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The Youth that Died in Rome

Easter Vigil Rome

© Carly Andrews

Carly Andrews - published on 04/20/14

But that's not the whole story.
100 young people travelled from all over the world to Rome. And here on Friday every single one of them died.

But that’s not the end of the story.

From Australia, Canada, Belgium, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Germany, England and so many more places, young people came to Rome in search of something, something they were missing in their life, something they were hoping for…

They came and took part in the Emmanuel School of Mission (ESM), a formation programme run by the Emmanuel Community (founded in France by Pierre Goursat), where they are formed in their faith as men and women in Christ, learning how to be true missionaries, to take back and live in their own states of life.

This Easter the ESM came and ran a Triduum retreat at the
Centro San Lorenzo (CSL), the Vatican’s international Youth centre founded 31 years ago by Blessed John Paul II. Over a hundred youth participated and for every single one of them their lives were changed forever.

It began on the Holy Thursday, in the Upper Room. They celebrated Christ’s institution of the Eucharist. 12 young men sat at the foot of the altar while their chaplain Fr Arthur from France, dropped to his knees and washed each of their feet, just as Jesus did for his disciples more than 2000 years ago.

Then through the night these young men and women watched Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, trying not to fall asleep like the disciples did, but accompanying their Lord in His suffering.

On Friday the morning was spent in prayer, with talks on Confession and then came the moment, the great Sacrificial act that made the earth tremble, the temple crack and the heavens open in thunder and lightening:
Christ was crucified.

The young people reenacted the Way of the Cross on the square of St Peter’s Basilica, and in that terrible and sanctifying moment – as Christ let out that heart piercing cry, His last breath spent –  each one of these young people, hearts filled with sorrow and guilt and love, embraced the Cross of Jesus and insodoing, died to their old life. 
Silence held.

No movement, no words, no song.

They proceeded into the old stone church of San Lorenzo church, and entered into the liturgy of the adoration of the Cross, as Pope Francis did just a few feet away in St Peter’s Basilica. 

“Coming into the Church on Friday” recalled 23 yr old Cecile, “it was completely empty and dark; Jesus wasn’t in the Tabernacle, there was red fabric covering the cross and the statue of Mary, everything was bare; then we began to pray together… it was so powerful, and really helped me enter into the mystery of the passion, to really comprehend what had just happened.”

Then Father Charles, director of the ESM,  guided them in this most mournful prayer.

“The letter to the Hebrews tells us that on the Cross Jesus prayed with supplication and tears” he said.  “Jesus was not only praying with words, but with suffering, mourning and weeping. It means that we too are called to pray not only with words but with all of our hearts.”

The youth, exhausted with living the passion, went to sleep in silence and reflection, and on Holy Saturday spent the day in waiting and hoping alongside Mother Mary, the ultimate example of faith, love and perseverance in the Lord.

Then the vigil came.

It was stuff of dreams. But it was real.

All was darkness. The fire was lit outside the church.

It began.

The flame was passed first from the priest, then on to every hand, and the Church was filled with flickering vigil candles, each one a hope, an anticipation of the outburst of light and life that was soon to take place in the mass.

The liturgy took us through the whole of our history from the beginning of the Old Testament up to the moment we’d all been waiting for.

Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, we heard it all, and in it, our own history of the Lord’s plan for our personal salvation in the death and resurrection of His son.

“The liturgy expressed the history of Israel” said 19 yr old Felix from Germany, “but also our own history. I was reminded of all the times where God has touched me in my life, in my own story, that He has been present throughout and has a plan for me.”

Father Arthur Waellert the CSL chaplain described this vigil mass as the "explosion of joy and praising of the joyful announcement of the light shining in the darkness."

He continued, explaining the link between the
Old and New testament, "we still have some light during the reading of the Old Testament, we had our candles alight" he said, "but it is a bit like John the Baptist shining as a light in the darkness, then afterwards you have the real light as we sing the Gloria, and we really enter into the full light, that is, when we welcome Jesus as the risen man." 

Cecile, too, expressed the "beauty" in reading all the texts from the Old to the New Testament, "to see that the Lord was always there, and to see that from the beginning His plan was to save us" she said, "seeing how Jesus has risen in us, and even in all of our darkness we are reborn."

After the mass the young people stayed in front of the altar praising, with hands stretched high, filled with joy in the resurrected Christ, and in the new life that they have found with Him. In this Paschal retreat, they have died to their old selves, and through the Cross, the death and finally the resurrection of the Lord, they have entered into new life in Him.

"Right now we are just all completely full with joy!" exclaimed Cecile after the praise, "because the Lord has given everything to us; tonight we have entered into a fuller understanding of what that everything really means and the peace and joy and life that comes from it…Alleluia!" 

Xenia from Kazakhstan described her experience of the retreat: "It was amazing; after the passion Jesus visited the dead people as well, so he also visited the dead part of ourselves as well, and I feel that much of me has been in need of healing, which I find in Him."

She continued: "So I have lived these days with this mystery of the Cross, and of suffering, and in this night of Easter God was really resurrected with us, and I really encountered Him. It is not just something in books or a movie, it is a real encounter!" she excalimed.

A hundred young people from all over the world have travelled to Rome in search of something…what did they find? True joy and true life in the resurrected Christ. 

Happy Easter!

Top photo by © Sabrina Fusco
Bottom photos by © Carly Andrews

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