Flame 2017: 10,000 signs of hope in a world of injustice

The Jesuit group outside Wembley SSE Arena. Emma Holland
The Jesuit group outside Wembley SSE Arena. Emma Holland

Pupils from three Jesuit schools represented the Jesuits in Britain at Flame 2017 on Saturday.  They were accompanied by their chaplains James Potter (of Wimbledon College) and Stonyhurst College's Sarah Young, as well as Fr Matthew Power SJ, Vocations Director,  Fr Simon Bishop SJ, the province's Director of Spirituality, and Fr David Stewart SJ of the Ignatian Spirituality Outreach Ministry and National Director of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network.  Fr Stewart represents the Jesuits in Britain on CYMFed, the organisers of Flame 2017.

The title of this year’s event - '10,000 Reasons To Hope' - reflected the title of a song (10,000 Reasons) by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Matt Redman who led the music at on Saturday. The Opening Liturgy was full of dance, movement and time for reflective prayer, as the assembly joined in the mobile phone light show and moved in time to the music. Many diocesan bishops sat alongside their young people and youth leaders. Fast-moving presentations were well-planned and varied with multimedia backgrounds and lighting effects.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols brought a message from Pope Francis to Flame 2017: the Pope was cheered every time his name was mentioned. His call to the young people "to help vulnerable migrants and our neighbours who feel abandoned" was especially welcomed by those gathered at Wembley. Cardinal Vincent urged the young people to feed into planning for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on 'Youth, faith and vocational discernment' and described Flame 2017 as "a unique opportunity for young Catholics to experience a joyful and missionary Church".Fr Simon, Fr David and deacon Nilan Fernando SJ at Wembley

Powerful voices

One of the themes of the day was refugees and journey. At the Opening Liturgy,  the moving account of the journey of refugees across the sea was made even more real as it was delivered from a boat that had carried 37 refugees across the Mediterranean. Jesuit Refugee Service UK provided input in the afternoon, showing videos of refugees speaking about their lives and what it is really like to be an asylum seeker in Britain. The JRS presentation began and ended with the voices of refugees who were keen to speak directly to young people about their lives because a gathering of so many young Catholics is a source of hope for the future. Their voices were  powerfully expressed on the video, as they spoke about the challenges of not being allowed to work as an asylum seeker, of the sense of confusion about the system and how JRS is like home to them. They also had messages of hope and love for the young people and said that anyone helping refugees is doing God's work.

Sarah Teather addresses Flame 2017Sarah Teather, the Director of JRS UK gave a keynote speech in which she talked about JRS' mission to accompany serve and advocate on behalf of refugees. She said that it is a mission built on faith in God who is present even in the most tragic moments of human history. "I talked of how accompanying refugees allows us to see God working in the lives of refugees," she said afterwards. "I praised the refugee volunteers at JRS and explained how that made JRS a special place. I challenged the group of 10k young people in Wembley to do just one thing to help refugees and asylum seekers, encouraging them to use their voice to speak the truth about how tough it is for refugees, to get involved in their local area and to pray for refugees."

Building bridges between faiths

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, who became Burma/Myanmar's first ever Cardinal in 2015, also took to the platform and urged the young people to "carry the flame of hope" in today's world, particularly bringing hope to those less fortunate. Smiling throughout, he said: "I see beautiful faces and colours and this is the diversity of the Catholic Church." Cardinal Bo told the gathering that he has been calling 2017 a Year of Peace although "everywhere the voices of hatred are becoming stronger and all of us must counter this". He reported that Catholics are working for justice in Myanmar's slums, camps for displaced people and in projects that promote education, health and build bridges between faiths. His phrase that "hope has no expiry date" was very popular on social media.

Afterwards, Fr Stewart reflected on the day and noted that praise had been especially warm for Sarah (Teather)’s presentation on JRS, including from many of the 22 bishops present. "What a day!" he said. "Rather like the following day's Gospel, it was wonderful for us to be there … we met so many friends, all delighted to see the Ignatian family at the biggest youth ministry event since, probably, St John Paul’s papal visit in 1982."

Creative activities took place outside during the lunch break, in which young people had to imagine trying to engage with the British public as refugees from overseas. Flame 2017 concluded with a Liturgy with Adoration and Benediction, during which Cardinal Nichols blessed the boat that had carried the 37 refugees. Fr Stewart joined Cardinal Vincent and the other clergy as young people from various parishes and diocese carried crosses onto the stage.