Following Marc's first year working at YCW we asked him to reflect on some of his experiences he has had with the YCW, including his recent meeting with Pope Francis.
I first heard about the YCW through a Diocesan (H&N) Communication by the Youth Ministry Team and at the time I was exploring ways in which to engage the youth within my parish in Billingham. I looked through the website and the news stories about what other groups had been doing and thought this is exactly what I was searching for; a structure but with flexibility and youth-led formation through social awareness and exploring our faith.
I spoke with the National Team and invited them along to attend an open meeting in my parish where 3 young people turned up and that’s where it really got going. After that we had our first meeting where I accompanied the young people and they elected roles and responsibilities for themselves. We explored our realities and looked more deeply for their first action. The group went from strength to strength, continuing to do good works. All of this helped me develop my own role within the YCW.
Alongside all this, I was invited to observe a couple of National Executive meetings at the HQ and later asked to be Assistant to the National President and join the NEC, which was a privilege and honour for me.
In January 2017 at an NEC I thought I was going to a normal National meeting but this would turn out to be far more important because at that meeting we discussed the future of the team and it turned out that it would change my life because it was the start of my journey to become a full time worker.
My first big meeting apart from the NEC was in March 2017 where I was asked to be a part of the European Commission. When I got to the meeting I was asked to be the future Chair of the Commission - I was petrified at the thought of this! I kept thinking, this has never happened to me - a big thing like this - and at the time I didn’t know what to say. All I can remember was everybody looking at me and waiting for me to say yes - which I did and was appointed Chair of the Commission by the International Team.
May 2017 was a big month for me as that is when the Trustees decided to offer me a job as a full time development worker. When they offered it I of course said yes but from January to May all I could think of was: is this for me? Is this what God is calling me to do? Being just a lad from Billingham I never ever thought I would leave, especially leaving family behind and relocate to a CITY! But I knew in my heart, God and my faith would see me through and I tell you what it was the best decision I ever made.
Before I left we had a YCW Race Night and at the end the group surprised me with a gift. I also got a fond farewell from the parish on the Sunday morning Mass and the readings of the day were so apt to me. The Gospel was about taking up our cross and following Jesus and with the last hymn the parish priest had a bit of fun by choosing the last hymn as “Follow me, follow me, leave your home and family”.
So in July 2017 I moved down to Manchester to start the next chapter in my life as a full time worker for the YCW. The first couple of months were like a baptism of fire, which I thoroughly enjoyed and it helped develop my skills and talents quickly, as well as my public speaking. Along with the work and getting to know people and the area I also got to see my favourite football team Manchester City a lot more! I also started taking driving lessons again after 10 years since and it was an amazing feeling and sense of achievement when I passed.
I was asked by the International Team to go on their behalf to the Autumn meeting of the COMECE European Bishops Social Affairs Commission, which was held in Brussels, about the “Future of Work”. The gathering helped to prepare and give thoughts on a document that was going to the European Parliament on behalf of the Faith Community. I was asked to provide a speech detailing the situation young people face in the UK, so I prepared a speech that touched upon the issues of Brexit, zero-hour contracts and young people unable to find permanent posts, even after university. I also raised the increasing need to discuss the current state of young people’s mental health. I gained a lot from the event and it was an amazing experience, one I won’t forget.
The highlight of my journey so far, without doubt, was attending a conference on behalf of the International Team, this time in the Vatican. This was for an International Conference to mark the 3 year anniversary of Pope Francis Encyclical Laudato Si' - On Care For Our Common Home. So on the 5th & 6th July, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organised the event to reflect on what has happened to the environment during the last three years and how to plan for the future. During the two days, participants were reminded of the urgency of dealing with climate change, including the need to adopt carbon-neutral lifestyles and seriously invest in non-carbon energy technologies, in order to keep the global average increase in temperature below the 2 degrees celsius which was agreed at COP 21 in Paris in 2015.
The conference followed the See-Judge-Act methodology, which is central to the YCW. My group came up with five areas for discussion at both the Synod for Youth in October 2018: Formation for both young people and adults; participation of young people; integrity; inter-generational solidarity and urgency. Young people didn’t just want to sit in a room and talk about issues they want to tackle them head on.
On the second day we set off again to the conference where we were to have an audience with Pope Francis. In his remarks to us, Pope Francis said: “Your presence here is a sign of your commitment to take concrete steps to save the planet and the life it sustains, inspired by the Encyclical’s assumption that ‘everything is connected’. That principle lies at the heart of an integral ecology.” In his conclusion, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the efforts of participants. Pope Francis encouraged them, saying: “Please continue to work for the radical change which present circumstances require. For injustice is not invincible.”
After he spoke the whole hall erupted with applause and then the moment came for those lucky enough to meet the Pope personally and shake his hand. One of the conference organisers came to the back and told us that the Pope had requested to meet each and every one of us, if time allows and then protocol would kick in. I was so nervous thinking I’m going to meet the Pope, what do I say? And as I was moving more closely up the line I could see people’s faces of honour, crying, facing the reality of meeting the successor of St Peter!
All I seemed to keep doing was rubbing the sweat off my hands and brushing myself down making sure I looked alright when I got there. I moved up the line slowly, took his hand, said who I was and who I represented and he asked me to pray for him.
I then turned to go back to my seat and don’t think I spoke until after leaving the Hall. I was in amazement that I met the Pope, a lad who didn’t think would leave my home in Teesside to being a few privileged people to get up close and shake the hand of the Pope. We then returned to the Paul VI Hall for a short break before recommencing the meeting and then I immediately rang my Mum, Dad and Sister as well as my Parish Priest to tell them all about it.
All in all from trying to set a group in Billingham to meeting the Pope within 2 years it has been an amazing experience. I have experienced things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of, I have met new people and made friends who have helped and supported me and most of all, I have developed my skills and learnt new ones as a person and as a leader.