fantastic to be together with over 8,000 young Catholics and other Jesuit schools.”
The Diocese of Portsmouth Diocese wrote on Twitter: “Leaving Flame 2023 ready to be ablaze, knowing we are significant and ready to embrace our Angels and be the Church of Today on fire.”
St Edmund Arrowsmith School in Ashton-in-Makerfield said: “We had such a great time. Back on the coach up north now – all inspired to Rise Up and be a force for good in the world.”