Bishop Donal McKeown to lead pilgrims to World Youth Day in Madrid

11 Aug 2011

Bishop Donal McKeown to lead pilgrims to World Youth Day in Madrid

             “Despite negative publicity and a hostile cultural environment, many still hunger for belonging, peace with the past and a dream for the future” – Bishop McKeown

The pilgrimage of the Diocese of Down and Connor to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid will assemble in BelfastInternationalAirport at4.30am tomorrow morning, Friday 12 August.  Photo opportunities will be available and the flight departs at 6.30am.  Pilgrims from the Diocese of Derry also form part of this pilgrimage group.

Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor will lead 50 pilgrims aged between 17 and 61.  Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, will be in attendance to wish the pilgrims a safe journey.  The pilgrimage coordinator is Clare Gilmore, the Faith Development Officer with Youthcom, the Down and Connor diocesan youth service.

The journey toMadrid sees the pilgrims travel first to Porto in northernPortugal, where they will participate in the ‘Days in the Diocese’, hosted by Valongo parish in the diocese of Porto (North Portugal).  During days in the diocese we are staying with 24 host families and the parish have organised a full schedule for us including the following:  morning prayer together; cruise on the river Douro; visit to the wine cellars of Porto; historic tour of Porto city centre; parish party; Sunday afternoon parish picnic.  We shall be sharing music and traditions of our cultures at the parish party on Saturday evening.

The Irish pilgrims will arrive inMadrid on Monday 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The pilgrims will be hosted for the week by “Jesus Divino Obrero” parish in the suburbs ofMadridas part of their World Youth Day package.  All Irish pilgrims attending World Youth Day in Madrid – and this figure is in expected to be in excess of 1,000 – are invited to attend an initial gathering at 5.00pm on Tuesday 16 August in the city centre church of Jesus de Medinaceli, in preparation for the opening World Youth Day Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid, at 8.00pm in the Plaza de Cibeles.

Over the coming week in excess of 1,500 Irish pilgrims – in addition to pilgrims from all over the world – will start their journey to World Youth Day inMadrid.  The closing Mass on 21 August, at which Pope Benedict XVI will preside, may well be one of the largest gatherings anywhere in the world this year.  Following the World Youth Day celebrations, Down and Connor pilgrims will return toBelfastfromBarcelona, and are expected to arrive at theInternationalAirportat 3.30pm on Monday, 22 August.

In advance of the Down and Connor pilgrimage Bishop McKeown said “There has been much talk about where Irish Catholicism goes in the context of our current challenges. Some suggest that only a radical break with a corrupt past will offer any prospect of a future. Others are equally clear that only a return to clarity and orthodox teaching can help people reconnect with faith in Jesus. And, in their energetic enthusiasm, very many of the young pilgrims have different reasons for going.

“As leaders at local and national level seek to sketch out ways forward, Catholicism – and all other religious groups – will have to swim in a very different sea from the one where my generation grew up. A couple of things strike me about this.

“Firstly, we have seen the definitive end of a century-long culture where religious identity was something we were born into. It was part of who were fated to be – Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, etc. Now faith is a matter, not of fate, but of choice. The previous cultural context – which prevailed since the time of the emperor Constantine – led to the bizarre Belfast terminology of ‘Catholic rioters’ or ‘Protestant gunmen’, just like we still hear references to Shia or Sunni paramilitary groups. The new National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland recognises this changed environment. Church will be less about keeping people in their allotted faith community – and more about inviting them to opt into a local church family where they can grow in faith.

“Secondly, renewal also needs to avoid the opposite extreme. A local church is not just a transient and comfortable ‘holy huddle’ of currently like-minded individuals, based on a supermarket approach to religious experience. Diversity and choice do not have to mean fragmentation. The end of ‘religion as fate’ – rather than ‘religion as faith’ – does not mean that belonging ceases to be a core part of believing.  The core elements of the early Christian church were “the teaching of the apostles, the community, the breaking of bread and prayer”. (Acts of the Apostles 2: 42) Commitment to these core disciplines are as much key parts of Christian discipleship in the 21st century as they were in the 1st. Faithfulness and loyalty, justice and solidarity are not necessarily popular modern virtues in a culture where the competitive consumer is king. But faithful belonging to the imperfect pilgrim People of God is not just a lifestyle choice that I make. I suggest that there is little future for forms of Christianity that give more space to my choosing, than to my being chosen.

“Thirdly, our cultural environment can allow for spirituality, as long as it is in the context of a search for self-fulfilment. It finds it difficult to make a niche for those who want to search for a spirituality of self-transcendence. Anyone who doubts that should ask children what they dream of. They are overwhelmingly likely to nail their flag to the mast of fame and fortune than to raise a flag for generosity, self-sacrifice and building a world of justice, love and peace. They are told to want – as Muhammad Ali said: ‘the pound on the ground when I’m around, rather than pie in the sky when I die.’ The dominant vocabulary of our society finds little room for ideas like truth, beauty and love. Consumerism does little to nourish idealism. That makes for a hostile environment for the language of faith and of the transcendent. And we end up with the odd sight of faith being criticised as irrational by those who seem to espouse an irrational faith in power of the rational.

“Fourthly, I have a sense that the problem for many people is not belief in God – but simply belief in good. Human selfishness, brutality and greed are matched by the apparent failure of organisations, states and systems to generate virtue of any sort. A widespread culture, which promotes anger, condemnation and neuroticism about the past and the present, risks undermining confidence that there can be much to look forward to. Leadership in church and state is not just about articulating anger and repentance but also about sketching a dream. It involves the Gospel value of pointing out that those with a past can also have a future. It is not surprising that the English language gives a very negative meaning to the word ‘hope-less’. Many people look around and see little that favours faith and faithfulness, hope and trust, the capacity to love and to be loved. That is why Pope John Paul II emphasised the importance of hope as the key value that is missing in much of modernEurope. That cultural presumption will create an extra challenge for those who will dare to speak the prophetic language of faith.

“But, despite all that, World Youth Day inMadridwill still attract one million, maybe up to two million people who dare to journey together in hope.  They will sing and dance, hug and clap, be silent and cry soft tears. Many of the Irish who will go there will have already been to the Knock Youth Festival or the Youth 2000 Festival or gone to work with sick and needy people. Despite negative publicity and a hostile cultural environment, many still hunger for belonging, peace with the past and a dream for the future. World Youth Day still provides a focal point for that generation of young idealists who – to quote Dan Berrigan – refuse ‘to be distracted from distraction by distraction’.

“World Youth Day and next year’s International Eucharistic Congress resonate with what Viktor Frankl said about the human hunger for a meaning for living and not just for the means by which to live.

“ForIreland, thankfully there is no way we are going back to anything. And the young people of faith who travel to Madrid are determined not to be prisoners of the past but architects of the future. That is why I’m looking forward to being with them,” Bishop McKeown said.


Notes to Editors

  • World Youth Day will take place in Madrid, Spainfrom 16 – 21 August 2011. The theme chosen by Pope Benedict for World Youth Day 2011 is “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf.Col 2:7).  In excess of 1,500 Irish pilgrims are expected to travel to Spain to take part in this year’s event which is being hosted in Madrid City. The week-long celebration will include catechesis sessions, music, liturgies, cultural events and an opportunity for pilgrims to meet with other pilgrims from all over the World.
  • The highlights of World Youth Day are the prayer vigil and the closing Mass at which Pope Benedict XVI will preside. Both of these will take place atCuatroVientosAirport,Madridon, on 20 and 21 August. At the closing Mass Pope Benedict will announce the venue for the next international World Youth Day.
  • A special feature is now available on the Bishops’ Conference website for World Youth Day 2011. It includes:
  1. Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Youth Day
  2. An overview of Irish diocesan pilgrimages toMadrid
  3. A video interview with Bishop Donal McKeown.  In his video interview Bishop McKeown outlines what World Youth Day is, the relevance of the theme chosen for 2011 and the importance of World Youth Day to the Catholic Church.
  4. Links to live updates from four Irish pilgrims who will travel to World Youth Day
  5. Links to the official World Youth Day website and to the Vatican
  • World Youth Day was initiated by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1985.  It is celebrated at diocesan level annually, and at a week-long international level every two to three years in different  countries.  The international level event attracts hundreds of thousands of young people from almost every country on the planet.
  • Blessed Mother Teresa ofCalcuttais the Patron Saint of World Youth Day and since his beatification, Pope John Paul II, who started the event, has become its co-patron.

Further information:

Fr Eddie Magee, Diocesan Communications Office for the Diocese of Down and Connor 0044 (0) 78111 44268 and the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 00 353 (1) 5053017