by Dina Lingard.
The weekend of Oct. 26 – 29 was the occasion of the third annual Soul Quest, a festival for the youth in our diocese of Namur.
Four years ago, the community of St. Jean, one of the new ecclesial communities, invited all the other new communities in our diocese to come together to create a festival for the French-speaking youth of Belgium. All the communities, as well as a couple of traditional congregations, responded favorably and thus this annual event was born.
This year we were twelve communities in all, and along with the youth ministers of the diocese, we planned and pulled together this weekend of teachings, prayer, workshops, witness talks, and more.
These festivals have taken place at a different site each year, and this year Our Lady of the Golden Heart gathered us beneath her mantle at the shrine of her apparitions at Beauraing.
Since Madonna House is one of the communities closest to this sanctuary, and since it was I who suggested the site, Madonna House found itself called upon to organize a large part of the practical side of this event.
And since I was the community representative on the planning committee, I was given this assignment. The result was that I was thrust into a new orbit of responsibility and of trust—and unexpectedly—of joy!
I certainly felt carried by grace as I became more and more busy with the preparations, which were, in many ways, quite beyond me.
The whole thing was a great experience of trusting in the Lord and of calling upon, trusting, and relying on my brothers and sisters, not only in Madonna House, but also in the greater Church—in the other communities and in the many volunteers from our area and elsewhere.
Our theme this year was: That they may be one so that the world may believe (Jn. 17:21). It was certainly this grace which we of the organizing committee, made up of representatives from each community, experienced in abundance.
In fact, I think that our unity in working together is one of the greatest gifts God poured upon us—for us, for the youth, and for the Church here in Belgium. It is, I think, the "first fruit" of this festival.
Finally the weekend arrived. Friday was a full day of preparations: decorating; setting up the audio and visual systems; rearranging benches and carpets in the church; putting up signs all over Beauraing; cleaning, and moving tables and chairs, etc., etc.
Then the young people began arriving, and by 9:30 pm we were ready to begin.
I wish I could recount all the little treasures of this action-filled, faith-filled weekend.
For instance, there was the beauty of a young man’s account of his journey from being a "normal" teenager (i.e.: too much partying and drinking), and with his discovery of the reality of God, to the slow unveiling of a call to the priesthood.
He is still in the process of discernment, and guess what—he is still very much a normal young man, minus the parties.
Or there was the chapel of the Fraternity of Tibériade filled to overflowing, with a constant, gentle movement of young people going to confession to the fifteen priests waiting to pour the mercy of God upon them.
And again, imagine a night of adoration with a constant flow of adorers coming from their dorms throughout the night to spend an hour with their Lord.
As for the events themselves, it is impossible to describe them all either, so let me just give you a few highlights.
Father Eric de Beukelaer, a Belgian priest of the diocese of Liège, our principle speaker, gave a teaching each of the three mornings on unity: "One in Christ," "One in the Church," and "One in the Midst of the World." A dynamic and energetic speaker, he had us all captivated.
Several young people gave witness talks, and we also heard Gilberte Degeimbre, the last living witness of the apparitions of Our Lady which took place between November 29, 1932 and January 3, 1933 in Beauraing. Gilberte was nine years old at the time, and now at 89 she speaks about it as if it were just yesterday.
Jan de Cock, a Belgian from West Flanders, spoke about his unique experiences in prisons around the world. In the year 2001 – 2002, though not a criminal, he spent time in 66 prisons in 42 nations around the world. (Some, though not all, of these stays were for only one day.)
Each time, only the director of the prison knew who he was, so both guards and prisoners treated him like the other prisoners.
His witness talk was full of horrors and sorrows, but also of joy as he talked about meeting caring hearts and friendship in the most terrible of circumstances.
Through his experiences, he has been instrumental in obtaining more humane conditions in some of the prisons. (His website is worth a visit: www.prisoninfo.org).
On Saturday afternoon of the festival, we pilgrimaged to the community of Tibériade, a mere 12 km (7 ½ miles) away. In four groups, with different planned activities, we all made our way towards an evening of adoration and reconciliation. For many, this pilgrimage was the highlight of their weekend.
Afterwards, we were bussed back to Beauraing, and thanks to daylight savings, were able to sleep an extra hour. Thank God for small gifts!
On Sunday afternoon several different workshops were offered to the young people, one of which, about Our Lady, was given by Joanne Dionne, Cristina Coutinho, and Noëlla de Laforcade of MH Belgium. All three were touched by the faith and openness of the youth.
On Monday we closed with Mass and a simple ceremony sending the young people off on mission – but not without providing them with the essential: nourishing plates of Belgian fries – frites.
We had a smaller group this year than last year, but the young people, for the most part, seemed truly present.
Now that it is over, our hearts are full of young faces—many full of joy, some sad, some carrying a weight. Our hope inspires a fire of prayer for them as they continue to live their faith in the often hostile environment of school or work.
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