500 Schoenstatt youth gather in Milwaukee en route to Toronto
In spite of clergy abuse scandal, they bring hope to church
By Cindy Crebbin: SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
USA, Catholic Herald, Cindy Crebbin: Speaking different languages and representing 16 countries, including Chile and Belgium, 500 youth gathered in Milwaukee this week as part of the Schoenstatt Youth Movement -- 2002. At a time when the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, is in turmoil over the recent clergy abuse scandal, these young men and women, ages 16 to 27, hope to breathe new life into the church with their enthusiasm and hope for their faith.
Approximately half of the men are staying in dorms at Marquette University, while the girls are at the Schoenstatt International Center, Waukesha, or in nearby hotels. As part of the Schoenstatt Marian Apostolic Movement, the youth are participating in numerous activities from July 17 through Sunday, July 21. They will then continue their pilgrimage to World Youth Day, in Toronto, Canada.
Opening Mass in three languages
While some of the events for women and men are separate, they are gathering today at an international, opening Mass outdoors near the Schoenstatt Shrine behind St. Vincent Pallotti Parish, (east site). In addition to English, that Mass is being celebrated in Spanish and German.
For three young men from Chile, the computer lab at Marquette University has become their "unofficial office" as they helped organize events for this first Schoenstatt gathering of youth in Milwaukee.
While many of the youth arrived during the last few days, the three young Chileans have been here since January. Juan Pablo Garnham, 20, Carlos Conrady, 24, and Gregorio Velasco, 21, attended Marquette University during the spring semester, while organizing parts of the five-day youth gathering. Garnham is studying journalism; Velasco is a business administration student; and Conrady, who already has an engineering degree, is taking English classes.
Founder was exiled to Milwaukee
"This year is the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Joseph Kentenich, who was the founder of the Schonenstatt movement," said Velasco.
Kentenich, who died in 1968, noted that the pomp and circumstance of the church (very clerical at the time) was not being carried over into daily life. At that time, some bishops in the church became critical of Kentenich's writings and comments and they decided to take a closer look at the Schoenstatt Movement. Kentenich was exiled to Milwaukee from June 1952 to September 1965. But by that time, his work with the Schoenstatt Movement was fully approved by the church and he returned to Schoenstatt in Germany on Christmas Eve 1962. He died in 1968 and his canonization process is under way. According to Garnham, the open and reflective attitude of Kentenich during his time in Milwaukee is the theme of this youth event. "Milwaukee has a special meaning for us since he stayed here for 14 years," said Garnham. "He's the father of the people and likewise, we have to be fathers today for the world -- in the sense of being caretakers."
"I think what we have to do is basically take care of other people, not be indifferent to them ... so we can re-humanize the persons," added Velasco. Since classes ended in the spring, the three men have spent even more time on their work. Garnham has handled practical details, including transportation from the airport for students, to staging a play on Kentenich's life. Conrady is involved with four workshops from prayer in the different countries to a mission project they have in Santiago, Chile, where youth in the Schoenstatt Movement help take homeless youth off the streets to the "Nazareth Home."
Velasco is setting up a Marian ceremony and organizing an international festival, where youth from the different cultures will share music, dance and traditions. He is also helping plan the liturgies for each of the five days.
Grant Park holds special meaning
One of the days has been set aside as a recreation day for the young men at Grant Park in South Milwaukee. "Grant Park is special to us because there's a picture of Fr. Kentenich we've seen in our countries, reflecting and walking near Lake Michigan there," said Conrady. T-shirts, to be sold at the gathering, have that same picture of Kentenich on the back, while the front of the shirts will have an image of the Schoenstatt shrines.
While all three of the young men have enjoyed new friendships here, their biggest adjustment was living apart from their families. In Santiago, all three, whether they are in school or working like Conrady, live with their families. So doing the laundry, cooking and shopping were even more of a challenge for them than for other college students. Having been exposed to life and values in the United States, Velasco said "it's important we defend the values which are really lost today."
He noted Chile recently has a proposed law allowing divorce. "Divorce and abortion are not legal in Chile. We try to encourage people to stay married and take care of their families," he noted. Garnham said he thinks it's harder to swim against the "stream (status quo) in the United States. We as Catholics want to live differently. We want the family and moral values to be strong. Here we see that's not as normal as in Chile. We think it's a challenge to spread the faith from the small details of everyday life to governmental issues."
Schoenstatt women share love of church
Four of the young women, who arrived just days ago at the Schoenstatt Shrine in Waukesha also talked with the Catholic Herald about their faith life and the gathering. They are twins, Astrid and Justine Comijn, both 17 years old, from Belgium; Catherine Ditto, 18 of St. Paul, Minn., and Kate Gustin, 15, of Brown Deer.
"When something like this happens, you can see why Catholic means universal," said Ditto. "We're speaking different languages, but it's the same faith. I'm excited to be in this atmosphere."
Gustin, a member of St. James Parish, Mequon, said, "This is particularly exciting because Schoenstatt youth are all coming here. I've never been to anything where so many are coming together to share their culture, love of Schoenstatt and the church."
Justine Comijn from Liege in the southeast of Belgium said she and her twin were looking forward to visiting the Schoenstatt shrines here because they don't have one in Belgium. Also, she said only about 50 to 60 people are involved in the Schoenstatt Movement in her country. The young women also spoke of challenges to their faith today.
"It's hard to live your faith while being in friendships and relationships with people who are not of your faith. The challenge is to live your faith, while not distancing them from you," noted Austin.
Challenged to stay 'modest, pure'
"A big challenge is staying pure and modest," said Ditto. When she recently went shopping for clothes with her friends in Minnesota she said, "all we found were pajamas. Everybody's standards are different, but ours are really high." Within their communities, the girls have been active in living their faith. Ditto, who attended St. Agnes High School in St. Paul, was in the Pro-Life Club there, where they often prayed in front of abortion clinics.
"In our country we don't usually do things in groups," said Justine. But she and Astrid have volunteered to assist doctors and nurses in Belgian hospitals. Ditto and Austin also spoke about the clergy abuse scandal.
"It definitely hasn't challenged my personal faith. I'm sorry to see through the failures and sins of individuals, the whole church is under attack," said Austin. "It's sad to hear people are leaving seminaries and parishes. That grieves me. I hope those who remain in the church will see we won't just cave in and give up. Something founded without God won't live, but if it's founded on God it will never die," she added.
According to Ditto, with the priest scandal, "many people are saying it's the celibate clergy rule that's causing the scandal. But it's not the church's rule, it's men not obeying the church rule." Overall, she said she's glad youth can gather at Schoenstatt "to support one another and our church, and to show the world our church is strong."
Article appeared on July 18, 2002, in the Catholic Herald, Milwaukee; used with permission.
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