Flame is the Catholic Youth Conference organised by the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation in the UK. This year’s theme was taken from the World Youth Day Scripture “Mary arose and went with haste” and crystallises it into the theme, “Rise Up!”
Rise up after the pandemic, Rise up as young Catholics, Rise up – as Mary did – for the surprising and beautiful adventure that is our Catholic faith.
This year’s Flame event was a great success with around 8,000 young people from different parts of England and Wales in attendance.
It was wonderful to begin this event with a message from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who sent his heartfelt good wishes and assurance of his spiritual closeness to all who were participating.
The excitement was palpable with flashing lights and loud cheering after each performance. However, what really stood out to me was the atmosphere of fellowship and reverence.
As I reflect on the experience, I am struck by the sense of the Church in a different style of fellowship. From the moment the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was brought into the arena and placed on stage as the Queen Mother, I knew that this would be an awe-inspiring experience.
The opening liturgy was simply mind-blowing, with music by One Hope Project and drama performed by pupils from St. Angela’s and St. Bonaventure’s schools in East London. The event lasted for six hours and featured a holistic presentation of faith and life. We were treated to performances by various artists, heard testimonies of faith experience, and were inspired by talks from Cardinal Luis Tagle and Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, Australia. Both speakers spoke in a language that was familiar to the young and invited them to rise up to the challenges of simple, ordinary daily life situations.
Cardinal Tagle spoke passionately and captivatingly about significant “angels” in his life who inspired him to “rise up”. Through his sharing, he invited all present to reflect and recognise those people whom God sends to us as “angels” urging us to then respond by “rising up.” Similarly, Archbishop Costelloe urged the young people to build bridges, not walls, and to be active in the Church and the world. He challenged them to ask themselves, “what do I need to do?” on the way home from Flame.
Robert Bilott, an attorney from Cincinnati, shared his remarkable presence and his journey of standing up for communities affected by chemical poisoning resulting from production waste from a huge chemical company. He described it as a David and Goliath situation, but insisted that it was the right thing to do. He informed us that it took 24 years to see justice, but said that it was worth it. He showed a clip of the film ‘Dark Water’ about his life, and it was truly inspiring.
Jenny Garzon Saavedra from Colombia, a CAFOD partner, shared about her work with youth and parish groups in caring for creation. After all the presentations, we had a time of adoration in absolute silence.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols presided over the closing liturgy and spoke of how much we have to thank God for on this day – the music, testimonies, and moments to treasure and draw encouragement. Fr. Dominic Howarth, CYMFED chair, summed it up best by saying, “This is Church as you have never seen it before or been it before, but this is Church.” It is no wonder that Irish students studying in the UK expressed their desire to have a similar event in Ireland.
May the flame that was lit in our hearts at this event continue to burn brightly as we go forth to rise up and answer God’s call in our lives.
The international celebration of World Youth Day will be held August 1-6, 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.