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Bishop Denis’ Homily from Mass at the Youth 2000 Christmas Retreat, Newbridge College

Youth 2000 Christmas Retreat Mass: 09.12.23

It is great as always to join Youth 2000 for your Christmas Retreats and Summer Festivals. Many of you have been here before, you know you are welcome. Hands up those for whom this is your first Youth 2000 festival! Let’s give them a very warm Newbridge welcome!

The word “sorry” is used in today’s gospel, “he felt sorry for them, because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd” . His sorrow was not in the more common understanding of mercy and forgiveness, but more to do with pity and empathy. When Jesus felt pity for people, it wasn’t a distant or clinical pity, it was rooted in the depth of his heart.

On this Advent Day we celebrate a lesser known saint, Saint Juan Diego, a Marian visionary associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As we gather in this festival spirit, let us call to mind our sins and pray for the Lord’s love, grace and mercy …


This for me is always a significant signpost on my Advent journey, the gathering here in Newbridge with Youth 2000. At Christmas it’s always Newbridge College; in the summer it’s always Clongowes Wood College. Kildare is the county to travel to when it comes to youth gatherings!
It caused me in recent days to ask what are we offering young people in the wider scale of things? The experience of World Youth Day is always strong, like-minded young people gain so much from being together. The experience of catechesis is always enriching. The Papal ceremonies always memorable, Pope Francis, Pope Benedict and St. John Paul II. The fact of being together and sometimes staying in a tent overnight holds that sense of adventure. Of course Pope Francis has used the image of tent to convey his wish for our Church on its synodal journey. Bishop Erik Varden reminds us, despite a gathering of over 1M in Lisbon, there was not one arrest or a single disturbance.

So what are we offering our young? The challenge as always is the return to the local parish, the local church. Maybe our priests feel uncomfortable to engage in youth ministry. Perhaps the commendable standards of safeguarding in our parishes has eclipsed youth ministry, even altar serving, from our sight. Of course having no element of youth ministry is not in any way a proper understanding of safeguarding children, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

Youth ministry if it is to be effective needs to be rooted in the family. I’m very conscious in the coming months we will be returning to the ballot boxes to be invited to reinterpret how our Constitution understands family. There will be time again to look deeper at the proposals when the exact wording is published. But what we all know is that while no family is perfect, or has come from heaven perfectly formed, every family has its squeaky door, yet we passionately believe it still is an institution that deserves the full protection of the State.

I realise Youth 2000 and many other movements, I think of the Pope John Paul II Awards and the Meitheal Mentoring programme in my own diocese, do a huge amount for young people, but we do need to join up the dots, we do need some sort of deeper collaboration, strategy or plan.
Matthew’s gospel has the sending out of the twelve in response to Jesus feeling sorry for what he saw: “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few” . It is God’s compassion for the people that moves Jesus, each of them are precious in His eyes. The miracles the disciples will in time perform are continuous signs of His presence. I see miracles in what parents sacrifice to support their families. I see them in our grandparents who never stop smiling, grandparents who often have a more profound influence on grandchildren than their parents. I see them when a classmate steps into the breech to save another who is struggling. I see them in a next door neighbour who is so obliging and understanding when others run short of something, need a lift or a favour. I see miracles in the parent who works 24/7 to meet the needs of a child who has many challenges. We see miracles everywhere, in young and not so young, always signs of God’s presence.

So who was Juan Diego? He was born in 1474 and died in 1548. He was a Mexican peasant and Marian visionary. He is said to have been granted apparitions of the Virgin Mary on four occasions in December 1531: three at the hill of Tepeyac and a fourth before the then bishop of Mexico.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located at the foot of Tepeyac, houses the cloak that is traditionally said to be Juan Diego’s, and upon which the image of the Virgin is said to have been miraculously impressed as proof of the authenticity of the apparitions. Juan Diego is the first Catholic saint indigenous to the Americas. He was beatified in 1990 and canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who on both occasions travelled to Mexico City to preside over the ceremonies.

Does every parish have to do youth ministry? It doesn’t, but as I spoke recently in our own Graiguecullen Parish who do youth ministry very well, perhaps one parish in every cluster or family of parishes might specialise in it, I named it ‘a preferential option for youth ministry’ and invite the other local clergy to be part of its outreach. The days of competing are well past, “I’m for Paul, I’m for Apollos” , we are all for God! It is time now to become collectively co-responsible for the young people in all our care.
I realise the life of the young Carlo Acutis has been held up by Youth 2000 as a young man in jeans and sneakers who one day might become a Saint. Carlo was born on May 3rd, 1991. He was a young lad, into everything young lads and indeed young girls like – soccer, coding, gaming, cycling, friends. He also had a deep faith, loving the Mass, Adoration, Confession, Our Lady and reaching out to the Poor. He would be at home in Youth 2000. Using his computer programming skills he built websites to tell the stories of the great Eucharistic Miracles, so that more might learn about them and change their life. Carlo died at the age of 15 from leukaemia. People have been very touched by this young man, who lived too short a life. It reminds us in our youthfulness, live every day fully like Carlo did. And if you feel the Lord is calling you to a deeper following, as some of you wonderful young people may one day ‘take the risk for Christ’ to pursue a religious or priestly vocation. I pray you will respond generously and be supported by colleagues and friends. Bless you all.