EIN KAREM – The 18-25-year-old group of the “ Desert Flower” of the Saint James Vicariate met on March 16-17, 2018, for a retreat at the sanctuary of Saint John of the Desert. Twenty-four hours to re-fill with love, hope and faith before setting out again to their neighborhoods where the name of Jesus is sometimes like a treasure hidden in their heart.
On Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17, a dozen young people from the Vicariate Saint James put their backpacks in the beautiful Franciscan sanctuary of Saint John of the Desert, near Ein Karem. Several times a year, Benedetto Di Bitonto, a seminarian for the Saint James Vicariate and Father Apolinary Szwed, ofm, chaplain of the Hebrew-speaking community in Jaffa, accompany the group for these weekends of reflection and sharing.
Prayer and sharing highlights
They come from all over the country – Beer-Shev’a, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias or Jerusalem –, they are students or young professionals, whose families have stories that link them to Israel in a different way but they have two things in common: they are young (between 18 and 25 years old) and Christ entered their lives and makes them live.
For several years these great young people of the Saint James Vicariate, who are part of the creation of the “ Desert Flower ” group,1 find themselves sharing and growing in the faith. This year, they journey together, taking the text of the Ten Commandments as a compass and plan as they stay in Lourdes to serve the sick.
Each of the meetings lasts a weekend and is organized in much the same way: a time of exchange where everyone gives each other news, and where the young people share on one of the Commandments chosen for the theme of the meeting, a time of prayer supported by Taizé’s refrains and a spiritual meditation, a time for outside witness or recreation, Sunday Mass and a discussion of a film.
A difficult double identity to live
“Being a young Christian in Israel is not easy.” This statement seems unanimous in the testimony of these young adults. Whether they live in one city or another, no one lives in a buoyant context and, on the contrary, their environments, very marked by Judaism or atheism, do not allow them to openly testify the faith that they live. “For a long time, the Christian religion given by my parents was a burden to me, almost a shame, I was boycotted at school because of that, explains Maria, and I could not hide it, my very name showed my origin!”
The creation of “ Desert Flower” allowed most of them to find a place to talk freely about the faith, to pray more easily and, for some, this group became like a second family, a place to truly live their second identity after the one given by Israeli nationality.
Faith, source of hope for a troubled youth
But the hopes and challenges of young people in the Saint James Vicariate closely resemble those of young people around the world. Facing the future without an ounce of anxiety seems impossible, adhering to all the proposals of the Church is not easy either, and yet confidence is present.
Danielle, who is from Nazareth but now lives in Jerusalem, has lived a life of faith since she lived in Kehilla, sharing her time between education studies and service to children from the Saint Rachel center: “Today the daily services that we celebrate in community are really part of my life.”
Not all are necessarily very regular Catholics, but a visit to the WYD in Madrid or Krakow has changed the way they view their lives. Angy, of Filipino origin, explains how her current life is uncomfortable and her future totally uncertain but how her trust in God changes her view of these realities: “I should be totally stressed by my future and yet I am not, the events to come are not in my hand but in that of God, so I do not have to worry!”
Seeds to become beautiful trees
But despite this wonderful act of faith, Benny and Father Apolinary are well aware that these young people need to be supported and listened to. To the question of what they expect from the Church, the answer is not long in coming, and Helena enumerates in one breath the mission of the Church to young people: show interest in them, meet them, listen to and interact with them, help them. Angy confirms: “We are the future! We are like seeds that have been sown, so now we have to allow ourselves to become beautiful and tall trees!”
1 “Desert Flower” is a group of teenagers of the Saint James Vicariate; today, there are two groups: adolescents and young adults.