Flame 2023 was a noisy and colourful event with young people clapping exuberantly and waving in time to lively music from Adeniké, Guvna B, Faith Child and One Hope Project, together with motivational speakers. It was organised by CYMFed, the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation, working with the Bishops Conference, which promotes youth ministry on a national level in the UK.
Early last Saturday 4 March, a coach full of young people and adults set out for Wembley Arena to join over 8,000 young christians for the fifth Flame Congress. Every diocese in England and Wales was represented. A full day event full of energy, prayer, joy and hope, especially for young people. Many groups had been travelling from the early hours and faced lengthy journeys home. However, enthusiastic exuberance filled the arena throughout.
It is the largest Catholic gathering of young people in England and Wales.
The theme of Flame 2023 – which is exactly 150 days before World Youth Day in Lisbon – takes the WYD Scripture “Mary arose and went with haste” and crystallised it into the theme, “Rise Up!”
Rise up after the pandemic, Rise up as young Catholics, Rise up – as Mary did – for the surprising and beautiful adventure that is our Catholic faith.
Cameras were lit up around the arena from diocesan youth groups – the day began in complete silence as a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was brought to the front at the start of the six-hour event.
In a special message to the conference, Pope Francis encouraged young people to develop a sensitivity to those around them. “Be known for prayer, pursuit of justice and common good, love for the poor and dare to be different,” said Pope Francis in his message.
Guest speakers included Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. The huge audience responded enthusiastically to his stories on the theme of “Rise Up!” an echo of the scripture passage describing how Mary, after her visitation by an angel, “arose and went with haste”.
The vast audience listened attentively as various speakers spoke about angels in our world today and the need to rise up and meet local and global challenges. Cardinal Luis Tagle (formerly Archbishop of Manila and now based at the Vatican) reminded us that “rising up” has many aspects.
‘Who were the angels sent to me?” he asked us and smiled as he shared his personal story. He mentioned some of the “angels” that had inspired him during his life to “rise up” and serve God and his neighbour. He spoke of his grandmother, who supported her five children in widowhood after her husband had been killed in WWII. He suggested that God sends angels to all of us, in the form of key people we meet in the course of our lives. He urged us to be ready to recognise and respond to them, “rising up” in a spirit of service.
Everyone applauded when he challenged us to consider “Who are the angels sent to you by God?”
Also present was the Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, the president of the Australian Bishops’ Conference and a Salesian of Don Bosco, an international order of Catholic priests and brothers dedicated to the service of the young, especially the disadvantaged and marginalised.
He urged the young people to build bridges not walls and to be active in the Church and the world. On the way home from Flame,” he suggested, “ask, ‘What do I need to do?’”
We heard from Jenny Garzón Saavedra, who works with Cafod’s church partner Funvipas (the pastoral action team of the Diocese of San Vicente del Caguán) in the Colombian Amazon.
Cafod partner Jenny Garzón Saavedra beamed when she heard the tremendous cheer to welcome her as she walked onto the stage in indigenous dress and with flowers in her hair. Working for a diocese in the Colombian Amazon, she supports communities on projects “collecting native seeds, protecting water and planting trees”. She is an experienced youth worker and trains and supports parish groups still feeling the effects of Colombia’s 50-year-long conflict. She has witnessed the deforestation in the Amazon to make room for cattle: she said, “I dream that our land, our Amazon, will not disappear. I dream that we continue to take care of it, defend it and love it.”
In contrast, inspirational words came from Robert Bilott, a Catholic attorney from Cincinnati who stood up for communities injured by chemical contamination. His book, Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont, was turned into the 2019 motion picture, Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo.
Robert Bilott highlighted the poisoning of water sources by the DuPont company and the dangers of corporate greed. The crowd cheered a clip of a 2019 film about his campaigning work.
“One person taking a risk can change the world,” said Bilott. He felt his campaign “was the right thing to do” and was proud to play his part in getting dangerous chemicals regulated all over the world.
Much of the day was given over to worship and song led by One Hope Project. Amongst the musicians were MOBO and Urban Music Award winner Guvna B, rising star Faith Child,– Adenike, herself a 17 year old at a previous Flame, and since then she has been a finalist on The Voice. It was very special to see Adenike as she is not only a talented performer but also a friend and committed youth worker from Our Lady of the Crays, Orpington. After the event she joined us on the concourse for photographs.
Over lunch, Cafod, Columbans, HCPT, Pax Christi, Aid to the Church in Need and SVP organised creative activities.
Back in the arena, we all gently sang “Father we adore you” in a round, in preparation for a service of devotion led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
The day wound down with a quiet time of Adoration. Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke of “how much we have to thank God for today – the music, testimonies and moments to treasure and draw encouragement.”
CYMFed chair, Fr Dominic Howarth, reflected that, “This is Church as you have never seen it before or been it before, but this is Church.”
“That was a beautiful and powerful stillness” said Fr Dominic Howarth, the current chair of CYMFed, the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation, before thanking all participants.
A reflection from a young person on the coach going home:
I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the day. The music was awesome, the readers were so inspirational, and I loved the silence of the adoration. Everyone who was there was so friendly and happy just to be together. It was just great. Somehow, I feel closer to God and to my faith than I ever was, just due to the people and the event. It has really made me think. Thank you so much.