It was an early start for all, and a number of train services were down, but this didn’t dampen the spirits of our young people who swarmed to west London with tangible excitement and enthusiasm. The Westminster Youth Ministry team congregated at the front of the arena in the sunshine amidst a mass of other young adults. Here we were given our roles for the day: James was on photography and Facebook duty, Phil was responsible for tweeting, Rebekah was to manage Instagram, and my job? I was to interview people. “Brilliant!” I thought, I love any excuse to have a good chat!
The doors opened at 11am and we all filed in and found our seats with the help of some very friendly young volunteer stewards in high-vis jackets and smiling faces. The MCs kept us entertained with various games and music whilst everyone settled, and at 12pm they vacated the stage and the extraordinary day began…
‘In the beginning was the Word…’
I am not a good public speaker. I shake with nerves and turn a pasty shade of green when I have to read in front of people. And so I was in awe when a girl took to the stage and kick started the day by reading a piece of scripture in front of such a HUGE crowd. Well done her! She was amazing. A procession of young people headed for the front, holding great globes of light, and then proceeded to captivate the audience with an elegant and energetic dance routine.
Matt Redman and his band pumped out tunes throughout the whole day, leading us in fantastic praise and worship sessions and creating an incredible atmosphere. We had a beautiful welcome from Pope Francis read out, captivating video clips and more quality music. At several points throughout the day, people whipped out their phones and shone their torches as they swayed to the music. Looking around, I was taken by what looked like a mass of stars in the darkness. I could hear Rebekah snapping away with her camera trying to capture this spectacular moment in time.
Hello from the Philippines!
One of our guest speakers, who had flown all the way over from the Philippines, was Cardinal Tagle. His heart-felt talk had us enraptured and on a number of occasions caused us to laugh aloud as well as shed a few tears. He focused on the beatitudes and in particular concentrated on conveying to us the importance of mercy. Towards the end of his talk, Cardinal Tagle instructed us to pull out our phones and text two friends the words ‘Blessed are the merciful.’ One of my text messages was pinged across to South Korea where a friend of mine lives. She responded exclaiming “Wow! That was just what I needed, thank you so much!” My sister received my second message and responded with a very confused-looking face and a line of question marks… it certainly gave us something to talk about over dinner that night!
Following the Cardinal’s excellent talk we all vacated the arena for a lunch break. Various groups milled about putting on entertainment for the crowds, and with nearly 1,000 people decked out in red t-shirts and sporting the Westminster Youth Ministry logo, it was clear our diocese had a phenomenal presence – Go Westminster!
Everyone at Flame was incredibly friendly, and over the lunch break I chatted to loads of people who shared their thoughts on how they were finding the day:
“It’s so inspiring to see this many young Catholics and youth leaders coming from all over the UK and gathering in one place. My favourite part so far has been the praise and worship!”
Narquita from Portsmouth
“The Cardinal from the Philippines was really good. The whole event is so different!”
CJ from Wembley
“I’ve come along with my confirmation group. I’m making my confirmation this year and I’m thinking about having either St Luke or St Joseph as my saint name. I like the music they have at Flame and the Cardinal’s talk was really moving”
Jerome from High Barnet
“I’m from Plymouth diocese and I’ve brought my youth group along. I really wanted my group to get inspired but also wanted some spiritual nourishment for myself and it’s been so good so far! It’s also been great catching up with people I’ve not seen in ages!”
“I’m a seminarian in my fourth year at Allen Hall and I came along with all the other seminarians. I went to the last Flame event, and I always think it’s incredible just how many young people come along. Today has been really good so far and the speakers are amazing!”
“I’m a volunteer missionary at Westminster’s retreat centre SPEC. I’m here as part of the welcoming team: directing people and distributing books and pamphlets and things. I got here at 6.30am this morning! We spent most of the morning having a prep talk and setting up. Cardinal Tagle was so genuinely joyful! I thought he was brilliant! If I had to describe Flame in three words they would be: Young, Catholic and Red – because I see a lot of red t-shirts everywhere!”
“I’m a Catechist for the confirmation group at Westminster Cathedral and have brought 29 young people along today. I’m from Texas in the USA and I’ve never been to Flame before. If I had to describe it in three words I would say: engaging; interactive (everyone is really involved) and universal. In one word I’d say “togetherness”
“I am also a catechist at Westminster Cathedral and I would describe Flame as: Joyful, inspiring and thought provoking. The speakers have been really good. Clear, challenging and inspiring”
After lunch we all gathered back inside the arena in ready anticipation for a great, action-packed afternoon. We had testimonies from guest speakers David Wells and Matt Redman, and heard from the inspiring Baroness Sheila Hollins who spoke powerfully about mental health. Two priests, Dan Fitzpatrick and Marc Lyden-Smith, who had appeared on the TV show Pointless, then participated in a lively chat about their podcast, called The PodFrs, and how they try to evangelise wherever possible – most notably in the pub setting! Afterwards, a group of young adults sat themselves upon some cushy couches placed on the stage and shared their experiences of volunteering with Cafod for a year; and then, after some more great music, we welcomed another break.
A group of girls from St Margaret’s church in Sudbury had an inspired idea of getting a huge tub of ice cream from a local supermarket and shared it out to everyone around them. Others followed suit with this sharing attitude, passing around popcorn and sweets and soon we were all munching away on a variety of tasty treats!
Adoration in the Arena
After the break Fr Timothy Radcliffe introduced us to the beauty and importance of Adoration. Our own Cardinal Vincent Nichols followed with a beautiful teaching of his own which then led into adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Everyone knelt as the Eucharist was brought out, and the respectful silence that accompanied adoration was deafening. I was taken by the incredible smallness and humbleness of Jesus in that moment. And as the mass of people around me knelt with their eyes fixed on the Eucharist, I became even more aware of the significance and reality of God’s presence with us. It was awesome.
When adoration came to a close, the priests, bishops and cardinals processed out. Matt Redman then raised the roof with 8,000 young Catholics dancing, clapping and singing along in celebration. A perfect end to a perfect day!