This past month, it was a joy to lend a hand to my French and Swiss-German brothers in their outreach to European young people. First, a 70-person pilgrimage, and then a conference of 150 young people at one of our houses in France.
The Beatitudes and the Apostolic Fraternity of Jerusalem (my second-favorite community in the world) teamed up to lead the trip, each with one priest, two religious brothers, and three religious sisters. High-energy praise and humor carried us day after day through the grueling heat, intense liturgies and talks, and lengthy hikes.
Upon their night arrival, the group camped out in the national park adjoining our property of Emmaus. In the morning, we began five days/nights of camping, hiking, and meditating upon the Patriarchs and Prophets the Negev Desert. Our first chance to bathe was during our penitential rite at the Jordan River Baptismal Site. We renewed our baptismal promises, and the pilgrims each received a blessing as, one-by-one, they immersed themselves into the narrow stream that serves as the border with the country of Jordan.
In addition to priestly duties, I was on the team that kept the water tanks flowing and that prepared the equipment and food for the five small groups to cook for themselves for most meals. As all of you former pilgrims know, I love to help a group of 10-15 put together daily picnics, or fire up the light-weight stove for the coffee or couscous. It was quite a different undertaking to provide for five groups of 15, according to French eating expectations.
The conference—or “festival”—took place at our largest retreat center, Nouan-le-Fuzelier. It was a chance to reconnect with so many friends, for example, two sisters that were in Denver when I first entered—Sr. Emmanuelle and Sr. Marie Liesse. Like the pilgrimage, the conference in France shone with harmonious teamwork and trust among the staff, and a fervent passion for praise and friendship among the youth.
Time after time, French youth greeted me, and challenged me to jog my memory to recall their faces from past youth camps, World Youth Days, or even the little middle school youth group I was in charge of during my two years in Toulouse. They also asked news of the various young Americans I have brought along to these activities. I’m so thankful to see the seeds we’ve sown blossoming!
In between the big events of this summer, some wonderful young French, Austrians, and Germans came to Emmaus for volunteer weeks. They were prayerful and fun, and ready to enter into our service and lively table conversation. One of them arrived straight from Notre Dame de Paris after three months on his bike!