Amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, over 800 young people gather to prepare themselves spiritually for Christ’s coming. The annual retreat,organised by Youth 2000 in Newbridge Co. Kildare, draws hundreds of young people between 16 to 35 from all over Ireland and even further afield.
A warm, festive and spirited atmosphere is felt by all as they make their way to Newbridge College. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of this event as there is much to hear, see and experience.
Youth 2000 was established when Pope John Paul II challenged the young people of the Catholic Church to step out of their comfort zone and bring Christ to others. With this challenge in mind Youth, 2000 runs a variety of retreats regionally and nationally throughout the year. The Newbridge Christmas retreat is one of the national retreats which always draws the crowds.
I still remember my first Christmas retreat in 2008 when I was starting to rediscovering my faith. My family always encouraged me in my faith but as I grew older and surrounded myself with poor influences I became half-hearted and disengaged.
After attending the Christmas retreat when I was 19 I was left with many questions. I struck by the sincere joy and genuine happiness that the other young people had. What did they have that I didn’t? Why are they so happy and I am not?
Since that retreat, Youth 2000 has provided me with opportunities to develop and understand my faith in a deep and profound way.
The Christmas retreat has become my favourite retreat of the year. What better way to celebrate Christmas and prepare for the birth of Jesus than with people my age who encourage and challenge me to open up to the wonders of what our God has to offer.
The Christmas retreat never fails to meet expectations. Those attending the retreat are treated to a range of talks and workshops covering an array of topics such as the Eucharist, Our Lady, the pro-life cause and the use of media in evangelisation to name just a few. These talks are designed to encourage and inspire young people to live out their faith in the world and to be Christ’s disciples.
As always at the heart of Youth 2000 is the Eucharist. Those on retreat are offered opportunities to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the retreat, both day and night. Despite the tiredness, when I attended adoration in the small hours of the night I found a deep sense of peace as it provided me with quiet, personal time with Jesus.
The highlight of the retreat is the reconciliation and healing service. Despite having hundreds of people around you, the atmosphere remains intimate. It is hard not to relax into the spirit of peaceful prayer and reflection. The number of youth seeking Confession is astounding but it does not faze the priests as they are willing to hear Confessions for up to four hours.
The healing service sees people reverently gather round Jesus in the Eucharist seeking spiritual, emotional and physical healing. The night concludes in joyful celebration. Songs of praise and worship are heard throughout the building for hours after the healing service finishes.
I have often heard comments about the lack of young people involved in the Church and how they are uninterested because the Church does not relate to them and their needs. Attending Youth 2000 has helped me see how this could not be any further from the truth. From attending events like the Christmas retreat, it can be seen that the Church is still very much alive and our Faith should be joyfully celebrated.
More can be done
However, it goes without saying there is much more can be done. At retreats we are equipped with the tools needed to go out into the world and become disciples of Christ. Many people become involved in Youth 2000 because they were invited to a retreat by a friend, which is what Youth 2000 is ultimately about “youth leading youth to the heart of the Church”.
Youth 2000 welcomes all newcomers and is one of biggest Catholic initiative that hosts under 18s. There are over 40 prayer groups throughout the country all of which meet weekly providing more opportunities for spiritual growth. I have been involved in my local prayer group since attending my first retreat. Going to pray with other young people once a week helps me keep the joyful spirit of the retreats alive and provides the support I need to be a disciple of Christ in the world today.
For further information about upcoming retreats or to find your nearest prayer group visit www.youth2000.ie or find us on Facebook at Youth 2000 Ireland.
Michelle Burke, 27, is a religion and businesss teacher from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork.