The XII International Pilgrimage for altar boys and girls to Rome has begun
The XII International Pilgrimage for altar boys and girls to Rome has started yesterday (31 July 2018). Using the motto “Seek peace and pursue it!” (Ps 34:15b), 60,000 adolescents and young adults will spend a week together in Rome, experiencing spirituality, community, unity and joy across international borders. They will also meet the Pope in an Audience.
At the opening press conference in Rome, Bishop Dr Ladislav Nemet SVD (Zrenjanin/Serbia), President of the International Association of Altar Servers (CIM), emphasized that altar servers from 19 countries are in Rome, but that even more nationalities are present. “And still we are here under one common denomination: CIM – Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (International Association of Altar Servers). Thirty years ago it was much easier to say something like this, today, after borders even in Europe are slowly but steadily being closed down, it is a courageous statement and a consequence of the belief that we Christians, and among them we Catholics, we can stay together and give a testimony of our living community in the Church and indeed, in the whole world. The programmes and prayers of this pilgrimage reflect this internationality.” He hoped that the colourful pilgrimage will be truly enriching for all participants. “We consciously appreciate each other’s gifts and uniqueness. Although we try to emphasize our own culture and faith, still we do not do it at the cost of others, through exclusion or demonization of others. We bridge over our diversities, bringing them into a harmony of Christian coexistence. We do not build walls and fences between different groups or nations.”
Bishop Dr Stefan Oster SDB (Passau) emphasized that the pilgrimage deepens the own religious identity, strengthens the community and shows the young people the worldwide dimension of their ministry. “And it will hopefully make everyone feel that an approach to the liturgy and to the great communion of the Church can indeed be an essential approach to a living relationship of faith and with Christ.” As the President of the Commission for Youth Ministry of the German Bishops’ Conference, he was grateful and happy about the strong presence of young people in the Church and especially in liturgical celebrations. The motto of this year’s altar servers pilgrimage is appropriate for a time when so many people are longing for peace, but at the same time so many threats to peace seem to be appearing on the horizon. “I am sure that above all the international character of this pilgrimage will be an important sign of understanding among young Christians all over the world. And I hope that many of them will be like a leaven for peace and understanding and against division and xenophobia in their own countries and places of residence”, said Bishop Oster. “The joy of youth is contagious – and so I wish all of us that we may catch a flicker of it and then carry it home to our communities.”
The Vice-President of CIM, Dr Klára Csiszár, emphasized that since its foundation in 1960, the International Association of Altar Servers has seen itself as an international community of interested parties and persons in charge of the work of altar servers at diocesan or national level. “As such, CIM strengthens the work of altar servers in Europe in various ways with the aim of developing it in a way that will help to carry the world-changing power of God’s love for people from the altar into the world.” CIM tries to meet its responsibility out of the conviction that altar servers are missionaries. Dr Csiszár stressed: “Here lies the power of world transformation, the power of peace, which we here in Rome with about 60,000 altar boys and girls want to pursue/hunt in the coming days by making small steps together towards a good life in peace.”
Alexander Bothe, in charge of the Office for Youth Ministry of the German Bishops’ Conference (afj) and responsible internationally for CIM and nationwide for the Pilgrimage for altar boys and girls to Rome, explained the meaning of the pilgrim signs, the pilgrim scarf designed according to the respective countries and dioceses, the pilgrim bracelet and the pilgrim pins, which stand for community and encounters with one another. This community experience in the service at the altar, in faith and in pilgrimage will also shape the week of the pilgrimage to Rome. “A special role in experiencing the large community of altar servers is also attributed to diocesan or country church services and country festivals. The ‘Blind Date’ campaign of the German (Arch)dioceses and some other countries also focuses on encounters. On Wednesday, August 1, at 6 p.m., three groups of pilgrims gathered at random will meet at over 300 places in Rome for plays, prayer of blessing and exchange.” Also this week, some participating countries will open the churches linked to their nations to the pilgrims in Rome: Services or open prayers, meetings, refreshments, confessions and life talks as well as extra pins of the pilgrim’s bracelet will be offered there. Bothe especially emphasized the highlight of the pilgrimage week: the Special Audience with Pope Francis. Already in the afternoon, a musical and festival-like supporting programme will reflect the great anticipation of all altar servers. “Thus, together, we will focus on a week of pilgrimage that makes us feel what Pope Francis has said: ‘God is young’ – hoping that the altar servers will experience that the Church is young and that their ministry will carry the message of peace beyond the church doors and across all borders,” said Bothe.