Local youth join Holy Land gathering with Latin Patriarch

Some 250 young men and 300 young women offered themselves for the priesthood and religious life at a vocational meeting of young Catholics from around the United States on the Mount of Beatitudes on July 19.

Nearly 200 families also volunteered to go anywhere in the world in mission at the conclusion of the meeting, which was attended by more than 8,000 young pilgrims, including several hundred from the Archdiocese of Boston, who are from communities of the Neocatechumenal Way in the U.S.

The encounter took place on the grounds of the Domus Galilaeae, an international meeting center located on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee on the sixth anniversary of the death of Carmen Hernandez, co-initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way with Kiko Arguello.

The encounter was presided by Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa. In his remarks, Archbishop Pizzaballa reminded the youth of the words proclaimed by Jesus in that same place were not something "we can achieve with our efforts."

"It's a grace that needs our agreement, that needs our yes," said Archbishop Pizzaballa. "When there is this love for Jesus strong in us, then we can also understand the meaning of being meek, poor in heart, to be able to bear persecutions. And see persecutions not as the end of our life, but a way to say yes to Jesus."

The youth in attendance had traveled through the Holy Land in small groups from parishes all over the U.S. to rediscover the roots of the Christian faith in the Holy Land. They were joined on the Mount of Beatitudes by youth from Arab Christian parishes in the Holy Land, while temperatures reached over 100 degrees during the first hours of the meeting.

This pilgrimage was inspired by the legacy of Hernandez, who before meeting Arguello spent over a year in Israel and Palestine, experiencing the "Fifth Gospel" by retracing the steps of Christ.

Following different itineraries spanning 10-15 days, the U.S. pilgrims proclaimed the corresponding Scripture passages for each place, letting God speak to their hearts and enlightening the meaning of their lives.

At the end of the encounter, Archbishop Pizzaballa gave special blessings to the young men, women, and families who had approached the meeting stage to express their desire to discern the priesthood or religious life -- or, in the case of the families, to be sent as missionaries anywhere.

For the young men, women and families who responded to the calls, the encounter will now be followed by a period of discernment in their parish-based communities on whether to enter the seminary or convent or be sent as missionaries.

In his remarks, Archbishop Pizzaballa acknowledged that the message proclaimed by Jesus Christ in that same place "always creates misunderstanding."

"It is a risk in the Church to find compromise, to please the world, to use a language that the world understands," said Archbishop Pizzaballa. "The world will never understand this language, we have to love this world, but not to accept the mentality of this world. We can change only what we love, only love can change things."

Archbishop Pizzaballa also thanked participants for the spiritual boost that the American pilgrims' presence had brought to the region, especially the Christian communities in the Holy Land.

"In these days I received beautiful echoes from our parishes, religious communities, holy places, seeing rivers of youth coming and entering in holy places, our churches, visiting communities, listening, sharing, a little bit crazy... and then also to be under the sun in this weather for so long, we need to be crazy a little bit... But to follow Jesus we need to be crazy! So, welcome to the club!"

The archbishop closed his remarks with a word of encouragement for the American youth.

"My prayer for you is that when you go back to your country, you can say: "Yes, we also have been in Holy Land, we saw the empty tomb, and we met the Risen One,'" he said.