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Youth 2000 seeks to draw young people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, lived at the heart of the Catholic Church.

  Youth 2000 has been active in youth ministry for the last 25 years.

  Recently it has been very active in the Hallam Diocese.  This edition of the Hallam News looks back with Isaac Withers as he reflects on his experiences of the Release Retreat in Rotherham: Light up the Sky.

  The Youth 2000 team arrived on site at St Bernard’s Catholic High School, Rotherham, for the first Youth 2000 retreat since ‘Conquerors’ at Walsingham.  There was a lot of unique things about this retreat, new things that we were excited about:

  • This was a brand new location, Youth 2000 returning to the Hallam diocese after many years.
  • It was the first retreat lead by the new leadership team dedicated to this year, ‘commissioned’ at Walsingham.
  • This was also the first time we’d ever streamed any of a retreat live to the internet (and even live, nothing went wrong!)

  So there was a lot of new, and we were all kind of excited about it.  Over the course of the weekend 183 people were with us and from day one the tone was great.  Maybe there’s just something about the hospitality of the North …

  The theme of this weekend was, The Release, the subtitle ‘light up the sky’ being loosely taken from the scripture, ‘… for as the lightning flashing from one part of heaven lights up the other, so will be the Son of Man when his Day comes.’ (Luke 17:24)

  Because of this theme, a lot was spoken about light and darkness, it ran through a lot of the conversation of the weekend.  But even beyond the talks and planned input, it cropped up.  I went to confession on the first night and the priest brought the theme, I think unintentionally, into where I was at.

  I shared with him that the tangible feelings I had once had for confession, the Mass and praise and worship, were fading for me.  I didn’t feel them as strongly as I had before, on a physical level, and a lot of my recent struggles had been very real, tangible, attractions and that part of life.  I wasn’t expecting an answer really, but he brought it.  He said that these times of a lack of excitement, of feeling less in your relationship with God, were normal.  The early years of a marriage are amazing, and then it cools down, and it deepens beyond feeling.  It becomes that person just being there for you when you come home, feeling rubbish.  Or, if it was a relationship always based on just feelings, it could break.

  And then he spoke about Jacob, the story of him wrestling the stranger in the night.  Fighting for hours, until in the morning, the person revealed themselves to be God.  He spoke about how sometimes, the struggle of faith is just holding on in that fight, until the morning, when you can see God again.  Sometimes it’s just letting your punches be caught, until the sun rises.  I’m not really doing his words justice, but it just gave me a great deal of peace.

  The idea of God being not distant from our struggle was there again in Saturday morning’s talk from Barbara Onuonga, “God is not afraid of your reality, the darkness of your heart’.  The world tells you that greatness is reserved for the few.  But God’s not got that point of view.  Each of us is necessary.  We are called to light up the sky.”

  And it was never more visible than on Saturday night.  Br Joshua Kidd had heard our theme and been inspired.  He told us about how at an American Youth 2000 gathering he had seen them turn the lights out so that it was just the light of the burning bush that lit the room.  Then the priest had reached to one of the candles and taken a light, which spread to candles that everyone else was holding.  Gradually the light had spread and pushed the darkness away.

  So, from somewhere, candles were sourced, and we watched as the same thing happened in Rotherham.

  And over this scene, the beginning of John’s gospel was read.

‘In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things came to be made.  Not one thing had its being but through him.

All that came to be had life in him, and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.’

(John 1:1-5)

  And so light filled the room.  And only a few songs in, I felt it.  On the hairs standing on end.  In the bass drum.  In the atmosphere.  And as praise came to silence, everyone was left in their moment with Jesus.  And these moments continued until morning light.  (Which took longer because of the clocks changing – leading to an extra hour of adoration for some, and an extra hour of sleep for others. Everybody wins!)

  On Sunday morning, we had a truly remarkable final talk from 95 year old priest, Fr Leonard May.  I can’t overemphasise how much he made the room laugh, and how captivated everyone was by what he was saying.  Words that you knew had the wisdom of a lifetime behind them.

  Again, speaking on the struggle and darkness, he had this to say, “I have had some bad times in life.  That’s where fidelity was forged.  You’re Christian, you are in the fire.  That’s the time to trust, the time my love, my friendship with the Lord Jesus, has deepened.”

  And these last words, are just what I think it’s worth ending on.

  “It’s not easy to be the friend of Jesus.  But then, it never was, was it?

Friend of enemies. It runs right against our culture …  We few we happy few.  Do not be afraid that you are the few.  That is the time for courage!”’

  It was such a gift of a retreat, so from all the team, a huge thank you to Bishop Ralph Heskett of Hallam  and Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham for being with us, and to all the priests and people of the Diocese who hosted us amazingly.