Aylesford Priory Hosts Carmelite European Youth Gathering

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Between 14th and 19th August younger Carmelites and the 'young-at-heart' gathered at Aylesford Priory ("The Friars") in Kent for the third and final gathering of the 'Awakening Project'. This project is for European Carmelite friars and laity to meet together and reflect on Carmelite spirituality, particularly from the perspective of young people.


The 'Awakening Project' participants at Aylesford Priory.


'Awakening' began nearly a decade ago with the 2010 'Pilgrimage of Hope' in Rome and the World Youth Day Carmelite meeting in Madrid in 2011, and since then has periodically gathered young people together at Fatima in Portugal in 2014, and at San Felice del Benaco in Italy in 2015.


Awakening Project participants at prayer in Aylesford.


This final gathering at Aylesford brought together some 40 participants from Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and Spain.


Participants on the piazza in front of the Main Shrine at Aylesford Priory.


'Awakening' has been the initiative of the Councillor General for Europe, Fr. John Keating, O.Carm. Reflecting back over the project, he remarked that it began in Rome, the city of the early Christian martyrs, and concluded in Kent, site of the martyrdom of the great medieval Archbishop of Canterbury Saint Thomas Becket. Just as those saints witnessed to the Gospel in their day, Fr. John posed the question of how Carmelites, both younger and older, witness to the Gospel in 2019.


Over the course of the five days in Kent, participants followed a spiritual journey addressing some of the injustices in our world, to which 'Carmel' responds from the position of being a people of hope. The Awakening Project has been coordinated by the Carmelite European Youth Committee (CEYC), who throughout the gathering guided participants on a 'Journey of Truth', suggesting how to respond to the Truth through a Carmelite lens.


As with previous venues for the 'Awakening' gatherings, Aylesford Priory ("The Friars") was chosen for its historic significance to the Order. On the second day of the gathering the participants were guided around the Shrine and Chapels.


Fr. Ged Walsh, O.Carm., guides participants around the Main Shrine at Aylesford.


Brother Richard Green, O.Carm., guiding participants around The Friars.


Each day the participants were fortunate to receive inputs from some of the leading scholars of the Carmelite Order addressing various themes. From Germany, Fr. Michael Plattig, O.Carm., spoke on 'Incarnated Spirituality and the Schools of Spirituality', putting forward a spirituality for Carmelites in a busy world. From Ireland, Fr. Miceál O’Neill, O.Carm., spoke about Carmelites as contemplatives who need to balance action and reflection, citing the example of the great Carmelite Saint Mary Magdalene dei'Pazzi. From Spain, Fr. Desiderio Garcia Martinez, O.Carm., spoke about Saint Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) stepping out of her comfort zone, citing her magnus opus The Interior Castle and how it can apply to us today. Sabrina Rubio Perez and Javier Bernabeu Almela spoke about leadership, as the participants are encouraged to be leaders of young people in their home provinces. The presentations were both dynamic and interactive.


Fr. Desiderio Garcia Martinez, O.Carm., presiding at Mass.


There were also recorded video interviews relating to three significant Carmelite saints as witnesses to Christ in their time. The Prior General, Fr. Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., spoke on Blessed Titus Brandsma. Father Lucio Maria Zappatore, O.Carm., spoke on Blessed Angelo Paoli. Sister Olivia Kelly, O.C.D., spoke on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.


Participants in session at the gathering.


During the first Mass of the gathering, on the Solemnity of Our Lady's Assumption, Brother Richard Green of the British Province received the Ministry of Lector, the first formal stage of his formation for ordained priesthood.


Brother Richard receiving the Ministry of Lector from Fr. Kevin Alban, O.Carm., Prior Provincial of the British Province of Carmelites.


A friar of the British Province, Fr. Ged Walsh, O.Carm., commented: "There was plenty of time during the Awakening gathering for us to create community, and communication was never a problem thanks to our dedicated team of simultaneous translators. On the third day we had a wonderful excursion to the ancient seat of English Christianity, Canterbury Cathedral, where we remembered Saint Thomas Becket at the site of his martyrdom, and joined with our brothers and sisters in Christ at a beautiful service of Evensong."


Awakening participants exploring Canterbury.


Participants being guided around Canterbury Cathedral.


The third day ended with presentations from the various participants.


Participant presentations and prayers.


The gathering concluded with a European Party where each country entertained the participants with singing and dancing.


Though the 'Awakening Project' now comes to a close as the General Chapter of the Carmelite Friars approaches in September 2019, the Carmelite European Youth Committee has been developing a longer-term project to promote Carmelite spirituality among young people.


The Carmelite European Youth Committee expresses deep gratitude to the Prior Provincial of the British Province of Carmelites, Fr. Kevin Alban, O.Carm., the Prior of Aylesford, Fr. Francis Kemsley, O.Carm., and the Aylesford Carmelite Community for their generous support of the gathering, and for the wonderful welcome they received from the Aylesford staff and administration.


Click on the arrow in the box above to watch a short video of highlights from the Awakening gathering at Aylesford.



Text: Fr. Gerard Walsh, O.Carm.; Dr. Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C.; CITOC.

Photography: Fr. Gerard Walsh, O.Carm.; Fr. Kevin Alban, O.Carm.; Fr. Francis Kemsley, O.Carm.; Fr. João Costa, O.Carm.

Video: Fr. João Costa, O.Carm.