Franciscan Youth Gather, Cold Ash, July 2013
Christine Frendo ofs, Divine Mercy Fraternity, Gibraltar
On 11 th July, the six of us who were making our way to the Youth Gather in Cold Ash, were chatting before take off from the Gibraltar Airport. There was an air of expectancy among us. I wondered whether this weekend would help our two youngsters, Joelle and Juliana make good choices in life and encourage them to look to St. Francis and the way he responded to Jesus? Would it help Gianna and Dianne, who have just finished the Orientation and started on the Enquiry (Formation), to discern whether they have an authentic Franciscan vocation and so help them make their final choice? Would it help and encourage Karenza, (Professed OFS and Joelle’s Mum) and me to take the first steps to start YouFra in Gibraltar? I think that above everything else we knew and trusted that the Lord was in charge!
From the moment we arrived the team, made us feel very welcome! They truly are a witness to Franciscan joy, simplicity, peace and generous service to others. The beautiful scenery, the proximity to nature and the animals really brought us close to the “way of St. Francis”.
I will always cherish the graces we received from being together as a family, for sharing, laughing, having fun and working together: for the many blessings and the joy we experienced from getting to know the Lord and each other better. I appreciate the simple yet profound presentation of St. Francis and the Christian call, which I am sure, will help the young to discover their vocation in life. The not so young benefitted from many grace-filled moments and also received wonderful insights on how to deepen our Franciscan vocation. I would also like to stress that the feeling of being very much part of this joyful, Franciscan family and the presence of God in all of creation was to me very tangible and touching.
All the shared prayer times and activities were great but I would like to give a very special mention to the final Mass, outside, on a beautiful sunny day and surrounded by the farm animals. Truly Franciscan!!
I will now include what some of the others from the Gibraltar Group and two other youngsters from the Uk have shared with me about their experience in the “Youth Gather”:
- “I found the retreat to have been a very eye-opening experience as I learnt far more about Franciscan spirituality. I enjoyed the retreat and made many friends there, I hope that one day we could invite some of these people and others to our neck of the woods one day.” (Joelle from Gibraltar)
- “Cold Ash is a truly blessed place set in an idyllic environment. From the minute you walk through it’s doors you feel peace and serenity- this is reflected in the members of the team who not only introduced us to the Franciscan Spirituality, but most importantly, showed us how it is lived. Through them we have been able to experience first hand what it is to love and serve others with simplicity and great humility. The weekend has been packed with fun activities both indoors and out and enjoyed equally by the whole group. We have lived a truly spiritually enriching experience as a Franciscan family- learning and sharing with each other irrespective of age. Our guided journey with St Francis has led us to appreciate more fully the wonder of nature and how it reflects the magnificence and generosity of our creator. We have learnt about the immense love God has for each and every one of us and how he has a specific mission for each of us, just as he had for St Francis. There have been many special moments, but for me, celebrating mass together with the farm animals has to be one of the highlights! God has bestowed on me many blessings this weekend- in particular, having given me the opportunity to share this experience with my daughter. I feel that this is the beginning of some beautiful mission God is calling us to, and I pray that with His grace, we will be able to respond with the generosity and love which He deserves.. May we also do it in the same spirit of joy as St Francis!” (Karenza from Gibraltar)
- “I had a great time at the retreat, there were lots of activities and I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people. I would definitely go again.” (Julianna from Gibraltar – Gianna’s niece)
- “The youth retreat was an absolutely wonderful experience. It was well organised, thought provoking and fun. We met a variety of people from different backgrounds and all formed a great bond in friendship and the team at St. Gabriel’s Convent were extremely enthusiastic and made us feel very much a part of the Franciscan family.
- The retreat’s location was serene and beautiful and the interactions with the farm animals was a genuinely heart warming experience and gave me a new found appreciation for the wonder of God’s creation. The whole experience truly captured the essence of Franciscan spirituality and I would recommend it to anyone.” (Gianna from Gibraltar)
- “What a great retreat with a real family atmosphere probably due to the mixture of ages- and the fact that the monks and nuns joined in! The highlight for me was the open air mass with the farm animals! I’ve enclosed a photo of the geese that wandered in for the gospel and returned for communion! Lol” (Diane from Gibraltar)
- “The weekend at Cold Ash, West Berkshire has inspired me to co-found a Young Franciscans Group back in our Parish of St Francis of Assisi in Stratford. Being surrounded by such stunning creation has allowed me to further my vocation of being involved with the youth as well as support them on a spiritual journey through faith developing and widening their understanding.”
(Jason Balaquidan from Stratford, East London- Parish of St Francis of Assisi)
- “The trip to Cold Ash was very interesting, I found it a great experience for a person my age (13/14) it was nice to meet people from different places and making new friends. The atmosphere was just outstanding, you could not imagine it, everyone was talking, taking part, getting involved and that’s what the Catholic religion is all about. GATHERING TOGETHER AS A COMMUNITY AND HAVING FUN IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD. We were asked some difficult questions about our religion and tested about how much do we know this was great because we got the chance to express ourselves deeply and informatively. I am very thankful to everyone that was there with me for making me feel at home and to everyone that lives there, hope you have the best summer (I will most certainly pray for you all). This experience made me feel different about myself; from now on I will do what God wants me to do. BE THE BEST CATHOLIC I CAN BE. Also I am definitely coming back next year and I invite anyone to come along too. Thank you for allowing me to express myself.” (Matt Pawlik from UK)
To finish I quote the words of Pope Benedict XVI written in the forward for Youcat (Catechism for Youth) as an encouragement to young people to go forward courageously in what is entrusted to them:
- “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). When Israel was at the darkest point of its history, God called, not a great and renowned individual, but a young man named Jeremiah to their aid; Jeremiah felt he had been charged with a mission that was too great: “’Ah, Lord God!’ I said, ‘I know not how to speak; I am too young’.” ( Jeremiah 1:6). But God did not let Himself be dissuaded: “Say not, ‘I am too young’. To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jeremiah 1:7 ). (You cat 2011)
Pax et Bonum
Christine Frendo OFS