I arrived at Bonnevaux in the late afternoon of the 21st of May this year. Looking out onto the abbey, suitcase still in hand, I was pointed to the chapel. Evening prayer was just beginning and I was welcome to join. Reflecting now on this moment – rushing down the hill and pushing the big wooden door to reveal a group of people enshrouded in the day’s fading light, many sitting or kneeling on the stone floor, all united in silence – I see the significance of this invitation as the beginning of a journey still unfolding in my life.
The daily rhythm of practice, the close guidance from the core community, the beauty and stillness of the place, and a precious friendship with two fellow volunteers older and wiser than I, lit the path upon which I embarked. So when Father Laurence told me about ‘World Youth Day’ one lunchtime and then asked if I would like to attend with the World Community of Christian Meditation, I immediately said yes. The incredibly generous support from the community, and the patient guidance of Tayna, the youth coordinator, made this possible for me.
We started on the 28th of July, with a few days of retreat in Leiria Seminary before the official event. I had no idea what to expect but when I was cheerfully greeted and shown to my room by none other than Clara, Tayna’s young daughter, wearing a flower crown and holding a clipboard, I knew I was in the right place. As a group we numbered around 20 and had travelled from far and near (a neighbouring Portugese town, Brazil, Indonesia, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, Canada, Finland; only myself from the UK). The closeness that grew so quickly between us showed me clearly the truth of the phrase emblazoned on the special WCCM WYD t-shirts we wore proudly: meditation creates community.
During the retreat we were fortunate enough to be taught by Fr Laurence and collaborate in workshops; all specifically focusing on the topical themes identified at Pope Francis’ pontificate: integral ecology, social friendship and mercy.
On the 31st of July we visited Fatima. In the throngs walking the Stations of the Cross with us, there was a prefiguring of the sheer abundance of other young people we would join when we arrived in Lisbon that evening. Near the statue of Mary marking the first apparition, we meditated in a circle, perched on the wall under the beating midday sun. Even now I am moved thinking of this moment; how the surrounding chatter ebbed unexpectedly away, silence flooding around us as those passing looked on, growing still or simply curious. All participating somehow.
In Lisbon there was more than chatter. Over 1.5 million young people had come together to share in an experience of joy. Our apartment was central and after our morning practice we would venture out and explore until our feet could carry us no more, attending the multitude of events happening continuously. One evening chaos arose in the streets below, loud and somewhat unsettling, and yet we still meditated. Initially I was confused but by the time the gong sounded the end, it made sense. We did more ‘flashmob’ meditations outside, in busier locations than before, all to the same effect as in Fatima. It was an utter privilege to be a representative of the WCCM along with the rest of the group, sharing my budding knowledge with those who had questions.
WYD culminated in the vigil at ‘Campo de Graca’ before the Pope’s holy mass on Sunday the 6th of August. We were an unfathomable sea of people, waving flags from countries all over the world, spanning the whole horizon. On the stony ground, only a tarpaulin beneath us, our group meditated. I have never felt so truly part of the body of Christ, the Church, as in those remarkable 24 hours.
On my flight home that evening, dust from the camp still in my hair, I wrote furiously to my two dear friends from Bonnevaux. I can still hardly believe how fortunate I am to have been given this ever-growing gift of Christian meditation, and I will always be grateful.