Sunday, August 19, 2012

Light of the World

"You are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Mt. 5:14-16)

These past few weeks I've been in London. Like the rest of the world, my attention has been focused on the city of London and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Although I wasn't in London to watch the games. I was there nonetheless for the Olympics. I participated in a multinational ecumenical evangelization effort called 'More Than Gold'. From August 1st until the 13th I was at the Joshua Camp which is the Catholic branch of the 'More Than Gold' effort. We were literally camping out at a local Catholic school just a stone's throw from the heart of the Olympic Park. 200 young adults from 14+ nations came to the Joshua Camp which was sponsored by the Sion Community, a Catholic apostolate founded in the UK.

Men's Marathon
The first few days were preparatory. Like Joshua in the Old Testament who gathered the Israelites together for prayer and purification before crossing the Jordan river into the promised land, we came together for prayer and purification before going out into the streets of London. The preparation days were really powerful. I had no idea what to expect. I had come alone to the camp, and it was only my second time in the UK. So I came with some apprehension, but an openness to whatever God had planned. Not to mention, I was especially happy to be in an English speaking environment after my summer in an Italian host family. (Though there were some interesting language problems even speaking with the English). Basically the program of these days consisted of daily celebration of the Eucharist, adoration throughout the night, praise and worship music, small group sharing, and plenty of conferences on evangelization in general and in particular. The conferences were especially interesting. I had never really given much though to the practical aspects of evangelization. The Sion Community, who sponsored the camp on behalf of the Bishop's conference of England and Wales, are part of the charismatic renewal. This also was a new experience for me. It was a very positive introduction to the charismatic renewal movement. I love learning more about all of these new movements of renewal found in the church (ex. Neocatechumenal way, Focolari, etc.). Even though I may not be a member of these groups, they have much to offer to everyday parish life.
The Olympic Torch

At this point you may be wondering, "What exactly did you all do?". I, myself, asked the same question after our days of preparation (only in the future tense). There were various 'outreaches' that we did each day throughout the city. The outreaches included: hospitality tents (coffee, tea, games, live television), street conversations/inviting people into a nearby church, parish festival, and Night Fever. Of all the activities the most effective and unique one is Night Fever, which is a concept born from World Youth Day in Cologne. Basically we opened a few churches in the busy part of the city for exposition and adoration during the early evening hours. We created an inviting environment with praise and worship music and dimmed lighting with lots of candles. Then we'd go out into the nearby streets in pairs carrying a lantern. We'd simply ask people if they'd like to light a candle in the church. We'd then bring the person into the church, kneel in front of the altar with Jesus exposed in the monstrance, and help them light a candle. We'd offer prayer the person if they wanted, their were tiny slips of paper with scripture passages, and priests were available for conversation or confession all around the church. It is so simple, but I was awestruck by the great grace that God was working through this mission. The symbolism is so powerful: going out into the dark world with the light of Christ inviting others to share in that light. I helped at the Night Fever on Friday night in Soho square of London which is famous for its alternative lifestyle scene. After three hours of Night Fever there were over 350 candles before our Lord on the Altar. To think if just one of those people had a real encounter with Christ that evening or made some concrete act of faith. Think of the grace that was being out poured  Now that is evangelization. And to think, the main symbol in London during the Olympic Games was the Olympic flame. Yet, we in a small way through Night Fever we were offering the world in its darkness something much brighter than any fleeting flame, the true Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Amen.