The World Youth Day (WYD) is the major worldwide gathering of catholic young people, initiated by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1984. Since then Buenos Aires, Santiago de Compostela, Czestochowa, Denver, Manila, Paris, Rome again in 2000, Toronto, Cologne, and Sydney have hosted the WYD. Thousands of young Catholics in an amazing mixture of tradition (liturgies, celebrations) and modernity (music, performances, art) participate enthusiastically as in any of the most successful music festivals that take place during summer time. In this case, the crowds don’t cheer any rock star but the Pope himself. This year the WYD will take place in Madrid from 16 to 21 August, and at least a million people are expected to attend.
Magis is the name of the program promoted by the Society of Jesus and other religious congregations of Ignatian spirituality as a time of WYD preparation. Magis 2011 started with a three-day gathering in Loyola (Guipuzcoa, Spain), birthplace of Saint Ignatius. About 3,000 young people from all over the world gathered there where the conversion of Saint Ignatius took place and now a place of pilgrimage and spiritual renewal. For two days they had the opportunity to interact, meet, and pray. The Sunday mass, on 7 August and presided by Fr. General Adolfo Nicolás, marked the starting point for a week of “experiences” before the WYD.
Divided by groups of 25, they scattered all through the geography of Spain, in Portugal, and even a group went up to Ashila, in Morocco. The participants at Magis got involved in a variety of activities related with social engagements (e.g., migrants, childhood, minorities, persons with disabilities), culture and arts (music, photography, restoration), spirituality (pilgrimages), and also ecology.
Some of the experiences were mixed as “CreArte” where arts, ecology, and spirituality merge together in Olmos de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain). In the workshop of the sculptor Javier Sanz, they had the opportunity to use the painting and sculpture to express their inner feelings, all in direct contact with nature. Ecology was at the core of the pilgrimage from Salamanca to Peña de Francia, climbing from the flat extensions of Castilla up to the 1,400 meter-high mountain of Peña de Francia. It was an extraordinary opportunity to get involved in soil and vegetation identification and realizing the implications of deforestation for biodiversity while visiting one of the most admired shrines devoted to the Virgin Mary in Spain.
Ecology is also part of the experience at Xavier Castle (home place of the missionary Saint Francis Xavier). Here, the ecology also merges with arts: getting involved with the history of the castle and working in the care of the natural spaces surrounding the castle.
Also in Navarra, at Arizkun–Lamiarrita, another experience is based on the challenges of living together in a multicultural context while trying to read the presence of God in nature. The experience is called “The Earth, home for all.”
In Catalonia, in the impressive setting of Monserrat, “Experiencing the creation” gives the opportunity to deepen a spirituality that is open to creation and nature.
In the Pyrenees and using the model of the Spiritual Exercises, the “application of senses” took place in Canfranc through “The four elements,” an experience of living close and attentive to nature while interacting with local artisans.
In Portugal, in Ourém-Fatima, through “In your land,” a workshop is proposed on ecology and spirituality living in a farm. In the south of Spain, at the coast in Malaga under the name of “Let’s look after creation,” contact with nature and its conservation (hiking, diving, and visits of ecological interest) is proposed. In the Canary Islands, the experience is called “Fashioning places for encounter,” where the proposal is to renovate buildings and the restoration of hermitage space for encounter with community and nature at La Mayordomía, a historic place.
In Valladolid, the Jesuit College of Agriculture (INEA) has a program for retired people with the support of the City Council. The College offers the farming land in its premises plus technical supervision to 450 farmers. The farmers are retired people with or without previous experience of farming and inscribed through the community social centres of the city. They receive a garden plot of 15 square meters, training, and technical support. The farmers commit to grow strictly organic crops and attend the training sessions organized on their behalf. After five years the experience, is a huge success, in farming terms, but also as social involvement of the community.
Diane is a young French woman who just finished her studies on psychology and would like to work as a childhood therapist in the future. She came to know Magis through some friends and she is participating in the experience promoted by INEA called “Sustainable livelihoods.” Diane’s family lives in a rural area so she knows well what farming implies. For Diane, it was very easy to help the “elder” farmers in weeding, irrigating, or collecting vegetables under the heavy sun of Castilla. She is quite impressed how “agriculture and nature facilitate communication.” She doesn’t speak Spanish but she felt very easy to get through with the growers.
Xavier is a Jesuit deacon doing his theology in Hong Kong and is very much aware of environmental issues. He points out what he considers the major environmental challenges: the unsustainable level of consumerism in the developed societies, the excessive usage of chemicals and fertilizers in agriculture, and the risks for food security in so many places all over the world. He is very impressed with the productivity of organic farming in Valladolid and spent time working in the greenhouse planting vegetables. Xavier feels strongly the need for a more unified life with nature and views this as “the most important challenge for us and for the Church.” A very moving moment was when they planted a tree during one of the evening liturgies as a sign of their own commitment with the future of nature and of the world.
Apart from this contact with farmers, the daily life during Magis in Valladolid provides opportunities for participants to get involved in a more respectful relationship with nature. They have cooking activities using the organic produce from the nearby gardens. Their diet is adapted to the seasonal products and to the generosity of the producers who share their goods as compensation for their work. They also visit some rural areas near Valladolid to understand their life conditions (aging, low profitability of farms, and isolation) and expectations (social and economical sustainability, preserving their lifestyle).
Felix Revilla SJ and Juan José Tomillo SJ are the two Jesuits responsible for this experience. Both are agronomists and they are very much interested in this international group who can have a good understanding of the interactions between nature, sustainability, rural life, and Christian faith. “Looking to Jesus, we can find an extraordinary insight of what love to nature means,” said Fr. Revilla.
Claire de Beaucorps, also French, knows Valladolid well having lived there for one year as a Socrates student. Now she is back with Magis and is working in Marseille, in a centre related with interreligious dialogue. She feels we are facing global and extraordinary challenges as never before. As a citizen, she finds there is a strong appeal for responsibility and commitment. As a Christian, “we should look for a common engagements with the environment and the future in all the monotheist religions. Altogether this would be a great and wonderful sign that faiths promote unity.” Claire thinks that our faiths have a lot in common as we consider God as creator and we all have received the responsibility for taking care of nature, and that “this would be a powerful message for the world.”
All the participants at Magis will convene in Madrid on 14 August to join the WYD, after a week rich of encounters, reflection, and activity, to meet Pope Benedict XVI. For some of them, Magis 2011 is an extraordinary opportunity to find connections between their faith and the nature.