Fr James D. Fanning mhm
The sun is shining brightly . It is going to be a scorcher. It was difficult waking up this morning to rush to the parish Church for a small English mass. Bishop Joseph Francis Kwaku Essien, the bishop from Wiaswo Diocese in Ghana was my co-celebrant. We had breakfast together afterwards in the attached presbytery where he was staying. He has been a bishop for seventeen years having been a military chaplain most of his life. He is very concerned about his country in Africa and feels it is going backwards. I congratulated him for bringing 120 Ghanians to the youth days. He said
'yes their eyes are being opened and are seeing how much they are missing'.
I suggested we try to bring hope to our people when the world is letting them down.
I was not sure if I wanted to sleep in the field tonight but when I discovered that this seventy year prelate already had his sleeping bag prepared I decided to take the plunge. We will have to walk there as there are no buses or trains running there today.
My wonderful polish hosts gave me one of their spare sleeping bags and a generous packed lunch. Our youth group had come in the night and had already left when I came back from mass.
I set out on the road alone ready to walk the 8 kilometre to the stadium but my hosts would not hear of it and insisted on driving me as far as possible until the road became too thick with pilgrims for them to continue. At last I was free to walk. There were Estonians, Georgians, Russians, Hungarians, Ghanians, Croatians…. I suddenly was reminded of the text in Isaiah which says 'in the years to come the mountain of the house of the Lord will be raised above all other mountains and all the nations will stream to it'. Indeed it feels as though the youth are fulfilling this prophecy in their World Youth Days. Along the way people send their children to the garden gates to hand out apples, gherkins, fruit juice, plums, and free bottles of water as we pass. Finally I met a group of mixed Africans. Two priests from Kenya and one sister. The sister was from Mukumu Parish in Kakamega and
she told me she was baptised by a Mill Hill missionary called Fr James Fanning! I hugged her! Maureen Buseka.
The other man was from Kisangani in the Congo. I spoke to him in Lingala.
Finally in the stadium I saw a British flag with many youngsters in tow.
''Excuse me are you British?" "Yes" Where are you from?' 'We are from London and we are five bus loads of Neocatechumens".
I have got to know this movement over the years and they always impress me with their great welcome, joy and community life. At last I found my fellow citizens. They turned out to be a big group of young neo-cats from England and Scotland. There are a few adults but the majority today are the youth because of the function. I went over and talked to a big circle of them sitting down playing cards. I asked them what they liked about the neo-cat way. They like the community aspect and the strong faith. They always have friends which they don't easily get in ordinary parish life. Of course at school they get reactions from other youth. But being In England, Sam says, people are polite, they don't particularly verbally attack them, they usually just say 'oh' and change the subject!. According to them, like the Youth Light Life from Germany who I met, they see the old Church dying all my over Europe. Their trip lasts three weeks. They are visiting Holland, France, Germany, Poland, meeting neo-cat communities where-ever they go. It has cost them £800 each to come on this trip.
The sun is still hot and it is now 6.15 pm . There is a very relaxed happy atmosphere in the field. A Ghanian lad has shown me how to use my mobile phone as a fm receiver. I need to use an earpiece otherwise it doesn't work. I didn't have one but begged one from a beautiful girl selling souvenirs and she gave me her spare one. May God bless the generosity of Poland. We are full in the field waiting til 7.30 when the Pope comes for the vigil.
Well the Pope came and he looked radiant and happy on the faraway screens. Even happier seemed the youths who were chosen to accompany him in the Pope mobile. After some welcoming songs some youths spoke to him of their problems and then he replied with his gentle endearing voice. But the FM system was not working well for the English translations and I found it very difficult to hear, let alone see. Also I discovered I had the wrong earphones: they were the ones for phone calls but not the ones for listening to the radio.! The youth around me seemed happy however. They even chanted 'Papa Francesco' after his talk. Reluctantly I packed up my sleeping bag before the sun set and started making my way back home. A Good Samaritan priest saw me walking in the twilight and offered me a lift right back home. My Polish hosts were surprised to see me. They nonetheless welcomed me warmly. I then watched the remainder of what was a wonderful vigil on TV. At least I was able to see a bit of it comfortably. It looked so good on screen at home but for the participants in the distant fields?…it was anybody's guess.
I conclude that a very high priority for the youth is just being together- company with their fellow youth.
That can sustain them and keep them happy even when modern technology is not all that it is meant to be. So I learnt some more big lessons today. I imagine Bishop Joseph was lucky enough to have a seat right up front where the vigil was really exciting. I am still happy to experience the lot of the poor from the back in true Mill Hill style. End of day five.
Fr. James D. Fanning mhm
Read John Allen in CRUX